23 Years Later, Reexamining Richard Linklater’s “Slacker”

January 12, 2014 : 10:06 pm | by Aaron Levy

The Madonna Pap Smear scene is probably the funniest and most widely remembered of the films roughly 20 different vignettes.

The "Madonna Pap Smear" scene is probably the funniest and most widely remembered of the film's roughly 20 different vignettes.

“This town has always had its share of crazies. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

“Slacker” is one of two films – the other being “Dazed and Confused” – that established Richard Linklater as one of the premiere indie filmmakers of the early ‘90s and put Austin’s film scene on the map. The 1991 film, made with a budget of $23,000, has aged like a fine wine and is now thought of as somewhat of a cult classic. Just last year, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Being a second generation Austinite, its hard to view the film as anything other than a work of true genius, a look into the lives of people who I think I know or remember meeting or probably ran into at a bar once. Organized as a a series of roughly 20 vignettes, following one character only for a few minutes before following another into another scene, Linklater captures the town’s slow moving, relaxed and freethinking college-town atmostphere. If you have deja vu while watching, its probably only because the film has inspired just about every stoner and college-dropout movie since. Kevin Smith frequently cites the film as the inspiration for “Clerks.”

Organized plot? Not really. Like “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly,” “Slacker” relies heavily on dialogue to keep itself moving. Nearly every character that the camera focuses on (including Linklater, who makes a cameo has the film’s first character) is a conspiracy theorist, anarchist, member of a band or grungy Austin local populating the fringes of the liberal Texas oasis. Everyone seems to be broke, or close to it, with nothing better to do than sit around and shoot the shit with their buddies.

Slacker captures the side of Austin that my parents insist is mostly gone: Scenes that are filmed on the University of Texas campus reveal an Austin skyline free of condo high-rises and streets free of the now horrific Austin traffic. The big technology companies haven’t yet come to town and brought with them hundreds of thousands of new residents. It is a romantic image of a hip town and everyone seems to just be “hanging out.”

Ultimately though, Linklater’s view of the young, twenty-something aged slacker is a positive one. In an interview with The Austin Chronicle – a newspaper founded by the South by Southwest Film Festival creator, and one of the stars of the film, Louis Black – Linklater stated that the characters he wanted to capture, slackers, were in fact “actually one step ahead, rejecting most of society and the social hierarchy before it rejects them.”

Linklater, who would later prove another prowess for directing big-budget Hollywood films with “School of Rock” and “Bad News Bears,” seemed to want to turn the spotlight onto the eccentric individuals that Austin is known for. In doing so, he gave a voice to slackers everywhere.

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