Slacker (1990) is an independent comedy-drama directed by Richard Linklater. The movie gives us a glimpse into the lives of the eccentric and overeducated slackers living in 1990s Austin, Texas. Instead of following a traditional plot, the movie creates a sequence of conversational scenarios, presenting us with characters and situations for a only a few minutes at a time before seamlessly moving on to the next scene with new characters and situations that are just as compelling and idiosyncratic as the last ones.
In 2012, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” (King) In this essay, we will explore the reasons behind its cultural impact, analyzing the [[cultural context]] surrounding the movie at the time it was released, the [[influences]] it reflects from previous media and the [[legacy]] it left behind.
Here's a list of our [[Sources]]
<img src="https://www.austinchronicle.com/imager/b/newfeature/82235/ab32bf68/screens_feature-10409.jpeg"> <img src="https://www.austinchronicle.com/imager/b/newfeature/82235/c5103ec7/screens_feature-10409.jpeg"> <img src="https://www.austinchronicle.com/imager/b/newfeature/82235/214a29a8/screens_feature-10409.jpeg">Abrams, Simon "Funeral Parade of Roses review"
Baumgarten, Marjorie. “Slack Where We Started.” Richard Linklater and John Pierson Ponder 'Slacker' and Its Aftermath - Screens - The Austin Chronicle, 29 June 2001, www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2001-06-29/82235/.
Copeland, Edward. “The Longest Tracking Shot Ever.” Edward Copeland's Tangents, 5 July 2011, 8 am, eddieonfilm.blogspot.com/2010/07/longest-tracking-shot.html.
Copeland, Edward. “From The Vault: Richard Linklater.” Edward Copeland's Tangents, 19 June 2010, 1 pm, eddieonfilm.blogspot.com/2005/12/from-vault-richard-linklater.html.
Criterion Collection. "Richard Linklater's Top 10" criterion.com Nov 21, 2008, https://www.criterion.com/current/top-10-lists/42-richard-linklater-s-top-10
Ebert, Roger. “Slacker Movie Review & Film Summary (1991): Roger Ebert.” RogerEbert.com, 23 Aug. 1991, www.rogerebert.com/reviews/slacker-1991.
Grosz, Dylan. "A Slacker Rock Revival" The Stanford Daily January 29, 2017, https://www.stanforddaily.com/2017/01/29/slacker-rock-revival/
King, Susan. “National Film Registry Selects 25 Films for Preservation.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 19 Dec. 2012, www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-xpm-2012-dec-19-la-et-mn-national-film-registry-20121217-story.html.
Laman, Douglas. “Slacker: How a Low-Budget Film Inspired an Entire Subculture.” The Spool, The Spool, 7 Aug. 2019, thespool.net/features/2019/08/slacker/.
Lutz, Tom. “'Doing Nothing'.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 June 2006, www.nytimes.com/2006/06/04/books/chapters/0604-1st-lutz.html?pagewanted=3&.
Meltzer, Marisa. “The State of the Slacker Movie.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 22 Feb. 2007, slate.com/culture/2007/02/the-state-of-the-slacker-movie.html.
Moyer, Justin. “As 'Slacker' Turns 20, Director Linklater Reflects on the Film.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 July 2011, www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/as-slacker-turns-20-director-linklater-reflects-on-the-film/2011/07/07/gIQAzUxcGI_story.html.
Rahn, Josh "The Beat Generation"
Soldani, Maria Teresa. “The Performance of the Austin Indie Scene in Slacker.” Imaginations, Imaginations, 25 Oct. 2017, imaginations.glendon.yorku.ca/?p=9161.
Worthington, Clint. “August's Filmmaker of the Month: Richard Linklater.” The Spool, The Spool, 3 Sept. 2019, thespool.net/features/2019/08/augusts-filmmaker-of-the-month-richard-linklater/.
[[Home|Slacker (1990)]]The film was shot in 1989 with a 16 mm Arriflex camera on location in Austin, Texas with a budget of $23,000, and premiered at Austin's Dobie Theater on July 27, 1990. A slightly modified 35mm version got it's nationwide release on July 5, 1991, the same week that //Terminator 2//(1991) (the highest grossing film of that year) came out.
On its release week, Slacker was presented as an alternative to the big-budget mainstream cinema represented by //Terminator 2//, and the characters in Linklater’s film seemed to be from an entirely different universe than the hyper masculine characters and conventional values that Terminator 2 highlights with its story.
