The Unexpected and Varied Oeuvre of Richard Linklater

Daniel Hautzinger
Richard Linklater. Photo: Courtesy Detour Films
Richard Linklater. Photo: Courtesy Detour Films

Richard Linklater – dream is destiny is broadcast by American Masters on Friday, September 1 at 10:00 pm and available to stream the next day.

Richard Linklater is an oddity. An indie-minded director who often makes films low on action and high on musing dialogue, he has still managed to achieve widespread popular acclaim. Based on a significant portion of his oeuvre, you might peg him as a philosophizer intent on exploring a certain type of thoughtful, free-spirited character, but he has also directed a kid-friendly industry comedy (School of Rock), an exposé documentary (Fast Food Nation), and a based-on-real-life dark comedy about a murder (Bernie).

Explore some of Linklater’s varied and unique films here, before the broadcast of Richard Linklater – dream is destiny on American Masters, which surveys his life, work, and ambitions.

Slacker (1990)

Slacker.Slacker Although not his first film – he made a movie called It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow By Reading Books in 1988 – Slacker put Linklater on the map. Filmed for only $23,000, it follows various musing misfits around Austin, Texas, Linklater’s adopted hometown. Despite its low profile, Slacker came to be viewed as capturing a cultural moment, a cinematic expression of the listlessness and worldview of Generation X.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Linklater’s friend Quentin Tarantino has said this is his favorite movie from the ‘90s. It explores one of Linklater’s favorite themes, youth at a turning point, by following a group of high school kids on their last day of school in 1976. Set to a classic rock soundtrack, its cast includes a number of soon-to-be stars: Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, and Parker Posey, among others.

The Before Trilogy

Linklater is fascinated by the way people change over time and how one seemingly insignificant day or moment can be enormously important in a person’s emotional development. These three films all follow the same couple, played by Julie Delpy and longtime Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke, over the course of one day, at three different points in their life. Before Sunrise (1995) shows their chance meeting on a train; they disembark in Vienna and walk and talk all night before parting, potentially never to see each other again. Almost a decade later, they rekindle feelings in Paris in Before Sunset (2004), even though Hawke’s character is now married with a kid. They’ve finally married by Before Midnight (2013) and are the parents of twins, although their marriage is not untroubled during their Greek vacation. Linklater described the trilogy as “walking, talking play[s];” Delpy’s agent fired her during Before Sunset for spending so much time on what a film that had seemingly no prospects for success.

Waking LifeWaking Life Waking Life (2001)

Linklater boldly experimented with form in this semi-animated film in which a man tries to explore and understand his dreams. What is consciousness, what are dreams, what is the nature of reality? These are the questions Linklater tackles.

School of Rock (2003)

Who would have predicted that Linklater would make a relatively big-budget industry comedy? Not even the director himself. He initially passed on the project, but the producer Scott Rudin convinced him to take it on – with this opportunity he could make his own studio comedy without what he saw as the genre’s shortfalls.

Bernie (2011)

Based on the true story of a sweet-natured Texan mortician who kills an emotionally abusive older woman then hides her body and uses her fortune to help people around town, Bernie is both touching and hilarious. After the real-life Bernie was released from prison early, Linklater opened his home to him, letting Bernie live above Linklater’s garage.

Boyhood (2014)

Perhaps Linklater’s most successful and ambitious film – it was nominated for six Oscars and won one for Patricia Arquette – Boyhood was filmed over twelve years, so that the cast aged along with its characters. Linklater came up with the idea when he became frustrated with film’s constraints. He sat down to write a novel, then realized that he could make a cinematic novel if he filmed a little bit every year.

Everybody Wants Some!!Everybody Wants Some!! Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Everybody Wants Some!! could be a sequel to both Dazed and Confused and Boyhood. Everybody Wants Some!! picks up where those two films leave off, depicting the process of growing up in college. It follows a group of college baseball players in 1980s Texas.

Last Flag Flying (2017)

Due out November 3, this is a sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 film The Last Detail. Both films are based on novels by Daryl Ponicsan. Starring Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, and Steve Carell as middle-aged veterans who set out to bury one of their sons, who was killed in Iraq.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2018)

This adaptation of Maria Semple’s 2012 novel, still in filming, stars Cate Blanchett as the titular architect, who disappears before a family vacation. Her 15-year-old daughter Bee goes in search of her. Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, and Laurence Fishburne are also signed on.

American Masters
Richard Linklater