On Tuesday, I noted that it was “Boyhood week,” not realizing at the time that it’d turn into a week for celebrating all of Richard Linklater‘s work as well. You can revisit the 17 narrative features via the Playlist‘s annotated retrospective or have Linklater himself talk you through them via Mike Hogan at Vanity Fair. More selective chronologies come from Christopher ZF (The Stake) and Zach Sharf (Indiewire). And the New Yorker‘s Sasha Weiss moderated Nathan Heller and Richard Brody‘s provocative discussion of the oeuvre a couple of weeks ago (18’07”).
Then there are the rankings. Before presenting their lists, Variety‘s Justin Chang and Andrew Barker shoot the breeze a little; Chang calls Linklater “one of our most thoughtful, adventurous and consistently interesting filmmakers, and also—despite his lively sense of comedy and generally warm view of the human condition—one of the darkest. Because time is Linklater’s great subject (no less than Wong Kar-wai, he is an artist obsessed with the passage of time and the persistence of memory), some of his finest movies are marked not just by a deep sense of loss, but by a profound awareness of how cyclical that loss is.” Barker: “Though he quotes him in Waking Life, I don’t think Richard Linklater would have gotten along too well with Soren Kierkegaard. Sure, Kierkegaard’s proto-existentialism, dialogical style and conflicted Christianity might seem to make him an ideal sparring partner, but his bone-deep angst would never jibe with the laid-back Texan bonhomie that gives even Linklater’s bleakest works a sense of pervasive warmth.”
Bilge Ebiri for Rolling Stone: “Unlike so many others labeled with the ominous words ‘Great Artist,’ Linklater’s work displays a generosity of both spirit and process; he’s notoriously collaborative and prefers a go-with-the-flow vibe on the set. All that has resulted in an amazingly diverse body of work—from early indie hits like Slacker and formal experiments like A Scanner Darkly to studio comedies like The Bad News Bears and the unclassifiable wonders of his Before trilogy with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.”
Further rankings—with notes—come from Will Leitch and Tim Grierson (The Concourse) and Max O’Connell (Indiewire). Before Sunset (2004) takes the #1 spot for Barker, Chang and O’Connell and the #2 spot for Ebiri (#1: Dazed and Confused, 1993) and Leitch and Grierson (#1: Boyhood). The Dissolve‘s Noel Murray has a nice riff on the ways the Before trilogy has resonated with viewers over the years.
Those who’ve seen Gabe Klinger‘s Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater—it’ll be at New York’s Anthology Film Archives from Friday through July 24—know that Linklater’s cinephilia runs deep. A founder of the Austin Film Society, he’s personally presented countless screenings and taken part in post-screening Q&As, recently at the Marchesa, a theater worth a visit if you’re in Austin for the vintage movie posters alone. They’re taken from Linklater’s famously extensive collection and complemented by a wall of album covers (every now and then, Linklater switches up the selection). “And it was thanks to the Film Society—as well as Linklater’s collegial, laid-back personal style—that I learned some of my most valuable and enduring lessons in how not to be a film critic.” That’s the Washington Post‘s Ann Hornaday on the personal memories conjured by Boyhood.
“Tasking Linklater to list his five [favorite films] is like asking him to describe his mood,” writes Sarah Ricard for Rotten Tomatoes, noting that “the list will likely change in a day, or even in five minutes. ‘I once made a list of my 250 favorites—and that was just scratching the surface,’ Linklater laughed.” Still, she gets him to talk about a top five “as they struck him at 1:30 p.m. EST on a Thursday in July.”
“After the Boyhood trailer was released,” notes Ryan Vlastelica at the L, “a commenter on the A.V. Club website wrote that it was ‘exactly the sort of premise that occurs to someone after doing copious bongs all day… and then you forget about it. But not Linklater.’ That’s as good a description as any for the man, for whom this kind of innovation is damn near par for the course.”
“Boyhood has a heck of a hook, whether viewers approach it as a document of Linklater, as a document of life in these United States (especially Texas) from 2002 to 2013, or as the story of one boy, from age 6 to age 18,” writes Noel Murray in the Dissolve. “In summer 2002, Linklater shot what amounted to a short vignette about first-grader Mason Jr. (played by Ellar Coltrane), living with an older sister named Samantha (Linklater’s daughter Lorelei) in suburban Texas, while splitting time between his divorced parents, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). One year later, the cast reconvened and shot another little slice of life, and then another a year after that, and so on—until the Mason Jr. character was old enough to graduate high school and move into a freshman dorm, at which point Boyhood ends.”
