He turned a movie about a chance meeting into one of the best romantic trilogies of all time. In trying to craft a truly authentic coming-of-age tale, he spent two weeks a year watching a boy grow into a man over the course of a 12-year period. In between, he helmed box office failures that turned into cult hits, experimented with blends of animation and live action, shot a film on a camcorder entirely in a motel room, and took on both film greats and comic true tales.
Indeed, with 19 films to his name since making his debut with 1988’s It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, Richard Linklater has proved to be as eclectic in his choice of projects as he is prolific. Some have demonstrated his way with actors, such as the Before trilogy. Others, his knack for capturing for technical experimentation, as seen in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. His crowd-pleasing sensibilities received a workout with School of Rock and again in the completely dissimilar Bernie, his take on a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction real-life story. And with everything from Tape and Fast Food Nation to Me and Orson Welles and Everybody Wants Some!! also on his resume, the list goes on.
Before you dive into Vice’s examination of Linklater’s films, we run through the basics of the Texan filmmaker's career.
The Linklater essentials
In Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, revisiting protagonists Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is like reuniting with old friends. Audiences watched when they first met on a train to Vienna 18 years earlier in Before Sunrise, and again when they crossed paths in Paris nine years after that in Before Sunset. While many film franchises can make that same claim, providing viewers with repeat chances to catch up with favourite characters, it’s the passage of time and life that makes the Before trilogy stand out. The same number of years has passed for Céline and Jesse, and for those watching. Life has gone on for everyone — Linklater just lets those off-screen catch up with his seemingly fated lovers at pivotal but relatable moments.
Watch The Vice Guide to Film now at SBS On Demand:
Time, the inevitable fact that it goes on, and the choices that a person does and doesn’t make as it ticks by have interested Linklater since the beginning of his filmmaking career. In his 1990 breakout, Slacker, the writer/director himself takes to the screen to discuss paths not followed, playing one of the many Austin inhabitants within the feature. Whether he’s dropping back in with a beloved duo in the Before trilogy; helming the thematically connected, 23-years-apart pair that is Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!!; or taking 12 years to follow a boy’s life in real time in Boyhood, his career has continued to contemplate this idea.
The latter, his 17th feature in 26 years, brought Linklater his first Academy Award nomination for Best Director — after receiving screenwriting nominations for Before Sunset and Before Midnight. In pure patience, logistics and commitment, it’s a phenomenal achievement even before its immense emotional journey unfolds. And it’s one that deftly demonstrates that Linklater has always been more at home making indie projects than playing with big budgets. Indeed, bank-robbing drama The Newton Boys and sports comedy remake Bad News Bears didn’t hit the intended marks, but with Linklater, something else has always been around the corner. Perhaps it’s best to consider his output as Slacker-like segments on a bigger scale — some tangents shine, and while others mightn’t satisfy as much as others, viewed as a whole they encapsulate life and time’s many different directions.
Two things you mightn’t know
- Linklater initially wanted to become a baseball player, taking up filmmaking after an injury cut short his sporting career.
- Other than appearing in his own It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, Slacker and Waking Life, Linklater’s acting career has been brief, but includes Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, Spy Kids, and the Ethan Hawke-directed Chelsea Walls, The Hottest State and Blaze.
Four films — and one trilogy — you really need to see
Slacker: The ebbs and flows of Austin life inform Linklater’s sprawling, engrossing feature, which hops between characters over the course of a single day.
The Before trilogy: Over three keenly observed films, Linklater examines the ups and downs of an epic but always relatable romance, complete with stellar performances by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.
Waking Life: Linklater’s contemplative rotoscoped effort follows an existential crisis in action, and proves his most technologically ambitious and philosophical work.
Bernie: Pitch-perfect in its tone, casting and approach, Bernie turns a real-life murder into an enthralling and entertaining black comedy, with Jack Black putting in one of the best performances of his career in the titular role.
Boyhood: Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making undertaking instantly became a coming-of-age classic, not only due to his filmmaking methods, but as a result of the film’s enormous emotional impact.
Who’s sharing the Linklater love?
Kevin Smith: The director of Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy credits Linklater and his debut, Slacker, with making him want to become a filmmaker.
Matthew McConaughey: McConaughey’s first film role came courtesy of Dazed and Confused, playing a twentysomething still chasing high school girls. He would work with Linklater again in The Newton Boys and Bernie.
Ginger Sledge: As well as producing Linklater’s SubUrbia, Bernie, Everybody Wants Some!!, Last Flag Flying and upcoming Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Sledge’s credits include Waiting for Guffman, Miss Congeniality and Lords of Dogtown.
Jack Black: The star of Linklater’s School of Rock and Bernie, Black contends that Linklater directed his best-ever movie.
Janet Pierson: Since 2009, Pierson has been the director of the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! opened the festival in 2016.
What should I watch next?
Explore Linklater’s work on SBS On Demand: