Richard Lin­klater dreams out loud

In­die mav­er­ick resur­faces with two smart films about two kinds of night­mares

NOW Magazine - TIFF - - FRONT PAGE - By IN­GRID RAN­DOJA

check out any of the re­cent horny, gross-out comedies and you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate the craft of Richard Lin­klater.

Most of the cur­rent movies celebrate rag­ing hor­mones and re­ward asi­nine ac­tions. Lin­klater’s, on the other hand – Slacker, Dazed And Con­fused, Be­fore Sunrise, SubUr­bia, and even the 20s bank-rob­bing buddy flick The New­ton Boys – are about the mo­ment adult­hood sneaks up on a young char­ac­ter and asks, “Are you ready for me?”

His films feel loose but are ac­tu­ally pre­cisely struc­tured works that em­pha­size the power of lan­guage and tackle eth­i­cal dilem­mas. Take that, Farrelly broth­ers.

The Austin-based di­rec­tor steals the spotlight at this year’s Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val by bring­ing two talked-about movies to town. There’s the down-and-dirty Tape, which traps three friends (Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thur­man ) in a mo­tel room, where they turn on each other like pit bulls in a ring.

“Tape’s a nasty lit­tle piece,” says Lin­klater on the line from Austin, Texas. “I’m us­ing another part of my film­mak­ing brain.”

That may be true, but Tape is still brainy, just like the as­tound­ing Wak­ing Life (see re­views, page S6). A Slack­er­type drama, Wak­ing Life was shot on dig­i­tal video and then an­i­mated by Bob Sabis­ton, whose ground­break­ing com­puter soft­ware al­lows an­i­ma­tors to paint over the ac­tors, giv­ing the film a vivid paint-by-num­bers ef­fect. (Te­dious work, for sure – it’s es­ti­mated that each minute of footage re­quired 250 hours of an­i­ma­tion.)

It’s slightly dizzy-mak­ing to watch, be­cause the fore­ground and back­ground move sep­a­rately, cre­at­ing a see­saw ef­fect. But that dis­ori­en­ta­tion is per­fectly suited to a story about a char­ac­ter (played by Wiley Wiggins) who’s not sure if he’s awake or dream­ing. He spends his days drift­ing among an as­sort­ment of ec­centrics, dis­cussing the na­ture of re­al­ity and con­scious­ness.

“I went through a pe­riod of false awak­en­ings when I was a se­nior in high school. I was hav­ing vivid dreams where I wasn’t sure whether I was

awake or not. The ex­pe­ri­ence lasted weeks, and I got re­ally afraid near the end, feel­ing trapped and think­ing maybe I was dead. Even­tu­ally, I did wake up from these dreams, and while it was very cool, it got kind of creepy by the end.”

The idea of turn­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence into a film has been kick­ing around Lin­klater’s head for 17 years, but it was only when he en­coun­tered Sabis­ton, who was in Austin work­ing on his film Road­head, that Lin­klater de­cided he could pull it off.

It should be said that Lin­klater had a lot of time on his hands since Hol­ly­wood wasn’t in­ter­ested in mak­ing his kind of movies; even the bank rob­bers in the The New­ton Boys talked more than they shot. And thank good­ness, be­cause in Austin, Lin­klater has blos­somed both per­son­ally and ar­tis­ti­cally.

Be­fore he first picked up a cam­era, he founded the Austin Film So­ci­ety, which screens more than 100 movies a year, and over the last five years the So­ci­ety has given over $200,000 to as­pir­ing Texas film­mak­ers. He’s lob­bied the city to turn empty air­port hangars into film stu­dios cater­ing to Hol­ly­wood and in­die pro­duc­tion.

“Richard leads the city’s film move­ment, and he’s the one who crys­tal­lizes its ac­tiv­i­ties,” says Austin Chron­i­cle pub­lisher Louis Black. “Af­ter Slacker, Richard could have gone to L.A., but he stayed to build the com­mu­nity. Then Robert Ro­driguez moved to town. Then Mike Judge, Guillermo del Toro and Ain’t It Cool Web site cre­ator Harry Knowles set­tled here.”

“The place at­tracts a cer­tain kind of spirit,” says Lin­klater. “A lot of re­ally in­ter­est­ing seek­ers are drawn or drift here. If you’re a lit­tle dif­fer­ent and liv­ing in a small town in the South and you want more tol­er­ance for your lifestyle, you end up in Austin. The joke here is that the only thing wrong with Austin is that it’s sur­rounded by Texas,” laughs Lin­klater.

It took him some time to fig­ure out his shit, and even within Austin’s tol­er­ant, ev­ery­one-can-be-an-artist vibe, he had doubts about his tal­ent.

“The scari­est thought I ever had was when I to­tally de­voted my­self to film­mak­ing – I bought all the equip­ment and thought about film con­stantly – and then won­dered, ‘God, wouldn’t it be the cru­ellest joke of all time if I, who re­jected all the things I was re­ally good at, found out I had no tal­ent for film­mak­ing?’

“Then I thought, ‘No, that couldn’t be pos­si­ble.’ I don’t think the world works that way. I think the thing you’re most pas­sion­ate about will lead you di­rectly or in­di­rectly to your life’s work.

“I quickly de­cided that if no one wanted me as a writer/di­rec­tor, I’d be happy run­ning a theatre, get­ting films seen. I just made my peace with that.”

in­gridr@now­toronto.com

Richard Lin­klater’s dis­tinc­tive style makes Wak­ing Life look like a paint-by-num­bers pic­ture.

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