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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Film Independent’s LACMA Event: The Curious Case of Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

(*Richard Linklater also just received the Sonnny Bono Visionary Award at the 26th Annual Palm Springs Film Festival.)

Two things will happen as Writer/Director Richard Linklater* (Slacker) hits the stage with Elvis Mitchell for Film Independent’s “An Evening With … Richard Linklater” in the Bing Theater at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) presented by Film Independent, the BAFTA Awards are poised to tip the director for a slew of nods for his new film, Boyhood, and pop news media will seize on the fact that this day is Elvis Presley’s 80th birthday.

The topic of aging is relevant because it relates to time, and “time structures” Linklater will soon announce are the focus of his filmmaking now, since he has “developed an allergic reaction to plot.”

But first Elvis Mitchell, an iconic reporter who runs the LACMA series known for a yard of gray dreadlocks and tonight accompanied by playful green socks atop urban chic workbooks and a corduroy jacket that hints of academia, is outside smoking a cigarette in the back of the venue and texting. 

It’s important to set the scene here, in homage to Linklater’s “naturalistic” style of filmmaking, because after this exhaustive evening of examining the Texas-based director’s body of work, you literally begin to think like he does. Although Linklater looks like an affable car salesman in a suit jacket, it turns out he is layers-deep in ruminations on French New Wave cinema groundbreaker Francois Truffaut, especially his film The 400 Blows as an examination of childhood, on magic realism’s subtle influence on his work, and how he “has been kicked out of Hollywood several times.”

“I mean there wasn’t a memo, but they should have sent one,” he jokes, “like a list of directors whose films aren’t making any money, and say you guys can all go, except the guy who made ‘Pulp Fiction.’”

Linklater, in case it slips your mind, is like the E-cigarette of filmmakers, not the harsh air-polluting, fast burning, kind of Hollywood buck-turners looking to sell out. Born in 1960 (some sources say 1961) in Austin, Texas, this is a guy who dropped out of college to work on an oil rig. He then came onto the fringe of Hollywood “back in the Old Hollywood” where they just gave out money, Linklater jokes, with an inventive eye for making films.

“The Director in me fires the Writer in me early” on a project, he notes. This is “to stay open to things… like something you wrote two years ago may not be as relevant… It makes no sense to me, ‘follow these words on paper exactly as they were written,’ when you have (actual artistically contributing) actors to work with.”

Linklater is so directory, that at one point in the evening, he will snap his fingers on stage, and you can literally feel audience members snapping with him, getting ready for the next scene. In fact he will hem and haw, discuss being raised by a single mother, mention his sisters, and generally draw you in as must be Linklater’s approach with actors, this overwhelming sense of inclusion in the otherwise impersonal experiment we call Life.

His seminal film Slacker (1991), which is another benevolent voyeuristic look at “real people,” was followed by 1993’s Dazed and Confused that brought us Matthew McConaughey launched from the masses of actors toward stardom.

When he cast Matthew, the actor came in and said, according to Linklater, "He told me 'I'm not that guy, but I know that guy.'" 

Years later, Linklater added, "Matthew told me he was playing his middle brother, what his middle brother was like, or what he kind of thought he was like" for Dazed and Confused.

If you want the inside scoop, Matthew’s Dad and Rick’s Dad played the same position on the same college football team in Texas. “The whole (McConaughey) family is crazy,” Linklater will joke, revealing that he once hired Matthew’s non-actor Mom without him knowing he would have to play a scene with her where she “rides him” relentlessly.

Elvis Mitchell, the Mel Torme of the Segue, probes Linklater in a velvet fog of queries that all begin with similar construction: “So I was thinking,” “So I was wondering…,” “So I guess…” His anesthetic approach to journalism tends to make it feel more like an inmate conversation than a public event. 

Mitchell has a theme, how Linklater uses the same actors over and over, and tries to gently hammer home the idea that it is “like a repertory company” in theater. Linklater is too polite to shoot it down entirely, but begs to differ.

Then his “Before” series films, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy run on screen. These films are kind of visual essays involving the real actors lives in such a way that we see them flash forward over the years as they age. 

In fact Elvis Mitchell will reverse this theme Benjamin Button style by showing the latest Hawke/Delpy clip to the oldest, so they seem to reverse age.

Next, clips from Dazed and Confused and School of Rock are in the line up. You forget how uplifting Jack Black in School of Rock is until you see one scene singled out where he literally electrifies a few kids with his Jack Blackness, his Huntington-Beach Dudeness used as a force for Good.

