Cityscapes, Flânerie and Fantastical Heritage: On the Recent Films by Richard Linklater

This week, our featured book is The Cinema of Richard Linklater: Walk, Don’t Run. Today, we are happy to present an guest post from author Rob Stone.

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The three years or so that a book takes to make pale in comparison to the twelve years it took the filmmaker Richard Linklater to make Boyhood or the eighteen years it took him, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke to create what is now known as The Before Trilogy. The first edition in 2013 of Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater was quickly overtaken by the release of Before Midnight that same year and Boyhood shortly after that. Thankfully, Columbia University Press responded by commissioning this second edition, which is significantly revised, expanded, and deepened by the addition of these and more works from Linklater, including Everybody Wants Some!!!, Up to Speed, and Last Flag Flying.

Although the task of connecting all these new films with the previous ones could have been confounding and treacherous, the gratifying revelation was that these newer films took the book into deeper waters. Each deals in different ways with the subject of time , which is a thread that appears in so many of Linklater’s films as a topic for philosophical discussion and is a crucial element in their construction. Long takes clearly represent the present continuous tense and, therefore, the overriding faith in Linklater’s films that there is only one moment, it’s eternal, and it’s happening right now. 

When attention is paid to what is actually happening on screen during these frequent long takes, the common motif of people walking and talking asserts itself. The accumulation of gerunds—walking, talking, filming, watching—is a philosophical construction that inveigles the viewer as much as the characters in these films.It does this in full awareness that all we can ever really know of life is what is happening in the frame we hold up to it. In other words, René Descartes was wrong. It’s not “I think, therefore I am” that defines our consciousness of existence but “I am thinking, therefore I am doing.”

The ongoing development of the human psyche is inextricably linked to movement, which asserts the present continuous tense in a way that unites thought with action. Walking and talking is thus an elementary but profound philosophical act that asserts our being in the world. Several artistic and philosophical movements have seized on this already, from the Surrealists, who advocated nocturnal wanderings in search of uncanny stimuli, and the Situationist International, whose call to flânerie was also a call to explore, transgress and instigate revolution. Numerous poets, critics and philosophers have also picked up on the strategy of flânerie. Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin and Guy Debord saw flânerie as an intuitive stroll towards transcendence, and this ‘losing oneself’ in a cosmopolitan context is also a trope of many movies.

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My twenty-minute video essay Cityscapes, Flanerie, and Fantastical Heritaage considers twenty such films from a wide range of American and European cinema that, unsurprisingly, includes four films from Richard Linklater—Slacker (1991), Waking Life (2001), Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004)—and could have included more. It shows that flânerie is endemic to art-house and Indie cinema and also pops up in the mainstream too— City Lights (1931), Vertigo (1958), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1987), The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and Annie Hall (1977). Thevideo elaborates a history of flânerie on film and how these works  reveal the potential for transcendence that occurs in cityscapes and how they suggest a fantastical heritage running through the clips, through the cities, and through the walking and talking and thinking of the protagonists. 

 

“Cityscapes, Flânerie and Fantastical Heritage” demonstrates that the cinema of Richard Linklater is a major contemporary exponent of this “philosophy in action” but the video essay also contends that his favorite theme is something shared with just as many films from the European art-house—Breathless (1961), L’Age D’Or(1930), Sans Soliel (1983), In the City of Sylvia (2007), Wings of Desire (1987), La Notte (1961), Alice in the Cities (1974)—as with films from his sector and strata of independent American cinema—Lost in Translation (2004), Frances Ha (2012), Quiet City (2007). The succession of characters traversing their metropolises includes an angel, a stalker, young lovers, a schoolboy truant, a cameraman, a conspiracy theorist, an amnesiac secret agent, and (in my all-time favorite film moment ever) a drunken Korean immigrant who takes his revenge on society by directing traffic at the crossroads. Crucially, however, the key to all this filmic flânerie is that this includes all of us in the audience too, because we share the time and space of the characters we are watching. This is rare, because nowadays who has twenty minutes to spare in order to just stroll, wander and reflect upon the potentially transcendental directions that our lives, these ongoing, eternal and incomplete moments of ours, can take? Nevertheless, this video essay is a humble invitation to waste some time by wandering through some great films and through Vienna, Austin, Paris, Seoul, Berlin, Strasbourg, New York, Chicago, Tokyo and Rome too.

 

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