Richard Linklater's Slacker presents a day in the life of a loose-knit subculture of marginal, eccentric, and overeducated citizens in Austin, Texas. Shooting film on 16mm for a mere $3,000, writer/producer/director Linklater and his crew of friends eschewed a traditional plot, choosing instead to employ long takes and fluid transitions to create a tapestry of over a hundred characters, each as unique as the last, culminating in an episodic portrait of a distinct vernacular culture and a tribute to bohemian cerebration. Slacker is a prescient look at an emerging generation of aggressive nonparticipants, and one of the key films of the American independent film movement of the 1990s.
The Criterion Collection, in what was a complete surprise upon its initial announcement, presents a stacked 2-disc special edition of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on the first dual-layer disc. While the film was shown in theaters at roughly 1.85:1, this is the aspect ratio the film was shot in and is Linklater's preferred ratio.
I wasn't expecting much considering the film's cheap budget and the fact it was shot on 16mm. But the image on here looks great, all things considered. The image is sharp and clear with a good amount of detail. It it was shot 16mm there is a heavy amount of grain but it’s about what you would expect and not distracting. Colours are deep and bold with excellent saturation, blacks are near-perfect, and whites are very bright. Contrast is also spot on.
The transfer presents no digital artifacts and the film itself hardly has any print flaws, which surprised me. The only time the film looks bad is at the end, which was shot using super 8mm, presenting more damage and faded colours.
Overall, though, the transfer was a wonderful little surprise.
The DVD presents the original stereo track, which sounds very good. Dialogue is clear and articulate, there is no noise or distortion. It sounds very clean. There isn't much in the way of range or effects (considering the film is nothing but talking), but it serves the film well.
Criterion presents a huge special edition DVD release for Slacker, one of the more impressive packages I've ever seen for a film. It took forever to get through everything on this DVD.
There are three audio commentaries on the first disc. The first one is an audio commentary by Richard Linklater and it's a very nice track. He talks mostly about the cast (who are all musicians, which doesn't really surprise me,) writing the film and gets into detail about the actual shooting. Considering the nature of the shoot, and the fact it was all really close, he has a lot of anecdotes, most of which are amusing. It’s a nice track, worth listening to, giving a decent account of what its like shooting a low budget first feature.
The second commentary track is the cast commentary, which features various members of the cast. This is probably the least interesting of the three commentaries as it comes off quite sporadic. Each member really only talks during the sequence they're in and they give anecdotes, talk about the scene, or just general info about the movie. Some are excellent speakers and some aren't so you may catch yourself skipping or using that wonderful commentary index Criterion uses to skip to sequences that may come off more interesting.
The third commentary track is more interesting than the last one. Called crew Commentary it features Linklater yet again, DOP Lee Daniel, and co-producer Clark Walker. This one is more technical than the Linklater commentary, but it also talks a lot about the enjoyment, heartache, and frustration of making an independent film. Of the three it may be my favourite.
Also on the first disc is a section called "Supplements a Go-Go”, which houses more features.
First is No Longer Not Yet (which was the original title to Slacker) and here you find the original script written by Linklater. Well, it's not really a script, but more of a breakdown of each scene describing what's happening. There's only 45 pages or so, and it's a lot different from the finished product, with only a few scenes matching exactly and some matching in only a small way.
Showing Life is footage of cast auditions. The text notes points out that most of those who were cast had little to no acting experience, which does show on occasion in the film. There is a 4 page intro by casting director Anne Walker-McBay, who talks about the process of casting for the film. There's a bout 15-minutes of footage here where most everyone is just required to talk a bit about themselves. I'm assuming from here they tried to match the personalities of each person with a character from the script.
12-minutes of home video footage can be found under Taco-And-A-Half After 10. The material is in fairly rough shape but it presents an interesting look at the indie film process, and shows Linklaters sort of laid back approach to filmmaking. It gets various members of the cast and crew, showing them setting things up. Some of it is hard to hear in spots but overall it's a nice little feature worth looking at.
Les Amis is an odd little feature, a trailer for a film that is about a coffee shop in Austin called Les Amis of course, which was used for some scenes in Slacker. It talks briefly about the restaurant's history, the people that visit and its use in Slacker. Not surprisingly it appears the cafe is now a Starbucks. With some archival footage and some decent interviews this extra is worth looking at.
And closing off the first disc is an extra called Shooting From the Hip, which is a rather large photo gallery showing various members of the cast and crew doing certain activities (whether just hanging around or playing for a band.)
And there's still more to go. Criterion has also included another dual-layered DVD with a large collection of supplements.