Like most reviewers, Murray points out that “Boyhood isn’t wholly unique.” Citing crucial differences, critics have nonetheless drawn parallels to Michael Apted’s Up series, Jean-Pierre Léaud in François Truffaut‘s Antoine Doinel films, the Harry Potter trio—the list goes on. For the hell of it, I’ll add another name. In 1985, Moritz A. Sachs appeared as Klaus Beimer in Germany’s marathon soap Lindenstraße. He was eight; and, at the age of 35, he’s still playing Klaus Beimer. But Boyhood is “singular,” as Matt Zoller Seitz puts it at RogerEbert.com. “There is no other work to which one can directly compare it without distorting pop culture history. This movie is truly its own thing.”
“In Boyhood, Mr. Linklater’s inspired idea of showing the very thing that most movies either ignore or awkwardly elide—the passage of time—is its impressive, headline-making conceit,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “One of the fascinating things about Boyhood is that a lot happens—there are parties and fights, laughter and tears—but all these events take place in a distinctly quotidian register and without the usual filmmaking prodding and cues…. For a filmmaker known for the loquaciousness of his characters, Mr. Linklater has an almost un-American rejection of overexplanation…. Boyhood exists at the juncture of classical cinema and the modern art film without being slavishly indebted to either tradition. It’s a model of cinematic realism, and its pleasures are obvious yet mysterious. Even after seeing the film three times, I haven’t fully figured out why it has maintained such a hold on me, and why I’m eager to see it again.”
“When I first saw it (and I plan on seeing it again, and maybe again, and with pleasure), I mentioned on social media that it was ‘Edward Yang-level great,'” notes Glenn Kenny. “Let me expand on that: the movie has the compassions and directness of Yi Yi and the ambition and concentration of A Brighter Summer Day.”
If you, too, are thinking of seeing it again, do—but don’t take my word for it. “My initial concern,” Paul Schrader wrote a few days ago, “was that is was a ‘one off’ movie, meaning not only it cannot be replicated but also is might only work on the first viewing. But I ran into Kent Jones and Scott Foundas, both of whom had seen it a second time and assured me it is just is strong on a second viewing.”
“There is such a multitude of drama—central and peripheral, diegetic and extratexual, fiction and non, onscreen and off—nested within this long but beguilingly simple film that sometimes it’s difficult to even know how to take it all in or even where to look,” writes Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot.
Amy Taubin for Artforum: “Linklater considered some four hundred boys for the role; it was Coltrane’s introspective quality that won him the part. As Mason internalizes his experiences, we internalize the film. The effect is cumulative.”
“Mason transforms into an archetypal Linklater character,” suggests Ashley Clark in Sight & Sound, “the type of curious, selectively garrulous, gently nonconformist dreamer essayed by Wiley Wiggins in Dazed and Confused (1993) and Waking Life (2001). Accordingly, the film becomes less a study of ‘boyhood’ as a universal concept, and more specific to Mason, coming of age in contemporary America. Part of its magic comes from the ever-present tension between the viewer’s appreciation of the onscreen action and their knowledge of the audacious extra-textual aspect…. The film’s completion, given all the variables that could have affected it, is remarkable; that it works so beautifully is miraculous.”
“Arquette and Hawke are both superb, doing the best work of their careers,” writes Slate‘s Dana Stevens. Their “low-key but acutely observed performances seem to effortlessly incorporate decades’ worth of backstory; they aren’t so much acting as behaving within a context.”
“Working with two cinematographers, Lee Daniel and Shane F. Kelly, and editor Sandra Adair, Linklater connects the experiences of Mason’s childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood so seamlessly that we barely notice the joins,” writes Stephanie Zacharek in the Voice.
Linklater “is often pegged as having a fixation on time,” writes Nicolas Rapold in the L, “but another way of looking at him is one of our great American diarists, in a tradition stretching back to the age of Emerson. That reflective tendency, and openness to philosophizing, doesn’t preclude a deft feel for what’s experienced in a moment of fear or wonder or joy, even as lanky Mason grows into a reflexive, perhaps divorce-influenced casualness towards conflict.”
“Living with Mason and his parents over time you feel an intimacy, an empathy, a shared stake,” writes New York‘s David Edelstein. “I’m not saying Boyhood is the greatest film I’ve ever seen, but I’m thinking there’s my life before I saw it and my life now, and it’s different; I know movies can do something that just last week I didn’t. They can make time visible.”
For Slant‘s Ed Gonzalez, “perhaps there’s no scene more unassuming in its grace than a gathering between Mason Sr. and his children at a lake, wherein Mason Sr. skips a stone across the water’s surface. In the stone he chooses, the manner in which he flicks it forward, and in all of the leaps and bounds the stone makes before landing somewhere beyond the father’s sightline, the scene becomes a metaphor for both the film and life itself. All the patience, determination, and unpredictability that it takes to make a film such as this, to raise a child, and to live a life committed to seizing the day, isn’t only in that stone, but in the tears Olivia sheds when her son packs up his things to move away to college and in his own courage to launch himself into a future without looking back or sinking into regret.”
