Welcome to Austin, Texas. Here, in a series of short, interconnected vignettes, we will meeta huge diversity of characters, who are variously eccentric, insane, disaffected, apathetic,coasting, and so on. Director/writer/producer Richard Linklater’s approach is not unlike RobertAltman taken to the next level. Plot, as such, finally disappears completely. Instead, the camerafollows one character (or set of characters) for a minute or two, then leaves them to trail someonewho…crossed their path. Each vignette (some lasting mere seconds) leads into the next. Whilethere is considerable range in the ages of the characters, for the most part, they aretwentysomethings, and, as a child of that era, I can vouch for the at times painful authenticitywith which Linkalter and non-actors capture the spirit, lives, speech, and ideas of thatgeneration.
A small film made for $23,000 can’t be expected to have a spectacular soundtrack. But itsDVD CAN be expected to have a clean transfer. Unfortunately, that is not entirely the case here.Though there isn’t any distortion as such, the 2.0 stereo has all sorts of weird bleed into the rearspeakers. At first, I thought this was minor surround, but upon listening closer, I found that thestrange, scratchy whispering I was hearing was random fragments of the dialogue. A veryunusual mistake for Criterion to make.
As for the video, this is a film made on 16 mm, so of course it’s grainy. To expect anythingelse would be churlish. What counts is the quality of the transfer, and here the job was done well.The print is in excellent shape, and there are no problems with dirt, pixellation or edgeenhancement. The format is fullscreen, which is to be expected with 16 mm, and is the preferredaspect ration of the filmmakers.
Anyone who wants more features than are provided here should be taken out to the backforty and shot. Let’s begin by enumerating them, (and I quote directly from the jacket copy).
- Three audio commentaries, featuring Richard Linklater and members of the cast andcrew
- Casting tapes featuring select “auditions” from the over one-hundred-member cast, with anessay from production manager/casting director Anne Walker-McBay
- An early film treatment
- Home movies
- Ten-minute trailer for a documentary about Les Amis, the Austin café that served as locationfor several scenes
- Stills gallery (both behind-the-scenes and publicity)
- It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988) – Linklater’s firstfull-length feature, with commentary by the director
- “Woodshock” – an early short 16mm film made by Linklater and Lee Daniel in 1985
- “The Roadmap” – the working script of Slacker, including fourteen deleted scenesand alternate takes
- Footage form the Slacker tenth-anniversary reunion in Austin, Texas in 2001
- Original theatrical trailer
- Slacker culture essay by Linklater
- Information about the Austin Film Society, founded in 1985 by Linklater with Daniel,including early flyers from screenings
Then there’s a 64-page booklet, with long essays about the film by author John Pierson, SonyPictures Classics head Michael Barker, along with reviews, production notes, full credits, anintro by director Monte Hellman to It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books,and all sorts of cool scrapbook-like ephemera.
Greedy for more? I didn’t think so. Most of the extras are self-explanatory, and the sheercomprehensiveness of it all (while never descending into silliness) showcases Criterion at itsbest. The three commentaries, I should add, are helpfully broken down by type, so Linklater takescare of the first, cast members do the second, and the crew handles the third. Thus, thecollaborative nature of the film shines through. The menu’s main screen is scored with thesounds of traffic.
Though the sound problems are disappointing, in virtually all other respects it would be hardto imagine a more complete disc than this.
Special Features List
- 3 Audio Commentaries
- “It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books” – Feature Debuty by Richard Linklater
- Casting Tapes
- Early Film Treatment
- Home Movies
- Documentary about Les Amis Café
- Still Gallery
- “Woodshock” Short Film
- “The Roadmap” Working Script
- 10th-Anniversary Reunion
- Theatrical Trailer
- Slacker Culture Essay by Linklater
- 64-page Booklet