Slacker (1991)

Slacker (1991) is the first entry in my Criterion-specific review series. Criterion numbers all their releases and most of them are important cultural movies or masterpieces of cinema, usually given a wonderful restoration with tons of extras. The DVD and Blu-ray releases are different and the numbers don’t always line up. Criterion also released some movies on Laserdisc before that media format died out with the advent of the DVD. It’s essentially a premium niche company that releases the movies it can get the licenses for (and due to the high MSRP of their releases, they can generally license anything they want).

Given that I’ve reviewed Richard Linklater’s “Before…” series (Before Sunrise | Before Sunset | Before Midnight), I thought it’d be fun to go back and look at Linklater’s directorial debut. Shot for $3,000 on 16mm, Linklater and his friends threw out any resemblance of a plot and went with a tapestry concept, in which multiple characters would drift in, and hand off the scene to the next character. 100+ characters make an appearance in Slacker, which each character being unique and only fleshed out very briefly. Thus the film’s akin to a visual short-story collection. Since there’s no overarching story, you don’t even need to view the entire movie to experience Slacker fully. While Seinfeld was a show about nothing, it at least had story lines and episodic conflicts. Slacker is truly a movie about nothing.

While that’s certainly apropos for the culture described in Slacker, it doesn’t do much besides display some esoteric and fringe characters on the edge of society itself in Austin, Texas. Austin is notorious for being its own world within the larger auspices of Texas itself. Austin wants to remain “weird” today, and that’s essentially a reaction at the culture depicted in Slacker dying out or transforming itself into something new. The film is about nothing. The film explains nothing. The film is a time capsule of another time and place. There’s nothing explained, such as the fact that it’s legal to drink in a car in Texas, as long as you’re not the one driving. There’s too many nuances interwoven into Slacker that are specific to Austin, Texas and only Austin, Texas.

Such a microcosm may work if there’s a story being told. But as repeatedly previously noted, there is no story being told. It’s not a documentary, nor is it completely fictitious. It’s both here and there simultaneously. Being made in 1991, it harkened the insurgence of American independent film-making in the 1990s. As such, I can understand why this is an important film and one that Criterion wanted to make available for film students/fans, especially with Linklater’s later film successes. If you’ve always been interested in bohemian culture somewhere in America in the early 1990s prior to the advent of the Internet and technological advances, then you’ve got a masterpiece in Slacker, a visual diaspora of potential characters that probably exist or existed somewhere at one point in time.

Given that this is a rather unique collaborative effort on a microscopic budget, it’s amazing how well the film came out. I also especially appreciated the extras (not captioned or subtitled) available on the Criterion DVD production – such as the reunion home video. There’s a variety of extras on the DVD version not available on the  Blu-ray production, such as an essay by Linklater himself about the slacker culture – which I thought should have been a downloadable file somewhere on the DVD or the Internet. It was a pain reading the essay by clicking “next” several times in a row.

As being the movie was about nothing, I found it very difficult to rate. I finally decided to award it one star for being a finished production. I however, have no desire to rewatch the film at any point in my life. I’m not sure that I can advise anybody else except the very intrepid film critic or student to view this film.

MPAA Rating: R
Cinematically Rating:
Criterion Spine #247

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