Sunday, January 07, 2007

Contemplative Cinema: Notes on "Slacker"

The following post is my contribution to the Contemplative Cinema Blog-a-thon. It is a series of notes written by Rick Linklater and taken from the booklet accompanying the Criterion Edition DVD of SLACKER, a film which I think fits comfortably into the category of “contemplative cinema” (as defined here by Harry Tuttle of Unspoken Cinema), the one difference being that SLACKER actually does employ the use of dialogue. Incidentally, I may not fully agree with the proposed definition of “contemplative cinema” (although I do like the term), but I will admit that it did provoke a great deal of thought on my part, which was probably its primary intention all along, and it did help recall to mind a film that I had not seen in years and eventually decided to use as a “starting point” for my participation in the Blog-a-thon. In the process of revisiting it, though, I discovered a collection of musings (which the director penned before launching the project) that I found just as fascinating as the film itself and which I thought would be far more interesting than anything I had to say on the subject. So, here are Linklater’s thoughts and ideas about SLACKER, a work that, if you have not yet seen it, I highly recommend and which serves, I think, as a prime example of “contemplative cinema.”

From Richard Linklater:

Knowing this film would depend so much on its own methodology, I put these thoughts and “rules” to keep everyone somewhat “calibrated” and in sync with the film’s original spirit and intentions. Many of these are quotes or lines from or about filmmakers (such as Bresson, Tarkovsky, Godard, Rohmer) I’d written down over the years and seemed to apply to what I had in mind.

-A film as one long sequence in which each shot, each event and character, lead only to the next.
-New scene/New start: each complete in itself, the next is simply juxtaposed to it. The relationship between various scenes can be connected later (or before–cause can follow effect).
-The audience will itself construct causal relationships.
-The scenes and characters change… but the preoccupations of the movie remain the same.
-What seems like a straight line (as narrative) will actually be a circle (emotionally speaking).
-“…any apparent philosophical and political contradictions are actually an integral part of the non-narrative…”

-A film where anything goes–anything people do can be integrated into this film.
-A film of posing problems, even in a confused state (possibly to be solved or addressed differently elsewhere).
-Optimistic cinema: anything is possible, nothing is prohibited.
-Avoiding the “mechanically intellectual…”
-“Something filmed is automatically different from something written, and therefore original.” –Jean Luc Godard

-Camera: quiet but eloquent (especially when it moves)
-Colors: muted, not bright, muddied by the environment.
-Fiction… entering into documentary. Documentary of characters acting out a fiction?
-Lack of establishing shots: has a partitioning effect (same with the characters’ lack of development).
-Environment: suggests documentary.
-Characters: passion.

-Method of casting: (a) choose people based on their visual aesthetic and attitude; (b) interview: testing for camera shyness and presence; (c) question them on their life, attitudes and tastes, and on the basis of their answers, match them with a character and situation in the script and shape the role. An entirely new role can always be created and fit in somewhere.
-Performances will depend on screen presence: the actor must give off the right vibrations, be the surface that represents the complex depths, and be able to capture the essence of the moment of that time.
-Pick actors whose sheer physical presence conveys a distinct reality (the physicality of the characters imposing itself).

-The character’s emotions will always be your own (can’t be forced on you/must arise from yourself). We must labor to bring forward the right FEELING from which the right expression arises.
-Disconnect your scene from the whole (especially the preceding scene).
-We are striving for a TRUTHFUL state of mind/being that cannot be feigned… the truth of THAT moment’s state of mind.
-Live your OWN inner life in front of the sensitive camera. Don’t try to convey the full depths of what is going on with you. Simply show LIFE (the audience will find within themselves the appreciation of what you’re doing).
-The film is much more interested in who you are than what you’re doing.
-Need to accept the rules of the film and have a large capacity for trust (in the film and its personnel).

-They are deliberately constructed, not developed.
-Obsessed by their own thoughts.
-People without a history or dramatic evolution. May seem less sympathetic or unattractive… good… forces the audience to analyze rather than emote.

