Posts Tagged ‘contemporary’


Slacker – The Austin Scene


Boy is this a weird one.  The mumbling philosophical dilemmas of every generation’s young people are manifest in this 97-minute effort by writer/director Richard Linklater.  There is a story, but it’s near invisible.  There is a plot, but it seems designed specifically to keep us from acknowledging it.  I wonder if it inspired Seinfeld in its love of nothingness.  Both are driven by zany conversation.  But there is deliberation here.  Nothing is random, and judging from how easily the camera follows the blocking, I’d say that everything has been heavily rehearsed.  Still, the impression is of a voyeur.  The point of view may not be omniscient, but it is roaming.  That really is the heart of this film.

I imagine that when writing this script, Linklater probably walked around Austin simply hanging out with folks and hearing what they had to say.  I also wonder if he wrote the script based on locations that he saw every day, or if he found the locations after writing the script.  At any rate, the changing buildings and locations serve as new characters, each with their own stories.  For instance, one character walks into a diner full of crazy people, and then walks out.

I do not know who this character is.  All I know is that his appearance is precipitated by a mystic woman’s warning: “the next person who passes us will die in a fortnight.”  And sure enough, as soon as he’s off-screen we here a car screech to a halt with the driver yelling, “get out of the road!”

It seems as though the film is a compilation of points, punctuating what it means to be a part of a sub-culture.  If you were to listen to it, you may not even realize how many speaking parts are in the film.  All the characters are basically having the same conversations.  I sense that the conspiracy guy from the 15 minute mark might get along well with the two stoners debating the capitalist propaganda in Scooby Doo.

The goal of this movie appears to be a celebration of the meandering lifestyle.  Characters have impulses, passions, and interests that exist outside of the film narrative.  Our voyeurism takes us into and out of their lives.  Yet the pacing is still very deliberate and the emotional rhythm has just as many ups and downs as any traditional narrative.  If you were to structure it all out, you would see a heightening of tension as the film progresses.  Characters make fun of each other, the conflict with each other.  There is a broad paranoia at work concerning the government and the media.  One character mentions missing persons, whom we never find, but we do see signs posted up on walls reminding us of their absence.  Another character attempts to rob an old man’s house, only to find himself confronted by the world’s most articulate anarchist.

What does this do for the audience experience?  Well, as one character says, “you’re either with us or against us.”  If you are not a youthful vagabond in early 90’s Austin, you may not find yourself at home with this film.  There is however, something timeless about that age-old frustration with the previous generation’s failures.  Every young person is looking for his or her way to contribute something great.  But when all the old people are telling you to go away and “do something with your life” you are faced with a choice: to submit, or to rebel?  Not all the characters in the film are young however.  The anarchist is much older, but still seems to find a place with the youngsters.  He embraces their rebellious attitude, and welcomes the idea of being stolen from.

The film takes us through a full 24 hour period (and then some) by starting with a young man’s arrival at the bus station in Austin, and then ultimately culminating with a group of film students that drive off into the country to film random bits of fun.  Its as if the final moment is a “Gotcha!” style punch line.  We came into it expecting something profound, but ultimately it’s a film made by the characters it portrays – slackers.


Editing in Memento


Christopher Nolan’s sophomore film, Memento, is arguably a giant experiment in editing.   It re-invents the needs of montage editing for its own narrative purposes.  By opening the film in reverse, then playing subsequent scenes in not only the wrong order, but in the reverse order, Memento forces the viewer to reevaluate everything previously established in montage technique.

The editor of the film, Doty Dorn, has said in interviews that her first responsibility as editor was to read the script several times.  This is not normally the case with editors, who are more concerned with daily footage than over-arching plot.  It is up to the director to decide the plot, the editor just assembles the cuts . . . normally.  But in this film there is a special relationship between the editing and the story.  The editing, more than the camera even, is what puts the viewer inside the character.  There are aids, like Guy Pierce’s voice-over, but really it is in the pieces of information that are given at the beginning and end of each scene that helps us to find our footing.

Each scene opens on some clearly identifiable object, a memento, if you will, that we must immediately observe and interpret to acquaint ourselves with our surroundings.  It makes the viewer hyper-conscious of visual exposition.  Our brains focus on the seemingly mundane aspects of these characters lives – what sort of drinks they have, or how they’ve done their hair.  This creates an inner feeling of intensity, and contributes to an overall sense of paranoia.  Anyone could be a liar; anyone could be a friend or a foe.

Within each scene, there is a clear aim to direct the audience’s attention to specific things.  For instance, during the sequence where Guy Pierce’s character is burning his wife’s possessions, there are frequent close-ups specifically of these things.  Following the “Hitchcock Rule” that says the largest object in the frame is the most important, it cues the audience to place value on those otherwise insignificant objects.

What we can take from this is that Nolan has placed within us a sense of Persistent Reveal, where we are ever conscious of the revelations being given.  This expositional technique is also used in shows like Lost, and Nolan’s other film, Inception.  By opening on mystery and maintaining a progression of revelation, Nolan makes us feel as if we are detectives, investigating correctly and putting the pieces together based on new pieces of evidence.

If the story were told in chronological order, the movie would show its flaws quite readily.  For instance, played in order, there is no real character arc.  Guy Pierce’s character is just floating along on a vendetta that he’s barely invested in, having only assumptions based on tattoos.  If played chronologically, the film has no resolution in relationships between characters.  You would see Carrie Ann Moss be mean to Guy Pierce, then sleep with him, then help him, then nothing.  There is no real resolution.  In fact, and I’m sure this is deliberate, Carrie Ann Moss’ character only fits the “femme fatale” archetype when played in reverse, because if you play the film in order, she fits more the romantic interest type.

As a whole, the editing in Memento does a good job of taking you through the paces and energies of a traditional noir narrative, but the fact that it does so in reverse demonstrates an understanding of the relationship between structure and the audience rather than structure and the character arc.  In a traditional narrative of any genre, the character arc is directly tied to the structure.  As inner conflict increases, so does outer conflict.  But Memento plays these things against each other.  Guy Pierce’s character has very little growth from scene to scene, as he must identify himself anew, each time.  This allows him to explain his “memory problem” to characters at the end of the story, but at the beginning of the plot.

As the outer intensity increases (shootouts with drug dealers, etc) the editing gets faster and more intense.  But in the more meditative parts of the film, the cutting is slower.  This is a story where all the most intense parts happen toward the beginning, and the less intense parts happen at the end.  But with the plot showing this backwards, it creates the growing intensity we’re used to experiencing in these types of films.