The following is an interview with Rob Stone, author of The Cinema of Richard Linklater: Walk, Don’t Run.
Rob Stone: Linklater is an incredibly versatile filmmaker, not only in the range of genres that he’s tried, which includes romantic comedy, western, science-fiction, animation, documentary and much else besides, but in the way he operates between the independent and studio systems of production and distribution. At the same time his films are literate and thoughtful to the point of being philosophical, even spiritual, and they always have this amazing dialogue going on, not just between the characters who do their fair share of walking and talking, but between American and European ideas of time, cinema, politics and understandings of life. He’s made over twenty films, shorts and documentaries and has influenced filmmakers all over the world.
Q: What are the aims of the book?
Chapters in the book aim to contextualize his cinema in the location of Austin, discuss and describe his working methods including his use of rotoscoping, consider his most dominant themes and recurring aesthetics and analyze the full range of his work. This includes his little-known documentaries on baseball and New York post-9/11 and even an unseen pilot for a situation comedy. But one of the richest seams of inquiry is often that of his cinema in relation to the history of independent American cinema and indeed the recent blurring of the term and idea of an “indie” film or filmmaker in relation to the bigger studios, changing modes and platforms of distribution and even transnational and world cinema. I was fortunate in that Linklater is also approachable, immensely affable and even collaborative so the chance to interview him at length was a major incentive too.
Q: How did the interviews go?
RS: I went to Austin, Texas, where he lives and where he helped established the Austin Film Studios and his own Detour film production company. It was July and baking hot and I took a taxi out of Austin to the converted aircraft hangars that now house the studios and the wooden bungalows beside them where his production offices are. His offices are like a gallery of original film posters, many of them rare and all carefully framed. It was his birthday but he showed up at noon and was friendly, welcoming and funny. Our interviews just drifted in the best possible way and we covered the entirety of his career. A vegan chocolate birthday cake arrived and we enjoyed that and met the next day at his apartment in downtown Austin, which had even more classic film posters adorning the walls. He was always the most forthright and generous interviewee to the point where I had one of those out-of-body moments of perception like you see in Linklater’s films such as Waking Life when you look down on yourself and think ‘wow, I’m talking about my favorite film of all time with the guy who directed it!’
Q: And which is your favorite film?
RS: Before Sunrise I think, although I find it impossible to separate it from its sequel nine years later, Before Sunset, so can I have both? In fact I’ll be seeing the third installment, Before Midnight in Vienna in a couple of weeks so I’d better make room for that too.
Q: Why in Vienna?
The 16th of June, which is Bloomsday in Joyce’s Ulysses, is also the day on which the events of Before Sunrise take place in Vienna. I’ll be visiting the locations of that first film and making a short documentary on how they’ve changed. Apparently it’s become something of an event so I expect to meet and film plenty of other fans on this film-directed flanerie. If I’m lucky, Before Midnight will be playing in a cinema in the city and I can end the evening with that.
Q: Sounds like fun but how can you separate play and work?
RS: One of the meanings offered by Linklater’s cinema is that one should work hard at what one loves in order to avoid ever having to get a job. Film studies is at an exciting point of evolution. Maybe it always is, but this kind of activity also counts as research when one is investigating the reception and fan base of films as well as the way that films represent, reflect and even affect a location or the perception of it. I also agree with those who hold that if one researches and teaches film then you should make films too. You learn a lot by making them and the films you make are a great way of teaching and reaching students too. At the University of Birmingham in the UK where I work my colleagues and I have recently established a new research center called B-Film: The Birmingham Centre for Film Studies and the range and variety of projects in progress there suggests that film studies is in very good health indeed.
Q: Your background is in Hispanic cinema so how does Linklater fit in?
RS: As I said, there’s this incredibly rich dialogue at work in the cinema of Linklater between music, philosophy, literature, and film and yet all who contribute to the discussion are seen as equal as long as they collaborate in the pursuit of meaning. I think you could take any one of the eighty-or-so characters in his first film, the hugely influential Slacker or any of the multitude of characters in Dazed and Confused or Waking Life and make a film from their point of view. And within all that dialogue that takes place in the book, amongst all the voices of his characters and those he’s worked with as well as those drawn from his literary and cinematic influences, there are also a few moments when I can see connections to Hispanic cinema and offer it up as an aside. For example, perhaps the most famous line in Slacker comes from a character called Hitchchiker Awaiting True Call who says “I may live badly but at least I don’t have to work to do it!” And I remembered that it came from Luis Buñuel’s 1970 film Tristana, which was partly an allegorical attack on the church-backed Francoist dictatorship in Spain at the time. I think that connection gives an interesting political dimension to Linklater’s re-using the line and I hope that such instances don’t distract from the main narrative and analysis of the book but extend the dialogue to somewhere interesting.