Self-taught writer/director Richard Linklater was among the first and most successful talents to emerge during the American independent film renaissance of the 1990s. Typically setting each of his movies during one 24-hour period, Linklater's work explored what he dubbed "the youth rebellion continuum," focusing in fine detail on generational rites and mores with rare compassion and understanding while definitively capturing the twenty-something culture of his era through a series of nuanced, illuminating ensemble pieces which introduced any number of talented young actors into the Hollywood firmament.
Born in Houston, TX, in 1960, Linklater suspended his educational career at Sam Houston State University to work on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. He subsequently relocated to the state's capital of Austin, where he founded a film society and began work on his debut short film, 1987's It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books. Three years later he released the sprawling Slacker, an insightful, virtually plotless look at '90s youth culture that became a favorite on the festival circuit prior to earning vast acclaim at Sundance in 1991. Upon its commercial release, the movie, made for less than 23,000 dollars, became the subject of considerable mainstream media attention, with the term "slacker" becoming a much-overused catch-all tag employed to affix a name and identity to America's disaffected youth culture.
Landing with Universal, Linklater next filmed 1993's Dazed and Confused, a generational update of George Lucas' American Graffiti set during the last day of high school in 1976. Despite massive studio interference, the movie maintained Linklater's unique sensibilities while also proving his ability to work within the confines of more mainstream narrative structures, and went on to become a critical success as well as a cult favorite. Switching gears, the director traveled to Vienna, Austria, to film 1995's Before Sunrise, a sweet romantic comedy which bypassed the impressionistic textures of his previous work to place a new focus on character development. After making a brief voice-over appearance in the animated hit Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, Linklater next directed 1997's SubUrbia, an adaptation of Eric Bogosian's play of the same name. Though it bore a strong similarity to Linklater's previous work -- Slacker and Dazed and Confused in particular -- SubUrbia largely abandoned those films' improvisational style in favor of a more faithful script interpretation, which garnered mixed notices with critics.
Linklater's first foray into major-studio filmmaking, The Newton Boys, followed a year later. The true-life, Bonnie and Clyde-esque tale of a group of bank-robbing brothers, it shared little in common with the director's other films -- aside from the casting of Linklater pals Ethan Hawke and Matthew McConaughey as angsty young Texans. Dumped into the late-summer marketplace, the plodding, straightforward genre film did little to ignite either critical or box-office attention.
Recoiling from the Hollywood filmmaking community, Linklater struck out on his own with two micro-budgeted projects, shot on-the-quick in digital video. The first of these was the most ambitious: Waking Life followed a philosophical, non-narrative structure similar to Slacker, but with all of its characters and conversations enhanced in post-production using an innovative, "rotoscoped" computer animation technique. The other film, Tape, was a spur-of-the-moment project based on a play brought to Linklater's attention by Hawke, who enlisted friend Robert Sean Leonard and then-wife Uma Thurman to co-star. Confining its action to one seedy hotel room, the film allowed Linklater the freedom to experiment with a variety of takes, angles, and points of view he might not have otherwise tried on a more expensive format. Given warm receptions at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, both films received lauded art-house runs later that year, even as Life was denied a Best Animated Feature nomination by the Academy.
Linklater found himself willing to give Hollywood another try in 2003 when presented with Mike White's script for School of Rock, a fish-out-of-water comedy starring Jack Black as an unreliable, would-be substitute teacher who commandeers a class of sixth-graders. Reworking the script and putting his cast through extensive rehearsals, Linklater added an element of off-the-cuff realism to the formula tale, and in the process garnered some of the best reviews - and easily the best box-office returns - of his career. He followed up that success with Before Sunset, a sequel to Before Sunrise that reunited Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. The film, full of motifs that have carried through all of Linklater's best work, earned him a flurry of critical praise and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting.
He attempted to recapture the box-office success of School of Rock with a remake of Michael Ritchie's The Bad News Bears, although the results were not quite as fruitful either artistically or financially. In 2006 Linklater had two films at the Cannes Film Festival. His fictional adaptation of Eric Schlosser's non-fiction book Fast Food Nation competed in the main competition, while his rotoscoped adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly (a film that utilized the same technological tools as Waking Life) screened in the directors fortnight. Both films were released later that year in the United Sates.
~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi