In Richard Linklater’s Slacker, a woman in denim trousers and a thrift store baseball cap approaches two individuals lingering outside a decrepit brick building. She makes some friendly, casual conversation before attempting and failing to sell the pair a Madonna pap smear. “It’s a material world, and I’m a material girl,” she jokes before disappearing from the frame.
While bizarre, the sequence is one of several that makes Linklater’s film less of a fiction and more of an ethnography, a mindful glimpse at a few shared moments between mostly bohemian types—there’s a UFO specialist and a JFK conspiracy theorist—who reside in Austin, Texas in the ‘90s.
It’s difficult to say if Linklater identifies with the cast of characters he concocted for his debut feature, but his Austin—always in the background but never secondary to the interactions between his subjects—holds the 100-minute-long episode together. Whether we’re suffocating in a decayed bookstore or listening to a man (Linklater himself) gabble on in the back of a taxi cab, the Texas metropolis manages to be its own character, at the forefront of the film and impossible to disregard. Linklater’s Austin is a cultural oasis, a hub for misfits, geniuses, and paranoids. It’s colorful and outrageous, and Slacker, in a sense, feels like his ode to the city that would, from that point onward, mark his career. Austin is to Linklater what New York is to Woody Allen.
Shortly before maxing out his credit cards to shoot Slacker, Linklater, along with a few collaborators including cinematographer Lee Daniel and South by Southwest (SXSW) creator Louis Black, founded the Austin Film Society. Intent on making Texas’s capital a major cultural center, Linklater and his crew attempted to create a cinephile community by finding rare films to screen in the city. Today, the Austin Film Society has a grander purpose, and has become an institution that bolsters Texas film productions—it houses Austin Studios, a production facility—and supports the careers of Texas filmmakers.
In a piece looking at Slacker 25 years after it was released, Brendan Gaughen comments on what may have drawn Linklater, who originally hails from Houston, to Texas’s capital. “Austin was a much less expensive city in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which certainly helped make it possible for part-time workers (and full-time dropouts) to pursue esoteric aims like memorize the minutiae of the JFK assassination, dispose of symbolic typewriters, and document every possible moment on videotape.” It’s in reference to Linklater’s film specifically, but it’s also one that undoubtedly served as an inspiration for other Texas filmmakers. Linklater’s Austin, the one Gaughen alludes to, is often sensational, but still naturalistic, sometimes even rugged. His camerawork, especially in Slacker, is grainy, and he embraces the look we may now collectively agree is “very ‘90s.” Fellow Texan Robert Rodriguez and even Quentin Tarantino—who shot his 2007 exploitation film Death Proof in the city—make use of this style. While there’s little all three have in common, their Austin films all work off of Linklater’s aesthetic choices. There’s something about that ‘70s Dodge Challenger in Death Proof that brings to mind the car Ethan Hawke’s Mason Evans drives in Boyhood, one that not only conjures nostalgia, but gives the audience a sense that the person driving it suffers from severe arrested development.
Despite Linklater’s intimate relationship with Austin—Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and SubUrbia were filmed in and around the city—and his connection to Black, it took his 1998 film The Newton Boys, which follows infamous Texas bank robbers, for the director to premiere one of his projects in his home state. It may not be his most-discussed feature, but The Newton Boys certainly offers a slice of Texas culture, all the more evident in its casting of two Texas natives who also happen to be Linklater regulars—Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke.
Eighteen years after the fact, Linklater is returning to SXSW to premiere Everybody Wants Some, a comedy that’s been described as both a continuation of his cult classic Dazed and Confused and his award-winning Boyhood. It’s a major move for Linklater to be making his way back home, particularly because it’s not so major at all. Following a Best Picture nomination, a Best Director nomination, and several other (actual) accolades, Linklater could practically go anywhere. He could open Cannes, he could close Cannes, or he could just wait until Christmas, a date that’s often been reserved for both huge pictures and critical darlings. But instead, he’s premiering Everybody Wants Some at SXSW, a festival that’s only recently become a place where debuts make it big (Short Term 12 from a few years back comes to mind). His return also makes perfect sense.
Everybody Wants Some follows a group of college baseball players who attempt to find a middle ground between their adolescence and the newfound freedom that accompanies being an independent adult. We are flung into the 1980s—in Texas, of course—and it’s almost too fitting that Linklater, who has forever been obsessed with temporality, would want to showcase his latest back in the city that first birthed his career. Not only are we going back in time in the film, but by opening SXSW in Austin, we are also going back to the earliest moments in Linklater’s career. It makes all the more sense considering that Everybody Wants Some could be read as a sequel of sorts to Linklater’s cult classic Dazed and Confused, which followed a bunch of misfit high schoolers in the Austin suburbs.
Like Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some stars mostly newcomers, which makes Linklater’s decision to head to SXSW appear all the more deliberate. What better place to showcase a film with a few rising stars than at a festival that has, since its inception, honored the rookies and up-and-comers?
While the associations to Dazed and Confused are easy to make, Everybody Wants Some is also a spiritual successor to Boyhood, released in 2014. Seen as Linklater’s most successful (and ambitious) project, it was filmed over a 12-year period—a couple of weeks a year—and walks us through the life of Mason Evans Jr. from his early days growing up in Olivia, Tex. to his life in Houston, finally culminating with his first weeks at college in the picturesque Alpine. Along with Mason, his single mother (Patricia Arquette in an Academy Award-winning performance), and sister Samantha (Linklater’s daughter Lorelei), we travel through Texas, through different periods in our lives—the film begs to be seen as “universal”—and, in perhaps one of its strongest moments, we find ourselves in Austin.
Mason takes a trip with his high school girlfriend to visit his sister who’s attending college there. On their drive we hear them discuss the difficulties in connecting with people in the digital age. Meanwhile, the Texas landscape—brown and flat—is vaguely noticeable, but still remarkably omnipresent in the background.
When they finally arrive to Austin we are greeted by the vibrant streets we first saw in Slacker, the strange characters who loiter on each and every corner. Even when Mason and his girlfriend end up drunk at a late night joint, it’s hard to forget where they are—in a city that’s youthful, liberal, and more magical than any one they’ve been before.