Despite being in the industry ever since the early 90’s, making films that are consistently breath-taking, Richard Linklater is a severely underrated artist. If you look up a list of the best coming of age films or the best romance films, you’re sure to find a Linklater film in there, and a list without one wouldn’t be a really great list. In his nearly thirty years of service, he’s made some of the most highly regarded cult classic films (Dazed and Confused, Slacker, School of Rock) and some heart-warming Oscar-nominated films as well (Boyhood, Before Midnight). Ask Quentin Tarantino about Richard Linklater and he’ll tell you that he’s one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. So who is this guy?
Richard Linklater grew up in Texas, and it was only when he hit his early 20’s that his love for film began. He never went to any film school, but rather he studied in the self-proclaimed ‘Stanley Kubrick film school’, which basically involved just taking out a camera and shooting. It was this enthusiasm for making films in his own backyard that led him to produce Slacker (1991), an experimental movie starring just him and his friends. It was then that the audiences were introduced to Linklater’s style of filmmaking: his negligence of a central plot and his attention to human nature.
Riding on his success, he went on to make the higher budget, now cult classic Dazed and Confused in 1993. The film that introduced us to Matthew McConaughey and kick-started Ben Affleck’s career, with one of the most stellar soundtracks ever put to film, Dazed and Confused remains one of the best high school/nostalgia movies of all time. For his third film, he veered in a completely different direction. Instead of making a film about teenagers in Texas, he made a romantic movie about two 20-somethings roaming the streets of Vienna. Far from his comfort zone, Linklater still managed to stamp his style on the film, with no real plot or reason for the movie, it just takes us along with it as it goes. Not only did he create a great piece of art, but he also unknowingly kick-started one of the greatest trilogies of all time.
Now by this time, people knew he was on to something. His movies were like a breath of fresh air and he managed to breath new life into every genre he touched. He thrived during the independent era of the 90’s and his works were an inspiration to many other renowned directors working today, such as Kevin Smith, who made Clerks after being influenced by Slacker. After these three films, Richard had amassed an appreciable audience, especially for such an indie director. He has been an indie director most of his life, but one film-School of Rock. School of Rock(2003) is Linklater’s highest budget film to date and his highest grossing. It wasn’t written by him so it lacks that certain edge we’ve come to expect from his movies, but he still did a great job making the film as humane and enjoyable as his other films. School of Rock is a pure joyride and can also be considered a cult classic to people of a certain age group.
Another important part of his filmography was the afore-mentioned “Before trilogy”. Starting with Before Sunrise in Vienna, we follow around these two characters and we watch them discuss their lives, ideas and innermost feelings. It is a rare film in that it follows no rules and delivers none of the clichés that we have come to expect from a romantic movie. Its simplicity is the reason it works. He went on to make Before Sunset in 2004 and Before Midnight in 2013, each one better than the last and all of them to great critical acclaim. It’s still considered one of the lowest grossing trilogies of all time. He has also experimented with animation. He’s made two rotoscope pictures- Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly(2006). Despite being majorly unknown, he is still best known for something.
He’s best known however for a cinematic gimmick that lasted 12 years and resulted in what is probably one of the greatest coming-of-age films. It all started in 2002, when Richard had the idea to cast a 6-year old kid and show him growing up on camera. 12 years later, he released Boyhood and it was the greatest success of his career. In retrospect, filming the same boy for 12 years could cause a lot of problems, but Richard Linklater pulled it off. The film earned him three Oscar nominations, although he didn’t win any.
It’s clear from watching his films that he has a sharp eye for human interactions and the emotion in his films are so real that it touches you. The dialogue in his movies are incredibly natural, giving the effect that all the lines are improvised. We could listen to his characters talk to each other for days. His direction also puts us at ease, allowing us to glide along with these people from one setting to another. His camera movement is so unobtrusive, making us feel like a fly sitting on a wall. He doesn’t care for most of the so-called cinematic “rules”. He doesn’t believe in showing rather than telling, as all the exposition in his films is through dialogue.
He never uses a three-act structure in his scripts, mostly because his films never have a centralized plot. The biggest problem he faces, however, is the commercial market. Almost all of his films are incredibly low grossing, probably because nobody wants to go watch a movie which has no plot. Overall, Richard Linklater makes some of the most original and innovative movies and definitely deserves more credit for what he does. His influence on modern film-making is undisputed but despite all his talent, he still remains one of the most grossly underrated directors working today.