By Brandon Engel
Filmmaker Richard Linklater’s body of work has touched upon a number of fascinating topics: everything from lucid dreaming, to speculative-fiction style dystopian projections of the future, to the subtle non-adventures of teenagers philosophizing and getting stoned in small town Texas circa 1976. In addition to his novel, and typically accessible, concepts, Linklater is also notable for using interesting visual storytelling techniques – for instance, his films Waking Life (which attempts to replicate the experience of a lucid dream) and A Scanner Darkly (which is an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel by the same name) both employ the use of a digital rendering process wherein real-time footage is animated over, creating a sort of uncanny, dream-like image quality reminiscent of what the animators of older times would create with the use of rotoscopes.
This year at SXSW, Linklater received the “Lone Star” award (issued to native Texas filmmakers) for his latest film Boyhood (2014). It’s potentially his greatest offering as a filmmaker to date, and it also stands as one of the most fascinating technical and conceptual experiments ever conducted in the annals of film. Linklater shot the film over the course of twelve years, and constructed a narrative that focuses on the growth and development of a young boy named Mason in Texas. The role of Mason was played by Ellar Coltrane, who was six years old when he first met Linklater. The film follows the boys intellectual, social, interpersonal, and even physiological evolution from first grade up through when the boy graduates high school and prepares to leave for college at the age of 18.“I was trying to write something about childhood,” Linklater said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, “and I couldn’t pick one moment – so I had this idea… ‘could you shoot a little bit, and have it evolve’… ‘cause I kind of wanted to bite off the whole thing: childhood.”
During the same interview, Ellar commented that the film itself kept the most comprehensive record of his development as a person. “It’s funny, because I don’t have many baby pictures or home movies,” Ellar said. “So, I hadn’t seen a lot of myself as a child until we finished the film.”
And what’s particularly great about this award from SXSW is that SXSW, for all the criticism it has drawn in recent years for “over-branding,” is still an important place where creativity and technology converge, particularly for young media consumers. This makes SXSW a particularly advantageous forum for Linklater. A recurring theme in Linklater’s work is people coming into intellectual maturity, and the young person’s struggle to reconcile their burgeoning world views with the inherent complexity of the world surrounding them. This was a prominent theme within his two earliest films, Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993). This theme also has unique implications for his most recent film, not only because of its thematic content, but also because so many young people have taken to social media feeds to discuss it. Numbers from the social media aggregator Viral Heat reveal that Boyhood’s accolades from SXSW have done much to boost visibility for the film:
— Anne Thompson (@akstanwyck) March 18, 2014
my review of Richard Linklater’s masterpiece BOYHOOD. best film at SXSW. film, etc.: BOYHOOD http://t.co/jeLUhhexyO
— joshua kelley (@jkelley133) March 18, 2014
Reading all these reviews for #BOYHOOD. I need to watch this film now! I love collabs between Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater <3
— Ryan ☮ (@wallflowerryan) March 19, 2014
Very much looking forward to Richard Linklater’s new movie “Boyhood’. Most likely one of the best films in this decade
— Moritz (@moritzde) March 19, 2014
— FrontRow Blog (@D_FrontRow) March 12, 2014
Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” Captures American Youth In Transition http://t.co/pSfl88sKfr
— Alex Palermo (@Tremont_Tearoom) March 16, 2014
Many filmmakers in the past have experimented with enhancing realism. Readily summoned to mind are the tactics of Vittorio De Sica, who pioneered Italian Neorealism in cinema, which favored non professional actors as opposed to thespians and authentic shooting locations as opposed to sets. Also significant is the development and history of Cinema Verite (or “cinema of truth”) which also sought to squelch the obtuse stylizations of large budget, commercial cinema. Linklater has expanded on these histories in a way that is distinctly Linklater. It’s very conscious of its own artifice, but not in such a way that it calls attention to itself in a way that harms the film. It’s ambitious but unpretentious. And above all else, the story itself isn’t eclipsed by the film’s elaborate artifice. This is a magnificent film from one of the most fascinating contemporary filmmakers, and it will be interesting to see if this technique is co-opted by other filmmakers over time.