-Dialogue is a kind of monologue in which the interior is brought forth.
-Actors speaking as if to themselves… in alternating monologues… Self-analysis…

-A film locked in with the moment locked in with the moment and place of its on making.
-To be avoided: deliberate generalizations, false exaggeration, and established clich├ęs… Must force ourselves to search for truthfulness.
-Tension in the film: Characters’ desire to act contrasted with their inability to do so.
-Tension outside the film: Those who expect a traditional narrative and are not getting one.
-If we are sincere and honest (not to mention driven into a corner) over every aspect of this film, the result will necessarily be sincere and honest.

-Rather than a singular realism–concerned with the cumulative effect in the head of the viewer (subject to contradictions).
-It’s okay for the viewer to be aware that they are watching a construct.
-The form of a film makes the viewer experience the discomfort and alienation/disorientation of the characters.

-Cinema should be a part of living–normal and natural… Live your cinema.
-For now:
The process is more important than achievement. The questions are more valuable than the answers. The attempts are more admirable than successes.

To be continued…


johanna said...

These are great. Especially:

-What seems like a straight line (as narrative) will actually be a circle (emotionally speaking).
-“…any apparent philosophical and political contradictions are actually an integral part of the non-narrative…”

A lot of this feels like a director psyching himself up for a brainstorm of a shoot -- no surprises there -- but it's curious that he talks of muted colors over bright ones. I love the effect he achieves when he does that (every film) because it gives a shadowy romantic sense to everything, like you could be half-asleep while watching his stuff (I think Slacker is the only Linklater film I haven't seen) and that brings you back to watch again and again, like a pleasant dream that's always just out of reach.

I think that's what makes the best of his work so addictive.

cineboy said...

Damian, great stuff. I saw Slacker when it first came out in the theaters - at the Bijou I'm sure. All of us young wannabe filmmakers were excited about it at the time because it demonstrated new possibilites and directions for filmmaking while also staying true to independant sensibilities. I never would have considered it a contmeplative film until your post. I think it also goes to show that such films don't have to be "heavy" to be contemplative. Or maybe it is just contemplative in a different way. I will have to see it again and think about it.

HarryTuttle said...

Sorry to be late in commenting.

This great wisdom compilation is full of ideas and quite thought-povoking! Thank you for your contribution to the blogathon.
With such great inspirators, Linklater couldn't go wrong. ;)

I haven't seen Slacker unfortunately. We could argue whether the use of dialogue is always an obstacle to contemplation... because I'm sure there are exceptions that will disprove this (arbitrary) rule of thumb.

I'll have to think deeper about these aphorims.

Damian said...


Yeah, I thought these were great. I love Linklater's movies (though, like you, I haven't seen all of them). Slacker was actually the first one that I saw and with each subsequent Linklater movie I watched, I noticed many of the same sensibilities he brought to Slacker (even in a more "mainstream" effort like School of Rock). a pleasant dream that's always just out of reach.

Based on that statment alone, you REALLY need to see Slacker and pay special attention to the very first scene/monologue (given by Linklater himself).


You saw Slacker in the theatre? I am so jealous.


First of all, thanks for doing this blog-a-thon. This is really great! I am very much enjoying reading the other posts. Some good food for thought here! :)

We could argue whether the use of dialogue is always an obstacle to contemplation... because I'm sure there are exceptions that will disprove this (arbitrary) rule of thumb. I'll have to think deeper about these aphorims.

One of the possibilities I was pondering was that the definition might perhaps be slightly altered so that the list of characteristics a filmmaker would try to avoid in making a contemplative film (i.e. "music, dialogue, star system, etc') doesn't have to be accumulative. In other words, the contemplative film could refrain from using one or more of these elements but not necessarily all of them.

HarryTuttle said...

Yes good idea. I used it to open a new roundtable discussion around this question.

johanna said...

I'll probably get around to Slacker some time this year...the question is, of course, will I be slacking when I do so, or getting off of my slacker ass?

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