Austin Cinematic Limits

Editor’s Note: For several years, Film School Rejects has called the city of Austin, TX home. And throughout that time, we’ve enjoyed the always rich film scene in our own backyard. Starting today, we’re going to celebrate that love with the world through this new column written by new writer and Austinite Don Simpson. With Austin Cinematic Limits, we’ll share with you stories from the Austin film scene, give our friends and neighbors in Central Texas a weekly guide to what’s happening and celebrate all that’s great about the city in which Reject HQ resides.

Yes, I admit it, Richard Linklater’s Slacker played a majorly geeky role in my fateful decision to pack my bags and relocate my butt to Austin during the summer of 1998. It was not until recently, however, that I honed in on the precise moment — the proverbial flapping of the butterfly’s wing — that propelled my life towards this long, strange tangential path on which I find myself today.

It was my first visit to Austin during the spring of 1997. I arrived in the old Mueller Airport and hopped into a taxicab. The young, shaggy-haired, beatnik driver immediately commenced a sprawling diatribe of sociopolitical non-sequiturs (accented with a few conspiracy theories for good measure) that transported me into the cerebral cortex of Austin that was oh-so-brilliantly documented on celluloid by Linklater seven years earlier. Needless to say, the words “I am literally inside Slacker” swirled around inside my head for the entire 15-minute cab ride. Like Slacker, my memories from that visit are linked together in an illogically connected chain of locations and events. I fondly recall going to the Electric Lounge, Liberty Lunch, Hole in the Wall, Elephant Room, Emo’s, Alamo Drafthouse, Dobie Theater and Half Price Books, but it is the people of Austin whom I remember best. I don’t recall having any two-sided conversations during that trip; instead, it seemed as though everyone in Austin opted to rant absurd monologues while facing in my general direction. My conclusion was that everyone in Austin talked as if they were in Slacker; better yet, the characters in Slacker talked as if they were in Austin. The film I had already felt an intense spiritual connection with was thus proven to me to be closer to reality than fiction — that was when I realized that Austin had to become my home, post haste.

Thirteen years later, I found myself apprehensively entering the premiere screening of Slacker 2011 at Austin’s grandest movie palace, The Paramount Theatre. I was apprehensive because I generally hate remakes, especially of landmark films. I consider Linklater’s Slacker to be one of the high water marks of American independent cinema of the 1990s; and, on a more personal level, Slacker served as a gateway film, prying my eyes wide open to a cinematic world that I never knew existed. Besides, I can say with absolute certainty that I would not be where I am today if I had never watched Slacker. What if I had chosen another reality, a sad and lonely one in which I never discovered Slacker? Well, I would probably not be living in Austin and I certainly would not be writing this column.

Slacker 2011

Admittedly, I was hesitant about the overall approach to Slacker 2011. With 24 directors slapped together in a ramshackle re-imagining of Linklater’s original, there was no way that Slacker 2011 could possibly function as a cohesive whole. With so many cooks in the kitchen, tying everything together with the same surreal fluidity as the original Slacker would have been an impossible feat. From Bob Ray’s boozy introduction, the narrative baton is passed a total of 22 times from one quintessential Austin filmmaker (or team of filmmakers) to the next, including: Spencer Parsons (I’ll Come Running), Berndt Mader (Five Time Champion), Amy Grappell (Quadrangle), Karen Skloss (Sunshine), Paul Gordon (The Happy Poet), David Zellner and Nathan Zellner (Goliath), Jay Duplass (Cyrus), John Bryant (The Overlook Brothers), Sam Wainwright Douglas (Citizen Architect), Ben Steinbauer (Winnebago Man), Geoff Marslett (Mars), Bradley Beesley (Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo), Clay Liford (Wuss), and PJ Raval (Trinidad). That right there is a nice snapshot of some of my favorite filmmakers — and, most amazingly, they all reside in Central Texas. I should also mention that Slacker 2011 proves that Austin’s acting talents reach much further than Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey. A who’s who of some of Austin’s finest thespians, Slacker 2011 features Chris Doubek (Lovers of Hate), Kelli Bland (Ultimate Guide to Flight), Jonny Mars (The Happy Poet), Ashley Spillers (Adaline), Anna Margaret Hollyman (Small, Beautifully Moving Parts), Heather Kafka (Lovers of Hate), John Merriman (You Hurt My Feelings), Jessie Tilton (Closing Night), Adriene Mishler (Austin High), and Paul Soileau (Fourplay: San Francisco).

But is Slacker 2011 really a great film? I honestly do not know. My critical abilities are not typically hindered or compromised whenever I critique films by Austinites; but, being that so many of my favorite Austin filmmakers and actors participated in Slacker 2011, it is difficult for me not to be rendered a little dazed and confused by the roster of talent in itself. However, it is impossible to deny that Slacker 2011 does succeed in its keen ability to document the amazing cinematic talent that currently hails from Austin (and I would not be surprised if a majority of this talent became filmmakers and/or relocated to Austin because of the original Slacker‘s influence). If Slacker serves as Linklater’s love letter to Austin circa 1990, Slacker 2011 is a love letter to Austin’s near-limitless (yet, for the most part, undiscovered) pool of cinematic talent that has grown in Linklater’s wake. Linklater (with the assistance of contemporaries such as Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge) may have shaped Austin’s cinematic present, but it will be the people involved in Slacker 2011 who will undoubtedly shape the next phase(s) of Austin cinematic future.

I definitely consider myself lucky to have relocated to Austin in time to catch the tail end of the city’s token weirdness. As much as I miss all of the unique locations and characters of the glory days of 1990s Austin, my appreciation continues to grow for the “new” Austin. Slacker 2011 cleverly captures this “new” incarnation of Austin — twenty-odd years after Linklater’s version — commenting on how many things have changed, yet so much has stayed the same. I keep getting older, but Austin continues to retain some planes of existential weirdness. Here’s to the future of Austin and many more years of expanding its cinematic limits.

Cinematic Things To Do in Austin This Week:

1/17 – Alamo South Lamar – The Austin Film Society screens Fritz Lang’s Fury as part of their current Essential Cinema Series, The Great Escape: Three European Émigré Filmmakers. (More Info)

1/18 – Alamo Lake Creek – Lloyd Kaufman (president and co-founder of Troma Films) screens two of his latest films, Father’s Day and Mr. Bricks: A Heavy Metal Murder Musical. Kaufman will introduce the films and stick around afterward for a Q&A. (More Info)

1/18 – Barton Creek 14 with IMAX – The Show! presents The Spirit Molecule with Director Mitch Schultz in attendance for a Q&A after the screening. (More info)

1/22-1/23 – Paramount Theatre – The Paramount’s Winter Comedy Series kicks off with a Will Ferrell double feature of Step Brothers and Anchorman. (More info)

About the Author

Don Simpson

The very first films that Don remembers seeing are Star Wars IV: A New Hope, The Black Hole, and Moonraker. He also recalls watching The Elephant Man at way too early an age, having a demented effect on his psyche for several years. During his high school and college years, Don randomly selected film directors and rented every VHS tape he could find by them. His discovery of the amazing TLA Video stores (Philadelphia, PA) thrust this obsession into overdrive. Don then dove with eyes wide open into a Cinema Studies Master’s program at Temple University. He soon found himself covering film festivals for Ain’t It Cool News, which got him started on the path he finds himself on today. Besides contributing to Film School Rejects, Don is also the Senior Editor for Smells Like Screen Spirit.

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