On this disc you will find Linklater's very first full-length film, running 85-minutes (and it's available on home video for the first time ever on this DVD), made in 1988, called It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books. It’s an interesting inclusion but have to admit I don’t have the urge to ever watch it again (it makes Slacker come off as a Bruckheimer spectacle.) It's almost a precursor to Slacker but instead of following the daily routines of many characters it really only follows one, played by Linklater, who plays a college student who simply "does stuff." The film follows him around as he walks about, sits around at his place or a friends, or visits family. There isn't much talking in the film, and some scenes are dragged out well past their welcome but there is a charm to it, probably mostly rooted in its low-budget qualities. As well, the fact that you can tell Linklater is having fun making the film helps, even though he's concentrating on the less interesting aspects of a college student's life (or life in general.) The transfer is pretty decent considering it was shot on 8mm for $3000 (though is interlaced), presenting as nice a picture as you could probably get, though sound quality is sort of bad at times (when there is dialogue it can be almost impossible to hear, though thankfully there are subtitles.) Still, it looks as though Criterion put more effort than probably required into it. It runs about 86-minutes.
But Criterion doesn't stop there. They also recorded a commentary with Linklater as he remembers back to his first film. It's yet again a very nice commentary and Linklater still has a lot to talk about, even though he recorded two other commentaries on the first disc. He also gets more into how he got into film and filmmaking and how he learned about film (simply sitting in on classes), as well as acting in film. It's a good commentary track worth listening to (and if you're not too keen on watching the film I recommend at least listening to the commentary and watching the film that way, it's a little more entertaining.)
Next we find Woodshock, a 7-minute short film that chronicles a music festival called "Woodshock" naturally. Shot in 1985 (and feeling like it) it's an interesting piece that shows Linklater's skills very early on. In the text intro it states how Linklater and his director of photography Lee Daniel were going for the feel of a 60's psychedelic film and they definitely succeed. An interesting and actually entertaining little extra also worth checking out.
The Austin Film Society presents some information on the group that started out in 1985 by giving screenings for indie films. Later on after Linklater became bigger it started giving grants and scholarships to young filmmakers and students. Here you will find a short essay by Denise Montgomery called "The Austin Media Arts", which talks about "the space" used for the gatherings, making it sound like a late 80's version of the Beat movement. An essay by Lee Daniel also talks about the early days of the film society and the excitement around it. A collection of flyers are also found here, advertising films being screened, ranging from Fassbinder to Dreyer to Salo.
There Ain't No Film in That Shit (which I believe comes from a statement someone made to Linklater about Slacker) is an interesting feature. You get 25-minutes or so of what looks like deleted footage or alternate footage to scenes, which you can watch individually or as a whole. Or you can even select "Roadmap", which presents the script for the scene, which then plays afterwards if it’s available. And here I suspected Linklater didn’t delete anything.
The Original Theatrical Trailer presents the original Orion theatrical trailer for the film.
Under slack-er\’sla-ker\ you will find a text essay by Linklater on the Slacker culture, covering its many aspects. It makes for an interesting read as he tries to get rid of the bad association with the word "Slacker," something he talks about a lot on this DVD set as well.
And finally we come to End of Interview! which presents a glimpse at the 10th Anniversary screening of Slacker in Austin, Texas, which also seemed to work as a reunion. It gets interviews with the various members of the cast and crew, and also gets some bits from a Q&A. Running about 20-minutes it's a nice extra that catches up on everyone now (or 2001 anyways.)
And that closes off the DVD. The set also comes with a 64-page booklet, though it’s mostly made up of photos and various collages. Some of the essays included: An essay by John Pierson covers the film’s production and then various screenings and pick up by Orion; a reprint of a 2001 article by Ron Rosenbaum on the film; a 1990 article on the film by Chris Walters; former Orion Classics head Michael Barker reflects back on the film’s release; a couple excerpts from Linklater’s notebook for the film; and then finally a short piece by director Monte Hellman on It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books. You’ll also find various other things, including a letter for requesting funds for the film, a collection of samples of letters from collection agencies looking for their money, and other little nick nacks.
In all it’s one of the more exhaustive set of supplements I’ve come across for a DVD release. It covers the film thoroughly and gives a great look into indie filmmaking. A lot of love went into this release and fans of the film will be more than overjoyed by it.
One of Criterion’s more impressive releases, featuring a transfer that’s quite surprising and probably the most thorough collection of supplements I’ve come across. The film is certainly not for every taste, and it can try one’s patience at times, but for fans of the film this release is a no-brained. A great DVD release.