The director will turn School of Rock into a TV series, this year, it has been reported.

Bernie, that strange film about a homicidal undertaker with Shirley MacLaine, is the other Jack Black opus in Linklater’s body of work.

Matthew McConaughey also had a role in Bernie as a DA going after Black’s Bernie to catch him for the crime.

“Matthew has like one word” for each character he plays, Linklater reveals, to set the tone. For that character it was “Justice.”

With every actor Linklater has worked with, he seems to form a familial bond, and despite Elvis Mitchell’s laser-like focus on the reuse of actors as a theme, it is actually that the director is building family structures within his films, and as an extension, off the set as well.

This is writ large in Linklater’s newest film, the critically adored Boyhood starring titular subject Ellar, his real daughter Lorelie Linklater and his go-to guy Ethan Hawke that is a thread explored throughout the evening.

The gimmick of Boyhood, if one can so crassly parse it out, is that Linklater will spend 12 years filming “real” kids, including his own daughter, as they age, along with actors Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, who play their married, then divorced, then extended family parents.

Ellar Coltrane is our main character, who begins the film as a six year old and ends up as a high school graduate going off to college. 

“They keep referring to him as a ‘non-actor,’” Linklater huffs. “Here’s a kid who has acted with Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke for the last 12 years!”

Elvis Mitchell, like many critics who make up the proverbial ‘They,’ sees this as a profound exploration, whereas, some other critics tend to cringe slightly at the exploitive angle inadvertently included with this so-called real-life journey.

“We buy the conceit. We’re used to seeing actors age with make-up,” Linklater muses, “like we start out with this kid, and then use another actor” as he gets older.

In Boyhood, Ellar’s real life passes through a series of human milestones from his voice deepening to adding a foot or two of growth to becoming a lightly bearded young man. “I grew up with this (filming of Boyhood),” Ellar reveals in the behind-the-scenes from 2014, “I don’t know anything else.” His life has progressed far beyond boyhood at this point, Ellar is literally a man physically, and it brings up an ethical pang (i.e.; was it fair to film this kid?).

Elvis Mitchell divines the lines of Boyhood with another velvet fog of praise. It is clear Linklater and Mitchell, who first met in Los Angeles in 1998, share a friendship.

Later that night, the BAFTA Awards will nominate Boyhood for Best Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Supporting for Hawke and Arquette, all the major categories Richard Linklater, or any writer-director, could hope to achieve.

An extended director’s diary will show the decade-plus-two years of happy faces in the cast and crew who made this film, at variously aged stages of their lives, and it all begins with such enthusiasm… Minutes into this little mini-portrait of Boyhood, you begin to see the enthusiasm dwindle just a tiny bit, like a long sea voyage where they haven’t seen land for a while.

Ultimately Richard Linklater, whose hand gestures are so animated that it reminds one of birds in flight, will wind down this exhaustive evening, having made the Bing Theater audience think, and laugh, and wonder, in a good way, about we why all care so much about film and filmmaking.

“Ethan pushes me,” as a collaborator, Linklater will say to encapsulate the experience of making Boyhood. “He said to me ‘why did you even make this film’ - this was 11 years into it!” And, “I had to confront that, to look at that.”

Boyhood opened in July in the US, and is a Golden Globe nominee, as well as a BAFTA nominee, poised to make an impact at the Oscars in February. But for general audiences, who don’t have full history on the backstory before they see it, it is another Richard Linklater visual essay into the possible and probable in filmmaking in the most naturalistic way in a billion dollar industry.


Here’s a list of the Curious & Amazing Films of Richard Linklater:


Boyhood 2014


Before Midnight  2012


Bernie (2011) 


Me and Orson Welles (2008) 


Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach (Documentary) ( 2006)


A Scanner Darkly (2006)


Fast Food Nation (2005)


Bad News Bears (2004) (remake)


$5.15/Hr. (TV Movie) (2004)


Before Sunset (2003)


School of Rock (2003)


Live from Shiva's Dance Floor (Short) (2001)


Tape (2001)


Waking Life (1998)


The Newton Boys (1996) 


SubUrbia (1996)


Before Sunrise (1995


Dazed and Confused (1993)


Heads I Win/Tails You Lose (Video) (1991)


Slacker (1991)


It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books  (1998)


Woodshock (Documentary short) (1985)


His latest projects are still in completion stages:

School of Rock (TV Series) (executive producer)  (2015)

That's What I'm Talking About (in post) 2014 (for 2015 release)


Visit LACMA at Film Indendent, The New York Times was a main sponsor of last night’s event.


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