Slacker

I recently re-watched the Richard Linklater film Slacker, which I had last seen in the ’90s. Watching it again I found myself feeling nostalgic for a time before mobile phones and the internet (even though I use these everyday) and when more people read books in public.

For readers who have yet to see it, Slacker is set in Austin, Texas, where over the course of a day and night various characters go about their business and talk about subjects like philosophy, relationship troubles, and conspiracy theories. The camera stays with a certain character or characters for a short time before moving on to the next character or characters, never seeing the same one again. I remember thinking how original this was when I first watched Slacker, and I still haven’t seen another film that does this.

Richard Linklater himself appears at the beginning of the film. He plays a guy who gets a taxi from the bus station and tells the driver all about a dream he had and how lots of different realities might exist alongside our own. https://youtu.be/3-9l7K7LftQ

Later on we meet a hyperactive, fast-talking conspiracy buff who, still holding his glass, follows a man out of a cafe to tell him (whether he wants to hear it or not) about such things as anti-gravity technology, how astronauts saw an alien spacecraft when they were on the moon, and that “we’ve been on Mars since ’62”. https://youtu.be/iDIM0sRh5R4

Conspiracy buff (left) talking to man from cafe

Another scene involves some friends who go into the room of their former housemate, Juan, who has disappeared. The room is empty except for a bunch of postcards left on the floor. The words on the back of each postcard tell a story about Juan: where he’s from, his family, how he spends his time etc. The last excerpt, the ‘finale’, suggests he is planning on going away to join a terrorist organisation. https://dai.ly/xpvpg

Later on, a man gets more than he bargained for when he goes into a cafe and is told to “quit following me” by another man and told by a woman that he “should quit traumatising women…” Then, the man who serves him coffee tells him to “cool it down”, even those he’s just sitting there minding his own business! https://youtu.be/NUNdYoy1AUM

Lori Witzel (above), who played the woman in the cafe, later reprised her role in the film Slacker 2011, a tribute to the original film made by local filmmakers.

Another memorable scene features a moody hitchhiker who is given a ride into town. On getting dropped off (he doesn’t even say thank you) he swaggers up to a cafe and bothers a man sitting outside for a cigarette and a light before agreeing to take part in an interview on camera in which he gives his thoughts on life and work. https://youtu.be/RFZZEpNKjg0

Something extra I noticed in the film are the newspaper vending machines. Living in the UK, in the Midlands, these machines are a novelty to me as we don’t have them here. I read that in the 1990s, when Slacker was released, almost half of newspapers in the US were bought from them. The number has dropped dramatically since then. It got me thinking: before the advent of the internet, for most people newspapers – along with radio and television – would have been the only source of information about what was happening in the world.

Slacker has similarities to two other Richard Linklater films: Dazed and Confused and Before Sunrise, in that they are all filmed on location, following characters around as they talk and meet other characters, over the course of a day and night.

Because there are so many different characters in Slacker, it’s likely that viewers will be able to relate to at least someone in it or will be reminded of someone they have met or know. Slacker is currently available to watch on YouTube:

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