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Release Date(s)1991 (September 17, 2013)
Studio(s)Criterion - Spine #247
Slacker is the second film from Austin, Texas-based filmmaker Richard Linklater, hitting the independent film scene in 1991. Along with Sex, Lies and Videotape, Clerks and Reservoir Dogs, it’s often cited as one of the films to bring the independent film market to a wider audience in the early 90’s.
As for me personally, I’ve never been an enormous Richard Linklater fan outside of Dazed and Confused, which is one of my favorite films, oddly enough. I also thought that Bernie was terrific, but I felt it was more of a showcase for Jack Black’s acting ability (which I had previously doubted), and I’ve yet to sit down and watch Before Midnight, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (I’ll get right on that, I promise). But what intrigues me the most about Slacker is that it’s more of an experimental film more than anything. There’s not really a plot to it at all. We meet a variety of characters from an Austin-based subculture and follow each of them around during their daily lives.
The main problem that I have with the film is that its characters don’t feel all that authentic, despite the attempts at capturing their authenticity. Some of them do in the beginning, but once you get deeper into the meat of the film, you realize that everybody in the movie is either a conspiracy theorist or waxes philosophical about life, culture and the government. It kind of gets old to me fast because we don’t really meet anyone other than that. There’s not a mix of real people with real, honest conversations. It’s basically just a bunch of talking heads, in other words, and it doesn’t help that everyone sounds like they swallowed a dictionary. It has a Kevin Smith/Joss Whedon feel to the dialogue, which is the only way I know how to describe it.
But Slacker is not a bad film by any means, and is certainly worthy of your attention. I would have preferred more concrete characters with a variety of things to say, think, feel and do other than just spout overeducated jargon for 100 minutes. But that being said, it’s pretty amazing what Linklater managed to pull off with only $23,000 at his disposal, and it’s odd how it’s all so cohesive. There’s not an overriding plot that needs to be resolved, which is its main draw. It’s a endeavor into non-linear storytelling. While Kevin Smith’s Clerks feels more amateurish in a charming way, to the point where you feel like you’re just watching a home movie at times, you never forget with Slacker that you’re watching a movie. It’s less amateurish and much slicker. It’s just a shame that the characters aren’t quite as interesting or as colorful as I had hoped they would be going in.
For the film’s debut on Blu-ray, Criterion gives another very solid transfer which, while not perfect, is more than satisfactory. The transfer was supervised by Richard Linklater and cinematographer Lee Daniel. Because of the film’s 16mm origins (as well as 8mm for some scenes), the film carries a heavy amount of grain. It’s not altogether stable at times, but it’s appropriate for the presentation of this particular film. The only film defects I noticed were the flecks and scratches during the film’s final portion in 8mm (which was a stylistic choice), as well as some very minor white specks throughout the film. Colors and skin tones look great, but upon comparison with the original Criterion DVD, a lot of the orange has been pulled out to make it appear cooler. It’s not a big deal because the colors are still maintained quite well, but it takes a little away from the atmosphere of a day in the hot Texas sunshine, but maybe that’s just me. Contrast and brightness are also very good. So the presentation isn’t perfect, but definitely does the film justice. The audio portion is much of the same, which is an English 2.0 DTS-HD soundtrack. There isn’t much to report really. It was shot on location with very little budget to make it sound dynamic, but both the dialogue and the music are clean, clear and audible without sounding muddled. And there’s not much depth to it, but being low budget, I have to cut it some slack for what it is. It’s adequate, but won’t wow you or anything. There are also subtitles in English for those who need them.
Most of the extras from Criterion’s original DVD release of the movie have been carried over, which includes three audio commentaries: one with Linklater, one with members of the cast and one with members of the crew (as well as Linklater again); No Longer/Not Yet, which is the original script (and title) for the film that can be viewed as a slideshow; Showing Life, which includes The Casting of Slacker featurette and various audition tapes; Taco and a Half After Ten, a short bit on the behind-the-scenes of the film; Ain’t No Film in That Shit, which is a set of thirteen deleted scenes and alternate takes; the theatrical trailer; “...End of Interview!”, which is footage from the tenth anniversary screening and Q&A of the film; a trailer for Viva Les Amis, a documentary about the Austin café Les Amis; Woodshock, a 16mm short film by Linklater and Daniel; It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, which is Linklater’s first full-length film, with optional commentary by Linklater; and finally, an epic 68-page booklet featuring essays by author and filmmaker John Pierson and Michael Barker, as well as reviews, production notes and an introduction to It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books by director Monte Hellman.
Fans of the original DVD release will no doubt note some of the extras from that release haven’t been carried over, which include “The Roadmap”, which was the working script for the film and featured fourteen deleted scenes and alternate takes; a stills gallery with hundreds of behind-the-scenes and publicity photos; a Slacker culture essay by Linklater; and finally, information about the Austin Film Society, including early flyers from screenings. The loss of these extras is kind of shocking considering how good Criterion is about porting this stuff over for new releases. But, I think in the interest of maintaining the main video-based extras of the set and keeping this as a single disc release to make it more economical, they chose not to include them. I haven’t followed up on this but it’s an educated guess, and is most likely the case.
Overall, I still consider this a successful Blu-ray debut for Slacker, but if fans of the film are interested in holding onto all of the previous extras, you might want to this twice when upgrading. In the end, it’s still a terrific package and does the film a lot of justice.
- Tim Salmons