Slacker did not receive a wide release but went on to become a cult film bringing in a domestic gross of $1,228,108. The cast includes many notable Austinites, including Louis Black (Editor of the Austin Chronicle and co-founder of Austin’s South by Southwest music festival), and members of some local bands of the era, such as Abra Moore and drummer Teresa Taylor from the Butthole Surfers, in an attempt to create an honest portrayal of the contemporary indie scene in Austin, which was booming at the time. Slacker came out the same year as the novel //Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture// (1991) by Canadian writer Douglas Coupland, and after that, the mainstream media began to talk about the post-baby-boomer “twenty-something” generation portrayed in the film and novel, grouping together Slacker, Generation X, and grunge/indie rock music as part of a wave of gen x-oriented media. ([[Soldani|Sources]]) The ideas and aethetics expressed in Slacker resonated with contempory college/indie rock at the time, so much that some of the acts associated with the sound were refered to as "slacker rock", with bands such as Pavement, Ween, Dinosaur Jr, and Guided by Voices, to name a few. This sound has had a comeback in the last decade with artists such as Mac DeMarco and Kurt Vile, for example. ([[Grosz|Sources]])
A year before the release of Slacker, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), produced by Interscope Communications, came out; another movie that starred "slackers", but had a very different portrayal of them. Bill and Ted where portrayed as lovable goofballs who were terrible at school but manage to finesse their way out of failing history class after acquiring a time machine. This seemingly innocent portrayal of the Slacker character resonates in other slacker teen comedies that came out around the time , such as //Ferris Bueller's Day Off//(1986) and //Wayne's World//(1992), produced by Paramounts Studios and NBC films respectively. However, it is a much more limited and superficial look into the slacker character than what Linklater gave us.
In Slacker, the characters are funny because of how real yet quirky and bizarre they feel, whereas in the teen comedy portrayal of slackers the characters are funny because they are written to be witty and goofy following a more traditional situational comedy type of humor. The main issue with this portrayal of the slacker archetype is that it deviates from Linklater's intention of validating the lifestyles led by people who under society's eyes were "doing nothing". In the teen comedies, slackers by the end of the movie end up being conventionally successful in spite of them being slackers, whereas Linklater's Slacker doesn't bother with pursuing conventional success tropes in the development of its characters. Linklater's slacker's don't get the girl by the end of the movie or prove everyone else wrong, they just are unapologetically themselves and that is portrayed as perfectly valid and good enough narrative content on its own.
For more information on the film's legacy click [[here|legacy]]
For more information on the influences behind Slacker, click [[here|influences]] Slacker’s non-linear plot structure gives us peeks into separate, self-contained stories without ever bothering to create a larger, unifying narrative that ties these individual stories together. In his review for Slacker, Roger Ebert points out how this narrative technique might be borrowed from Surrealist films such as Luis Buñuel's //The Phantom of Liberty//(1974), where otherwise unrelated episodes are linked together by character and camera movements. The movie's structure also echoes back to alternative takes on the documentary genre in the history of film, such as Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s //Chronicle of a Summer// (1961), in which Paris residents from 1960 are interviewed to create a snapshot in time capturing the feelings and hopes of its subjects.
In Slacker, documentary traditions are used to inform the aesthetic and give believability to the characters and situations portrayed, but the narrative being presented is in itself a work of fiction. This blend of documentary and fiction can be seen in earlier work such as Toshio Matsumoto's //Funeral Parade of roses//(1969), where documentary-style interviews and occasional moments where Matsumoto yells "Cut" and the crew working behind the camera is revealed ([[Abrams|Sources]]) serve to create the illusion that there is a non-fictional aspect to the fictional narrative being presented.
Another Japanese influence in Linklater's work is Yasujiro Ozu's //Tokyo Story//(1953), which he lists as one of his favorite movies ([[Criterion|Sources]]), and is part of the Shomin-geki genre, which focuses on the everyday life of ordinary people. This focus on everyday situations can also be traced back to similar film movements going on in other countries at the time, such as Italian Neorealism.
In terms of the subculture being portrayed, one could trace qualities from the slacker subculture back to earlier countercultural movements such as the beat generation and the hippies. It could be argued that slacker culture in the 90s has similar intents to he rejection of standard narrative values, the rejection of economic materialism, and the explicit portrayals of the human condition that the Beat Generation was interested with in the 50s (Rahn). What Slacker culture borrows from the previous countercultural movements that it followed was the rejection of conventionally established measures of what it means to be successful and live a happy life. Slacker culture promoted the idea that doing what you are passionate about is valid even if contemporary society doesn't value your pursuits. “The point of ‘Slacker’ is that these people aren’t slackers,” Louis Black says. He is a longtime champion of the hardworking creative community that inspired Linklater’s film. “People make films, have blogs, are in bands,” Black says. “They’re slackers because they don’t have jobs.” (Moyer)
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This relationship between slackers and older generation's countercultural movments that also questioned conventionally valued lifestyles is explored further in the book "Doing Nothing" (Lutz). In the first chapter, Lutz establishes his son's character as that of a slacker, and parallels his behaviour to how he lived his life during his youth wandering in different places, doing drugs and working odd jobs. The chapter later goes on to mention the influence that Slacker had on the subculture he sees his son as being a part of, and it makes some interesting implications about why the act of slacking can cause strong feelings of anger on people who witness the slacking. This seems to be because people who observe the slacking without partaking on it feel that the slacking goes against the meritocratic values embeded in their mindset by contemporary capitalist society. That rebellious attitude that can even enrage people who are too busy following the norm is partly what made Slacker such a cultural hit and slacking such an important counter culture movement at the time.
