If you’re looking for a straight forward story with a beginning, middle and an-everything-tied-up ending, you might not find it here. The films of Richard Linklater are interested in meandering and the time that passes onscreen is often just a snapshot taken from a much fuller story.
Most mainstream cinema offers up a couple of hours of entertainment – stories that span days and sometimes years, but that fit succinctly into cinema schedules. Richard Linklater’s films don’t do that. His films begin, search for a form of truth or authenticity, find connections in companionship and then finish, happy and secure in the knowledge that more time is yet to pass and that nostalgia means the time spent will never go really away.
Linklater says, “cinema is not an immediate art form.” His mentor is experimental filmmaker James Benning, who is interested in duration and believes in the slowness and stillness of real life. Benning’s film Nightfall (2012) is simply one shot of the woods, with the sun slowly setting, in real time, behind the trees. His film Natural History (2014) looks, very slowly, carefully and a little like the more well-known documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s work, at the corridors and items on display in Vienna’s Museum of Natural History. A journey through duration is what’s shown.
In the early 1990s Richard Linklater was at the heart of the American Independent film explosion that took place across the world, and was praised critically but also adored by audiences, for his honest, humorous and endearing depictions of the waster generation, Gen X.
Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993) gave an entire generation something to identify with. Suddenly the sprawling nature of mindless conversation and the intertwined concerns facing youth about the state of the world, their personal politics, the finite nature of their existence and the meaning – or lack of meaning -they derived from popular culture, could all be explored and understood without hierarchy. A container with Madonna’s pap smear inside it – including one of her pubic hairs – becomes every bit as important to that youth as a breaking news story about a man who drove along a freeway firing live ammunition.
Slacker prefigures the American Indie subgenre Mumblecore and the more mainstream film and TV shows it’s since spawned such as Lena Dunham’s Girls, the web series Broad City, and Netflix exclusives Love and Togetherness. Dazed and Confused has only continued to build its cult following since release and liking it is now worn like a badge of honour when it comes to expressing a belief in personal freedom and the right to simply be – instead of doing. But Linklater’s films are not improvised – they are tightly scripted, they are well thought out explorations of meandering precisely because they were created by nostalgia.
Everybody Wants Some!! has been labelled a sequel to Dazed and Confused but Linklater also suggests that it is a sort of spiritual continuation of his 2014 hit film Boyhood. But labelling the connections between his films is unnecessary as they are all, in some way, connections and continuations of each other.
Just because Slacker finishes, it doesn’t mean that the chance encounters between its ensemble cast don’t continue. So, too, do the kids in Dazed and Confused continue to party, argue, learn, dream and be.
Linklater had the idea for Everybody Wants Some!! around about the same time that he embarked upon creating his twelve-year odyssey Boyhood in the early 2000s. One is not necessarily, then, before the other. Rather, the stories are about characters who are still trying to learn, to ‘get some’ and to grow up. It’s about the journey rather than the destination. Boyhood may be 165 minutes in duration as a film but it is also twelve years from each of the lives of its cast and crew. And so much more than that.
Richard Linklater often works with the same actors and actresses; Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Matthew McConaughey and Jack Black have each appeared in more than one of his films. And, though their reappearance is not purely intertextual, there is a sense of fluidity between characters and performances.
Ethan Hawke, for example, could be the same man in multiple films; an awkward, slightly irresponsible grown up still aching for his youth in Boyhood; and the young, hopeful, charming but assuming young man who talked to the girl sat across from him on a train in Before Sunrise (1995); a man looking back at, discussing and confronting painful memories from high school in a motel room in the film Tape (2001). He brings the history of the Before trilogy to his role in Boyhood and the conversations in that motel room could also belong to that man.
Linklater already has plans to work with Ethan Hawke again – but not until he is 90 and Hawke is 80 years old – on a version of King Lear. No doubt there will be some glimmer of that young man, that middle aged man and the actor himself present in the eighty-year-old, tortured king.
And Linklater himself is a part of that same journey; he appears in the back of a taxi as a character in Slacker, his daughter plays the role of the sister in Boyhood, his love of baseball crops up in Bad News Bears, Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!! and, here specifically, he takes a nostalgic look back at his own college experiences, basing his central character somewhat on himself.
There is part of him in each of his films just as there is growing up to be done in each of his films. Jack Black in School of Rock (2003) is an adult still yearning for youth and the freedom of childhood; still wanting to create and make music as if passion were the only thing that mattered and as if time were of no consequence.
In Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006), the dream world, the waking world, what we think of as reality and we understand as imagination are blurred until they are almost indistinguishable. The characters in these films are looking for something – they are trying to find out what is true.
Bernie (2011) is a strange entry into docu-drama that re-imagines true events where an affable mortician befriends a controlling, wealthy widow, whose hold over him ends with her death. The film is not a documentary, but it uses interviews with the townsfolk and actual people from the small town where the real events took place to re-enact the commentary on a real life murder. It simultaneously shows us how those events may have unfolded, re-enacted by famous performers Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. The result is a constant questioning of what is true and how can we even approach presenting what is true through filmmaking.
Richard Linklater has worked with different modes of storytelling and yet there is a common thread. Though some of these films seem to stand out as more or less narrative than others they are allinterested in untangling the same themes, issues and fixations.
Even Me and Orson Welles (2008) which stars Zac Efron and Claire Danes in a reimagining of what it was like to work with Orson Welles in his theatre days in the 1930s, is interested in history and the truth of that history – or perhaps the reincarnation of it from a contemporary, nostalgic perception. The same is true of The Newton Boys (1998), a film that takes narrative history – of the Newton gang, the most successful bank robbers in US history – and asks how they did it, who they were, and, most notably, how we remember them. So, too with Fast Food Nation (2006) which hopes to expose the exploitation, social injustices, horrors and evils of the fast food industry.
Time passes but the stories continue, a fundamental function of nostalgia. We make connections with each other as much as we do with the past. In this way, it is pleasing to see that Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t feel like a filmmaker from the 1990s trying to re-create or resurrect his early filmmaking career. Instead, it feels like a filmmaker still making that same style of cinema, still searching for the answers to those same questions.
Everybody Wants Some!! is a snapshot of one weekend before college begins, but it’s also a very beautiful depiction of the way in which nostalgia allows us to enjoy something that now belongs to time.
The magic of the movies is in its ability to create, or indeed recreate, something. To tell a story, sure, but also to just be. And, like his characters, constantly looking around, trying to get some from the people, time, and experiences around them, the film is searching for the truth; of an era, for the authenticity of the past but also for the authenticity of the memory of the past: the ability to enjoy and revisit a time and a place that has, out of necessity in its revision, changed, and is now tinged with nostalgia.
When Linklater first sat down to write this film, it was 180 pages long. That’s about 30 pages longer than James Cameron’s Avatar. It covered the whole freshman school year. But he cut it down and created a snapshot. So even though we only see three days before school starts, the story continues off screen – it continues in the mind and memory of its maker.
Everybody Wants Some!! is available to rent from 20th Century Flicks and it’s awesome.