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'Slacker' renews promise

September 26, 2004|Susan King

Slacker -- Director-Approved

Special Edition

Criterion, $40

Though Criterion is generally known for its comprehensive, tasteful DVD special editions of classic films, the boutique company occasionally breaks with tradition and releases digital editions of newer films, such as Wes Anderson's "Rushmore" and now Richard Linklater's acclaimed 1991 independent comedy.

"Slacker," an entertaining picaresque comedy, chronicles a day in the life of several overeducated, rootless and often eccentric people who live in Austin, Texas. Among them: a young man (Linklater) who arrives in Austin at the bus station and erupts into a stream-of-consciousness monologue in the taxi, a man who believes in conspiracies and alien invasions, a young man obsessed with the Kennedy assassination, a perplexed robber and an "anti-artist."

Using his friends for his crew -- many helped him form the Austin Film Society in 1985 -- Linklater shot "Slacker" quite literally in his backyard and neighborhood on 16 millimeter for $23,000. But unlike a lot of independent films shot on a shoestring budget, "Slacker" doesn't seem amateurish. In fact, its nontraditional story structure is quite sophisticated. Performances from the mainly nonprofessional cast are quirky and self-assured, and the camerawork and editing are fluid.

A lot of young filmmakers, especially from the indie world, find it difficult to repeat the success of their debut films and drift into obscurity. But that hasn't been the case with Linklater, who still lives in Austin and continues to be involved in the Austin Film Society. Though he's had a few missteps in the last 13 years, Linklater has more than lived up to the promise of "Slacker." He's become one of the best directors around -- someone who is comfortable working on a studio film like the hit "School of Rock" or on small romantic dramas like his recent "Before Sunset."

Extras: The two-disc DVD set is immensely likable, folksy and friendly. The three laid-back commentaries feature the erudite Linklater as well as members of his cast and crew. Other highlights include: enjoyable audition tapes of the cast; home movies of the production; a 10-minute trailer for a new documentary on the now-defunct Austin cafe Les Amis, where Linklater shot some of "Slacker"; Linklater's first feature, 1988's "It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books," which he shot for $3,000; plus his commentary and 14 additional or deleted scenes and footage from the "Slacker" 10th anniversary screening in Austin.

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