21 Years: Richard Linklater
Directors: Michael Dunaway, Tara Wood.
Featuring: Keanu Reeves, Ethan Hawke, Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black, Billy Bob Thornton, Zac Efron, Greg Kinnear, Nicky Katt, Jason Reitman, Kevin Smith, Joey Lauren Adams, Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Julie Delpy.
“Eighteen films. One legend”
They say that a career should never be judged until 21 years have past and although it’s hard to believe, director Richard Linklater has now achieved this milestone. As a result, filmmakers Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood decide to shine some light and appreciation on one of the most inventive and daring of contemporary American filmmakers.
Sadly, Linklater himself doesn’t actually feature in this documentary but we do get contributions from a whole host of reputable actors that have known or worked with him. The enthusiasm from collegues such as Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke and Keanu Reeves on Linklater’s intelligence and approach to filmmaking is infectious and their anecdotes and insights into his work are a joy. However, it’s only really Hawke (his most common collaborator) who seems to fully know what makes him tick. If you’re a fan of Linklater and have a sound knowledge of his work then there’s nothing here that you won’t already know and the film, unfortunately, doesn’t really shed any light on the man personally.
Dunaway and Wood’s primary focus seems to be a brief commentary on all the manner of genres that Linklater has tackled: Sports flick, Bad News Bears; Period piece, Me and Orson Welles; Western, The Newton Boys and Sci-Fi, A Scanner Darkly all get a look in while highlighting his lack of pretension and his ability to dig deeper into more meaningful and intelligent projects. The authenticity of Dazed and Confused and the walk-and-talk theatrics of the Before trilogy get the most focus (the latter being humorously referred to by actor/director Mark Duplass as the lowest grossing trilogy of all time). This focus may, like myself, leave some viewers disappointed that the marvellous work of Waking Life gets very little discussion yet it’s probably his most thought provoking film and shadows the fact that, to begin with, Linklater was a philosopher that just happened to choose celluloid as the medium in which to express himself.
The tidbit of information I found most surprising, however, was the dialogue throughout his films. Although much of it seems like improvisation due to the encouragement he gives his actors – to be free and loose – it’s actually verbatim. This makes it all the more impressively delivered when you look at how his films are structured.
As expected, Linklater’s penchant for the themes of alienated characters and the social constructs of America are also explored and how he effortlessly evolves through his work while working diversely between Independent and bigger productions. It also highlights the effort that Linklater has made in support of Independent filmmaking and how he was influential in helping create the Austin Film Society whereby old film prints could be saved and showed, as well as raising money from filmmakers to help make more films.Overall, it does little but scratch the surface and a bit more in-depth analysis to his films would have been welcome but to paraphrase Billy Bob Thornton on the outtakes at the end; “Rick Linklater doesn’t need anyone to make a documentary about him. He’s fine“. However, a film that runs a mere 78mins is hardly demanding and although it’s not as informative as it could’ve been, it’s still a pleasant appreciation.Mark Walker
Trivia: It’s still not known whether this type of documentary will be a regular series but in 2016, Tara Wood will be focusing on another influential director with 21 Years: Quentin Tarantino.