For more information on the legacy the film left behind, click [[here|legacy]]
For mote information on thecultural context behind it, click [[here|cultural context]] Despite //Slacker// (1990) not reaching as large of an audience as //Wayne’s World// (1992) or //Clerks// (1994), because it was representational of the cultural aspect of the 90’s, it inspired a boom in the film industry. While it didn’t singlehandedly begin the cultural movement, it sort of became the figurehead of the ‘Slacker’ subgenre, the “third wheel of the cultural medallion at that moment”([[Moyer|Sources]]) as said by Linklater in an interview. Working alongside other media and movements being produced at the time, Slacker furthers the grungy, counter-culture themes that were arising, adding a more “realistic” depiction of college-aged slackers and furthering the trends of “Gen-X”.
Slacker varies from the multitude of movies it inspired as it was created with the low budget of only $23,000, whereas many movies that followed it were higher in budget and aimed to have a more mainstream appeal. In an interview with Linklater, the host brings up the fact that Slacker didn’t only inspire a subgenre of film but also a financial change in Independent movies. John Pierson, the interviewer, mentions that many movies would have a budget of around 3 million but eventually that managed to get down to 300,000. Up until around when Linklater produced Slacker for such a small expense, it was extremely uncommon to find a well-made movie with such a small budget. Linklater says in response that that’s all the money he had so he had to make it work ([[Baumgarten|Sources]]), and work it did.
Slacker almost seamlessly follows up to 97 characters as the camera moves from one character to the next whenever their monologue or impact has been finished, thus leading the film to feel like one long tracking shot. Many of the movies after it did not retain this same homey/casual feel to them as they mainly followed a set cast of characters, like in Wayne’s World for example. That being said, the thing that movies draw on from Slacker is the personality and idiosyncracy of each of the cast members. The idea that drew out the slacker-genre was the concept of having characters that aren’t particularly outstanding by any conventional measure. They play in bands, write conspiracy theories, and talk about Smurfs or drug use implications in Scooby Doo. These slackers are just normal people with a bit too much free time, and the appeal of the film comes from seeing them be themselves under their own terms, without succumbing to society's judgements on what a valid lifestyle should be. There was so much directors could do with this new genre, so they did. Some of the multitude of movies inspired by Slacker include //The Puffy Chair// (2005), //Reality Bites// (1994), //Kicking and Screaming// (2005), //Trainspotting// (1996) and the aforementioned //Clerks// (1994) and the //Wayne’s World// franchise ([[Meltzer|Sources]]). And while Linklater might say that the movie was misinterpreted in one way or another ([[Baumgarten|Sources]]), the fact reigns true that the movie hit tones that inspired people to create.
Slacker launched Linklater's career from being an independent filmmaker to a big time director that went on to produce many well-known movies including //School of Rock// (2003) and //Dazed and Confused// (1993). In an article, the writer observes the inspirations large or small) that Linklater took from his own movie. There are portions of Slacker echoed throughout his career. An article on The Spool makes these connections between Linklaters future films and Slacker as they go into detail about the relations. “...much like his most acclaimed later endeavors //Boyhood//  or //Before Midnight// , Slacker is a small-scale, dialogue-driven feature following the exploits of mundane life. Slacker also feels like a precursor to Linklater’s second directorial effort, Dazed and Confused, in how it expands its focus far and wide across a whole swath of human beings residing in Austin, Texas, while the frequently paranoid figures that the camera lingers on tend to recall the similarly paranoid characters of A Scanner Darkly .” ([[Laman|Sources]])
Lastly, If not the movies, his own career and a subgenre, Slacker changed Austin Texas greatly. Throughout the internet, interviews and articles will mention the various changes the movie had on the scene in Austin, recalling that not only did the film perfectly capture Austinites during that specific time period, but afterwards, Austin boomed in the film industry ([[Baumgarten|Sources]]) ([[Soldani|Sources]]). Linklater mentions in an interview that he values the new-found film community in Austin “that's been the wonderful thing about how it has grown. Now you show something, or a locally produced movie, and it's packed with other people who are into the same thing. That's great.” ([[Baumgarten|Sources]]).
Slacker was decidedly influential in a multitude of aspects, including inspiring the “slacker” movie subgenre, shaping the public's understanding of “Gen X” (with the help of contemporary independent musical acts that mainstream media associated with slacker culture), helping to create a booming film industry in Austin, and propelling Linklater's career into mainstream success
For more information about Cultural Context click [[Here|cultural context]]
For more information about Influences click [[Here|influences]]