Rewind to 1991: grunge was in, rock was out, Douglas Coupland’s era-defining novel Generation X was about to hit bookstores and George Bush (the other one) was busy fighting the Iraq War (the other one). With everyone dazed, confused or both, Richard Linklater’s meandering, freeform Slacker nailed the irony, apathy and absurdity of the times.
Set over the course of a single day in Texas, the film dips docu-style into the lives of 100 over-educated, under-employed characters. You’ve heard of Sleepless In Seattle; this is Aimless In Austin. There are indie kids, conspiracy nuts, TV junkies, hitchhikers and hustlers selling Madonna’s cervical smear (“It gets you a little closer to the rock god herself than a poster”). There’s no point, no story, just a serious of conversations encompassing everything from Elvis to anarchy to The Smurfs.
Seventeen years on, the movie’s ballsy method is still refreshing. Its free-floating take on life creates a strangely hypnotic rhythm. The restless camera roams here and there, wanders off in unexpected directions and picks up a new thread every time. Each new scene fulfils the prophecy of the first slacker (played by Richard Linklater himself) who almost bores a cab driver into a coma by wittering endlessly on about his theory of alternative realities. Every decision we take apparently creates an entirely separate reality; every cut the director makes in his movie does the same.
Laying down the template for Linklater’s future films – the structure-free meanderings of Waking Life; Robert Downey Jr’s paranoid raps in A Scanner Darkly; the anti-corporate radicalism of Fast Food Nation – Slacker remains a true cult indie classic. Not that you’d guess it from this seriously under-loved and spartan disc. With just a picture gallery and production notes, it’s a poor shadow of the Region 1 Criterion Collection disc that proudly boasts commentaries, interviews and even Linklater’s debut movie It’s Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books bundled among its goodies. Seems that whoever compiled the extras for this new edition took Slacker’s workshy ethos a little too literally…