Richard Linklater is one of the most formally innovative filmmakers working today, and Texas is proud to claim him as their very own. He certainly was well represented at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin – he got to conduct a public interview with fellow Texas filmmaker Wes Anderson, an event which made for a crowd pleaser unto itself. Linklater also won the coveted “Lone Star” award (only given to Texas-born filmmakers) for his film Boyhood (2014), which is easily his most impressive accomplishment to date.
Boyhood was shot over the course of 12 years, and documents the intellectual, cultural, even biological development of a young Texas boy from the age of six to the age of 18. Ellar Coltrane stars as the child, Mason, and the film also stars Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke (who has appeared in several other Linklater films, including the superb Before Sunrise trilogy). Principal photography for Boyhood started in Austin in the summer of 2002, and continued right up until the young man had graduated high school.
Linklater has claimed in interviews that he became fascinated with the idea of a project that would, in essence, cinematically distill childhood – not any one part of it, necessarily, but the whole thing. In a way, the film pays homage to French New Wave director Francois Truffaut, who employed a similar technique in his entire body of work, and spent twenty years chronicling the life of the character Antoine Doinel (played in five separate films by Jean-Pierre Leaud), starting with The 400 Blows (1959) and culminating in Love on the Run (1979). Linklater’s approach is still distinct, however, if only for the fact that he condensed 12 years worth of footage into a single, self-contained viewing experience.
And while the film is unique in several ways, it feels like a logical extension of the rest of his body of work. It’s a dialogue driven script, similar to his early, low budget, talk-heavy features Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (2004), which both deal with intellectually adept and functionally challenged young people in Texas. They don’t suffer from a dearth of ideas or creative impulses – they just can’t seem to do much more than talk about them. Both films, but Dazed and Confused most specifically, also deal with the sort of ennui and existential crises which come with establishing yourself as an adult. The film also contains elements of what made the seminal Waking Life (2001) so stimulating: the conversation itself is enriched with some sort of unique visual component, which, in the case of Waking Life is achieved by a means of digitally rendered animation which makes natural footage look somewhat dreamlike. In the case of Boyhood, the interesting visual hook is of course the “time-lapse” like effect of seeing the characters grow gradually older over the years. The film relies heavily on dialogue, and some of the most effective moments of the film are achieved by the juxtaposition of segments where the young Mason is conversing with his parents during different stages of his life developmentally.
Linklater has been a source of pride for the Texas creative community for many years now, and his recognition from SXSW this year has further solidified his reputation as a stellar contemporary filmmaker. In fact, stats culled from Viral Heat, the social media aggregator, reveal that Linklater has been getting a lot of play in the social media realm recently:
— Indiewire (@indiewire) March 18, 2014
— CineSnob (@CineSnob) March 13, 2014
— The Film Stage (@TheFilmStage) March 12, 2014
Let us hope that this film, and his participation in SXSW, will help to advance his career even further. He may not have the populist box office drawing power of someone like Wes Anderson, but that may very well change in coming years, and it’s high time that Linklater gets the attention and praise he has always deserved.
Article by Brandon Engel