More from Nigel Andrews (Financial Times, 5/5), Jason Bailey (Flavorwire), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 5/5), Robbie Collin (Telegraph, 5/5), Richard Corliss (Time), A.A. Dowd (AV Club, A), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Malcolm Harris (New Inquiry), Mark Kermode (Observer, 4/5), Geoffrey Macnab (Independent, 4/5), John Patterson (Guardian), Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, B+), Vadim Rizov (Little White Lies), Chloe Schama (New Republic), Emma Simmonds (Arts Desk), David Sims (Wire), Stephen Whitty (Star-Ledger) and Alison Willmore (Buzzfeed).
With Richard Linklater: Sean Axmaker (here in Keyframe), Joe Berkowitz (Fast Company), Brad Brevet (Rope of Silicon), Kyle Buchanan (Vulture), Justin Chang (Variety), David Gritten (Telegraph), Christopher Kelly (Texas Monthly), Eric Kohn (Indiewire; part 2), Spencer Kornhaber (Atlantic), Amy Nicholson (LA Weekly), Andrew O’Hehir (Salon), David Poland (32’41”), Lily Rothman (Time; specifically about the soundtrack), Adam Woodward (Little White Lies). And Linklater’s a guest on Fresh Air (33’37”).
With Ellar Coltrane: Get this: Ethan Hawke talks with him for EW. Also, Boris Kachka (Vulture), David Marchese (NYT Magazine), Danny Miller (Cinephiled), Nick Newman (Film Stage), David Poland (28’30”) and Esther Zuckerman (Wire). With Coltrane and Linklater: Xan Brooks (Guardian, video), Zach Gayne (Twitch), Kate Kellaway (Guardian), Eric Kohn (Indiewire, 59’06”) and Leonard Lopate (23’40”).
With Lorelei Linklater: Danny Miller (Cinephiled) and Nigel M. Smith (Indiewire, with Coltrane). With Ethan Hawke: Thelma Adams (New York Observer), Kyle Buchanan (Vulture) and Brent Simon (Paste). With Hawke and Linklater: Logan Hill (NYT) and Scott Raab (Esquire). With Patricia Arquette: Kyle Buchanan (Vulture), Kate Bussmann (Telegraph), Danny Miller (Cinephiled) and Kristopher Tapley (HitFix). With Hawke and Arquette: David Poland (31’36”). And with Linklater, Coltrane, Hawke and Arquette: Anne Thompson.
Meantime, good news. Boyhood‘s had a pretty terrific opening weekend, reports Peter Knegt at Indiewire.
7/14: Anthony Lane in the New Yorker: “So many of the men in Boyhood seem like losers, or bullies, or both, minds and mouths locked tight with disapproval and denial, and the challenge for Mason—and, you feel, for any kid—is not just to survive the squalls of youth but somehow to grow from boy to man without suffering a death of the spirit.”
Press Play‘s Max Winter finds that Boyhood “acts on you the way a book might act on you, which is to say, it doesn’t force itself on the viewer, and in fact it asks the viewer to force itself on it, to make sense of it, to keep going with it, and to sit with it, for a while, to see where it’s going.”
Khoi Vinh: “The effect is more awe-inspiring, more effecting, more moving than any CG marvel that Hollywood can muster—the true definition of movie magic.” And another designer, Mike Dempsey, finds an apt quote from The Wonder Years.
At Indiewire, Nigel M. Smith has a good long talk with Patricia Arquette.
7/16: Interview‘s had Matthew McConaughey call up Linklater for free-ranging chat. Criticwire‘s Sam Adams talks with him, too, and at Slate, you can watch another interview with Linklater, David Haglund‘s (22’50”).
“I wonder if Linklater will look back on the film with all the nostalgia that he’s kept out of it,” writes David Lowery at the Talkhouse Film.
“Boyhood is perfectly imperfect,” writes Ray Pride at Newcity Film, “and surely not the last exploration of feature filmmaking as the ideal form to encapsulate duration and unities of location to come from the dogged, invaluable 53-year-old writer-director.”
“Is Boyhood the most nuanced home movie of all time?” asks Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. “Not quite, and calling it that would diminish Linklater’s achievement. Better to say that it retrains us to let go of melodramatic expectations and simply let life unfold, a remarkably sophisticated ambition.”
7/19: “Is there a Criterion edition of Boyhood coming in the future and if so, can you talk about some of the special features we might see on the release?” asks Marco Cerritos at Hypable. Linklater: “Yeah, we’ve got a ton of behind the scenes stuff. We made this in the era where everyone has a digital camera so we unearthed an interview from year one with Ellar, Lorelai, Patricia and myself, Patricia interviewed me in 2002. I hadn’t seen this since we shot it, Ellar had forgotten quite a bit of it but he got to see himself as a wide-eyed six year old. For people who like the movie, I think there will be a lot of cool little treasures.”