Magazine article Artforum International

Before Manhood: Amy Taubin on Richard Linklater's Boyhood

Magazine article Artforum International

Before Manhood: Amy Taubin on Richard Linklater's Boyhood

Article excerpt

TIME FLIES in Richard Linklater's Boyhood, which is both a conceptual tour de force and a fragile, unassuming slice of movie life. Two hours and forty minutes in length, it depicts the maturation of a boy named Mason (El Ear Coltrane) from a six-year-old child into an eighteen-year-old young adult. There has never been a fiction film quite like it.

"The clay of cinema is time."Tarkovsky's axiom, paraphrased by Linklater in a conversation we had recently over the phone, has guided the director ever since Slacker (1991)--as has his own corollary that a film should be "locked in the moment and place of its making."Linklater's second feature, Slacker was emblematic of a generation--and of a promising moment in American independent Film, when a handful of directors eschewed Hollywood production values and conventional dramatic structure to combine the influences of European art cinema with distinctly American imagery and culture. Set in Austin, where, in 1985, Linklater founded a film society in order to show such personal favorites as Tarkovsky, Bresson, Godard, and James Benning, Slacker perambulates a mile-long strip bordering the University of Texas campus, connecting by happenstance more than fifty incidents and roughly a hundred characters within a single day. In 1991, when Todd Haynes's Poison won the grand prize at the Sundance Film Festival, jury member Gus Van Sam said that his vote had gone to Slacker. Haynes puts his formalism up front; Linklater buries his in the bedrock of his narratives. And if Jim Jarmusch is the post-Beat cinematic bard of rust-belt bohemians and downtown hipsters, then Linklater is the Longfellow of a less glamorous alt-culture--one that could pass for mainstream America, whatever that is. Jarmusch's protagonists are loners. Linklater creates characters who marry, have kids, divorce, have jobs, and struggle to pay the rent and child support. He is a visionary of everyday life.

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He is also extremely prolific and, in terms of genre, all over the map. In the quarter century between his first experimental feature, Its Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988), and Boyhood, he made seventeen theatrical features, a TV movie, a TV series, and a feature-length documentary. Among his fiction films are a remake of the family comedy Bad News Bears (2005); several pop-culture comedies, including School of Rock (2003) and the darker, underrated Bernie (2011); and two rotoscope animations, the haunting Waking Life (2001) and the Philip K. Dick adaptation A Scanner Darkly (2006). Paralytically paranoid, A Scanner Darkly was released the same year as the filmmaker's activist social satire Fast Food Nation. Seeing them within days of each other,1 wondered whether to join the fight against factory farming or slit my wrists.

But his radical adventures in sculpting time--the "Before" series (1995-2013) and Boyhood--are what ensure Linklater's status as an "art" filmmaker: The "Before" films--Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013)--are two-handers starring Ethan Hawke as Jesse, an American writer, and Julie Delpy as Celine, a French freethinker. Shot, respectively, in Vienna, Paris, and a Greek vacation town, they are, in part, Linklater's tribute to the natural light, agile moving camera, and old-world locations that defined so many films of the French New Wave. Each of the "Before" movies captures a sliver of time in the lives of the two protagonists and the actors who play them. Jesse and Celine are in their early twenties when they meet in 1995 and spend one night together, promising to rendezvous six months later. That meeting does not take place until 2004, and when it does, it threatens to upend their now-settled lives. Nine years later, they are a couple with twin girls and a relationship that's on the rocks. All three films have open, "Will they or won't they" endings, which preyed on Linklater and the actors' imaginations until nothing but a sequel would do. …

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