Déjà vu all over again

"I remember when we showed `Slacker` at Sundance," Richard Linklater says of the timing of his breakthrough film's release. "Desert Storm One has just started, and a lot of those references to terrorism and stuff just weren't funny."

Richard Linklater discusses Slacker's eery prescience

On the occasion of the superb new DVD of Slacker, Richard Linklater's 1991 film that defined '90s amiable anomie in general and Austin in particular, Linklater took a few minutes to speak with us on the phone. He is beginning the animation phase of A Scanner Darkly, an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, and at the time of this interview was negotiating for his newest project: After the success of the Jack Black vehicle School of Rock, Linklater is remaking another classic grumpy-guy-meets-kids story, The Bad News Bears.

John DeFore: I've always thought of Slacker as a joyous, life-affirming kind of movie; watching it this week, with what the world is like right now, it had a different feel - the talk of death, and disappearances, and terrorism. I was wondering, did you feel those things then, or is it a factor of the way we view things now?

Richard Linklater: I don't know, it's always been prone to its moment. I remember when we showed it at Sundance, Desert Storm One had just started, and a lot of those references to terrorism and stuff just weren't funny. Two months before, they'd been funny; suddenly, they weren't funny. I don't know about right now, in the current climate of war and stuff. You know, a lot of these people, I think, when you're battling inactivity, your idea of activity would be something kind of extreme: shooting somebody, or something radical.

But it does show kind of the core, the seed of a terrorist is usually a young person who wants meaning to their life, who wants a direction, whose spirit is being thwarted somehow, and `they` will become a holy warrior for a bigger cause, something much bigger than themselves. It takes all these different forms. I always feel, when I see someone who's called a "terrorist," I feel a little sympathy, in that that's someone who had a spirit that really wanted to soar and do great things, who wanted to have a life of meaning, who - for whatever reason; it's often themselves, and their own social skills, or who knows what - isn't achieving that, and is directing it now towards something else.

You see it a lot: Hitler the failed artist. You put all your passion and interest into something and want to make a difference in this world. So, you know, you can't thwart people's spirit. That's why Saudi Arabia is such a powder keg: They have a culture that thwarts everyone's spirit. So of course you're gonna create `terrorists` - all you have to do is point and say, "Hey, that's the people who are keeping you from being, you know ... " and then boom! you've got a bunch of jihadists.

JD: Terrorism aside, you've got things like the "Missing" posters in the background `of Slacker`, or "where's so-and-so, nobody's seen him," or people abducted by the government ...

RL: You know, that's true. The great thing about what's seen as paranoia, in 1989, when we were shooting the UFO guy talking about polar ice caps melting, and global warming is happening quicker than we think, that was a crackpot idea at that time. It really was; it was meant to be laughed at. And yet, all of us were kind of like, "Yeah, it seems a little extreme, but there's probably something to that." The conspiracist, the paranoiac, actually their antenna's often tuned to something that's a little closer to the real world. It's just the presentation is not often the smoothest, 'cause they're in a class where they don't have the outlets or the accreditation to be taken seriously. And yet, often what they're saying has a certain air of validity. Time will prove them right on a lot of things.

There's even some funny coincidences, too: The guy sitting in the co-op, challenging the validity of the `first` Bush presidency. `laughs`

JD: There's no way you could still be as voracious a movie-watcher as you were in the '80s, because now you're making them, but do you still have that component to your life? Do you feel that same appetite?

RL: I feel the same appetite; it's not solely based on cinema, though. Sure, an ideal day for me is watching a couple of movies, but reading a lot more, too. From having a family, you technically don't have the time, that's the thing as you get older. I remember being younger, and going, "Come on, man, we're showing this cool Godard film that's never been shown ... what do you mean, it's a Monday night and you can't come?! You've got your kid's soccer practice?" I was just like, "Ah, sell-out, man, I hope I'm never like that." And now I'm in that position all the time!

JD: Aside from your personal life, you're also busy creating the things the rest of us cinephiles obsess over.

RL: Even back then, when I was watching four movies a day, of course I would have traded all that in to be able to be making a movie. It was all prep for that. The best day in the world is a day in production. •

By John DeFore

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