Lin­klater’s in­no­va­tive look at ‘Boy­hood’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

“And so I think I was al­lowed to have this very sim­ple idea.”

The Texas na­tive, a self-taught film­maker, burst onto the scene as one of the in­de­pen­dent in­no­va­tors of the 1990s. His first two films, 1991’s “Slacker” and 1993’s “Dazed and Con­fused,” took place in a sin­gle day.

His third film did, too, but 1995’s “Be­fore Sun­rise” is in a cat­e­gory of its own. Mr. Lin­klater was in­spired by French film but has prac­ti­cally in­vented a new genre, con­tin­u­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a man and a woman (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train in Europe in 2004’s “Be­fore Sun­set” and 2013’s “Be­fore Mid­night.”

It was his per­sonal, not pro­fes­sional, life that re­ally in­spired new his film, though. “I’d been a par­ent for about six years, think­ing about mak­ing a film about child­hood and be­ing a par­ent. My sto­ry­telling in­stinct was go­ing in this di­rec­tion. I think hav­ing a kid, you have to think about child­hood. You have to think about the psy­che of that age. You can’t help go­ing through your own child­hood,” he says.

But his ideas were “all over the map … so I’d kind of given up on the idea.”

A nov­el­ist, he thought, wouldn’t have trou­ble do­ing what he wanted to do, which was to cap­ture the “grad­ual pro­gres­sion through child­hood.” A film­maker could cast a younger and an older ac­tor who share phys­i­cal sim­i­lar­i­ties, but there would al­ways be a big gap in the story.

He thought about it for a cou­ple years when “Boy­hood” just came to him.

“The whole movie ap­peared in a flash, tonally, ev­ery­thing,” the writer-di­rec­tor says.

He would film a few weeks ev­ery year for 12 years, show­ing a sin­gle boy from first grade to high school grad­u­a­tion.

The light­ning flash didn’t calm his nerves en­tirely: “I know film his­tory pretty well and I’d never seen it or heard of it.”

Some­one in Lon­don told him the late Stan­ley Kubrick wanted to do some­thing sim­i­lar, film­ing the life of Napoleon in stages over years, with Al Pa­cino play­ing the doomed em­peror.

“I think, what would keep a Kubrick or any film­maker out of this, and for good rea­son, is we’re all re­ally con­trol freaks,” Mr. Lin­klater says.

A project span­ning more than a decade, how­ever, “de­mands that you give up that kind of con­trol. You have to em­brace a cer­tain ran­dom, un­know­able fu­ture, like we all do in our lives nat­u­rally,” he adds.

He de­cided to see the un­charted ter­ri­tory less as a haz­ard, more like a fun ad­ven­ture: “Who are these kids go­ing to grow up to be? What’s go­ing to hap­pen in the world that will be wor­thy of in­clud­ing?”

His young star, El­lar Coltrane, has very few films to his name. At one point dur­ing the process, the di­rec­tor felt he had to lower the ac­tor’s ex­pec­ta­tions.

“About four years ago, I said, ‘El­lar, don’t get your hopes up for this movie. I mean, no one’s ever go­ing to see it,’” Mr. Lin­klater re­calls. “Be­cause you can’t sum it up in a sec­ond. You’ve got to wrap your head around it, and it’ll sound vague, and no one will be in­ter­ested.”

That’s re­ally what the di­rec­tor thought. He seems gen­uinely sur­prised that “Boy­hood” has be­come one of the year’s most an­tic­i­pated movies, with au­di­ences clam­or­ing to see some­thing on screen they’ve never seen be­fore.

“Now that this lit­tle door has been opened, maybe oth­ers will start ex­per­i­ment­ing with it in var­i­ous ways,” Mr. Lin­klater muses.

He finds it “fun to think cin­ema in its 119th year or what­ever” can still of­fer the world some­thing new.

But then, he adds, “I’ve al­ways viewed cin­e­matic sto­ry­telling as the Wild West.”

He has no plans to re­visit the boy now that he’s be­come a man. But he knows him­self too well to de­clare he’s done.

“As the ‘Be­fore’ se­ries of films taught me, though, you never know what might pop up need­ing to be alive in you again years later,” Mr. Lin­klater says.

One thing’s cer­tain: He’ll con­tinue to ex­plore the idea of iden­tity, the ques­tion of whether we re­main the same people as we age, the con­cept of change.

“It’s the eter­nal mys­tery that I’m in­trigued by,” he says.

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