Worshiped by coffeehouse regulars, fawned over by film students who see him as their liberator, Richard Linklater is in fact a closet conventionalist, a throwback in slacker’s clothing. He loves the labor of filmmaking and doesn’t care if it makes him rich. Listening to him discuss his future projects in his genial if somewhat jittery voice—”After this Western bank-robber movie, I’ll probably do my Texas high school football movie, then the Galveston movie, then the Huntsville movie …” —you cannot help but wonder if the mop-haired 34-year-old will suddenly bolt past you and out the door of his office, gathering potential cast members as he races down the street.
The man who made Slacker (1991) is easily misunderstood as being one himself, and the rather narrow scope of his follow-ups— Dazed and Confused (1993) and Before Sunrise (1995)—enables some to write him off as an artsy ditherer. “My early work isn’t exactly a calling card to the industry,” he admits. “I sort of set out to be the little rodent that ate the dinosaur’s eggs.”
Indeed, there’s a vaguely subversive quality to Linklater’s ascent. The Huntsville native studied literature rather than film during his brief stint at Sam Houston State University before wearying of higher education and working on an oil rig. After three years of roughnecking, he took $18,000 in savings and relocated to Austin, where his pedestrian interest in movies developed into a nocturnal obsession. By the mid-eighties he had become one of the city’s many do-it-yourself filmmakers, inconspicuously producing 8mm short films. When in 1989 he began to round up several dozen Austin flakes and cast them in unpaid roles for a $23,000 send-up of, well, Austin flakes, Hollywood’s cultural elite did not exactly respond with a frenzy of conference calls.
But Slacker and Linklater’s two other features, for all their modest aims, have gained remarkable praise for their comic astuteness