Twenty years after 'Slacker' brought Austin to the world, 24 local filmmakers reimagine Linklater's cult classic
Twenty years ago, filmmaker Richard Linklater guided moviegoers on an ambling tour of the bohemian counterculture of a relatively sleepy Austin.
Narrated by a parade of conspiracy theorists, romantics, cynics, lovers and loners, the film explored the collective consciousness of hip (stray?) cats wandering outside of the rat race in Texas' liberal hub at the end of the Reagan era.
Or as the book cover in the film's final scene reads: "Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized System."
The film not only introduced Austin's culture to the world, it served as a snapshot for a city that could likely not imagine the cultural and aesthetic changes ahead. It was a time when jean shorts and fanny packs were more convenience than fashion statement, downtown still was littered with abandoned warehouses, and ennui was as affordable as the rent.
Of course, some things never change. Or maybe they just change names. Guys still used bands to meet women. Soft intellectualism was always on tap at independent coffee shops. And Ron Paul had presidential aspirations … as a Libertarian.
Fascinated by the changing physical and cultural landscape of the city, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Daniel Metz decided to celebrate Linklater's seminal film with a remake. The soft-spoken cinephile with a master's degree in film history from the University of Texas initiated the project as a cinematic study of past and present.
"I saw all these great places that no longer exist, like Les Amis coffee shop," Metz said. "It's like a town that's dead and is being changed and built up. Yet, it was obviously very cool at that time, and it has this coolness now. I thought here's a town with a very distinct identity, steeped in a hipness, yet from a very different point of view. So I began to wonder if there was any sort of common thread and started thinking that it would be great to revisit and see how much the town has changed. I like the idea of revisiting something from the past and potentially using past signifiers and present signifiers to make a comment on history."
Metz and his team at the Alamo joined forces with the Austin Film Society (founded by Linklater and cinematographer Lee Daniels in 1985), and launched the production of "Slacker 2011," a remake of the Linklater classic as re-imagined by 24 local filmmakers, with each director or team of directors responsible for reproducing a scene from the original film. All proceeds from the movie will benefit the AFS' Texas Filmmaker Production Fund. The Drafthouse will screen "Slacker 2011" at 7 p.m. every Sunday in September, alternating screenings between the South and Village locations, and producers plan to submit the film to festivals.
While Linklater passed on any involvement with the project, he gave his blessing to the ambitious idea.
"It sounded like a totally crazy idea, which is what the original film is, so I thought ..., if they really wanted to go to all that trouble I wasn't going to stand in the way - would be pretty un-slacker-like to thwart someone else's crazy creative idea," Linklater said. "Ultimately, there are so many talented filmmakers involved, just the attempt is flattering to all of us who worked on the original.
Metz originally wanted Linklater to reprise his acting role in the opening scene, in which he arrives into Austin on a bus and then takes a taxi to West Campus. The scene is a sequence of long-held shots following one character - a style repeated throughout the film - who discusses the importance of dreams and fragmented reality.
After Linklater passed on appearing in the remake, filmmaker and Crockett High School graduate Bob Ray (director of the all-girl roller derby documentary "Hell on Wheels") seized the chance to direct and act in the first scene. Ray recognized that helming the film's tone-setting scene would subject him to greater scrutiny, but he relished the chance to reconstruct with a 21st-century update the quiet ambience of Linklater's memorable shots. Roy's Taxi has been replaced by a pedicab. The spare city populated with vitality.
"I basically did it shot-for-shot but then I changed the content a little bit," Ray said. "I wanted it to be a celebration. I wanted to do something more with the background and to show that Austin is a much more lively place than it was 20 years ago. It's still the same vibe, it's just much more active."
Ray, like so many of the filmmakers involved in the group project, says that Linklater's 1991 experimental narrative helped him realize that the idea of being a filmmaker was not as far-fetched as "building a rocket ship."
While Tobe Hooper's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974) and Eagle Pennell's "The Whole Shootin' Match" (1978) planted the flag for Central Texas film, and Bill Wittliff's "Red Headed Stranger" (1986) brought some added attention to the state, Linklater's "Slacker" served as the defining cinematic moment for Austin and its image as a potential home for filmmaking talent.
Now, 20 years after he launched a career that would come to serve as inspiration for a generation of filmmakers, Linklater will have the unique opportunity to sit in Austin's most historic theater and watch as dozens whom he inspired pay an odd and loving sort of homage.
"I expect to experience a long-form version of what I felt when watching the trailer a while back," Linklater said. "A very funny, vaguely familiar, time-warped parallel universe, dreamlike state of consciousness."
Kind of like "Slacker."
Richard Linklater, director of "Slacker"
"I personally value most the creative, collaborative relationship I had with the cast and crew. I had made films mostly by myself up to that point, so I was learning to work with people, to collaborate, and it set the template and methodology for most of what I've been doing since. As far as the result goes, I think almost everyone who worked on it, and brought so much to it, was surprised when this experimental narrative somehow found the audience it did. It was unique timing of course, and luck, as always."
Paul Stekler, filmmaker and department chair of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas
I know that there were good filmmakers working out of Austin before "Slacker," but has a movie ever been made that so perfectly captured a place that so few people were aware of beforehand? I remember going to see "Slacker" when it came out, at the Coolidge Corner theater in Brookline (Mass.), and when my girlfriend and I walked out, we talked about what a cool place Austin seemed to be. And wouldn't it be cool to move there maybe. "Slacker" made a "cool" place cooler for filmmakers to flock to. And they did.
Rebecca Campbell, director of the Austin Film Society
"Slacker" has been a huge contributor to Austin's mystique as a place where creative people can thrive outside of the mainstream. Its impact on the filmmaking community was enormous. For one thing, the group of people involved with the film started the Austin Film Society, which became a hub for a community of art-film devotees. From there you have Austin Studios, the Texas Film Hall of Fame, and education programs, all of which appeal to a much wider audience than "Slacker" ever did. So a small film about not much, featuring nobodies and do-nothings, becomes a civic force.
Janet Pierson, director of South by Southwest Film Festival
"Slacker" was massively inspirational. Kevin Smith notably credits "Slacker" with being the first time he thought, "I can do this." But I know he's not the only one. The sense of place, community and unusual but brilliant structure ... "Slacker" was eye-opening for how it was made as well as what it was about. And not only was it a huge watershed for filmmakers, it spoke to its audience in a unique and powerful way. I remember it as kind of a generational divide. At the time of its release, the under-30s embraced and applauded; the over-30s were scratching their heads.
Bill Banowsky, founder of Magnolia Pictures and owner of Carolina Cinemas (Violet Crown Cinema)
"Slacker" challenged the convention that successful films came only from NY or LA. It changed people's view of Austin. Real films could be made here and get sold and find an audience.
Tim League, CEO of the Alamo Drafthouse
"Slacker" came out of the filmmaking community in Austin. Back then Rick was curating the Austin Film Society with 16 mm screenings above Quack's coffee on the drag. When he sold "Slacker" and became an indie film icon, he stayed in Austin and continued to nurture the scene and grow the Austin Film Society. Without Slacker and without Rick Linklater's love of Austin, there would be no independent film scene in Austin. He's the godfather.
"Slacker 2011" Filmmakers
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas
AFS Film Club
Austin School of Film
Sam Wainwright Douglas
Duane Graves and Justin Meeks
Reel Women UT Chapter
David and Nathan Zellner
`Slacker 2011' world premiere
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: The Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave.
Cost: $10 AFS Members, $15 General Admission for screening. $50 for tickets and post-screening VIP event at The Highball