“It’s like a high school reunion, but you want to see everybody.” So said Richard Linklater from the stage of the Paramount Theater in Austin, where more than 30 cast members from his breakthrough feature “Slacker” gathered on July 1st to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the film’s national release. And though twelve years have passed since the cameras first started turning on a hot July day in 1989, most of the guests of honor looked as if they had just stepped off the screen where a brand new 35 mm print of “Slacker” unfurled before a wildly enthusiastic crowd.
Given the seismic changes Austin has undergone in the last decade, the first question to come to mind after the screening was, “Could any of these characters still afford to live here?” Yet many of their real-life counterparts are still slacking in Austin ten years on, even if few of them could agree on exactly what a “slacker” is. A layabout? An underground artist? Someone with more ideas than dollars? Whatever the case, there were more of them gathered in one room since the fabled rock club Liberty Lunch was bulldozed to make way for a high tech office park.
Watching “Slacker” can be a bittersweet experience for Austinites. Beloved institutions enshrined by the film, such as the Les Amis restaurant and Captain Quackenbush’s coffeehouse, have long since been replaced by Starbucks (though the GM Steakhouse, where the movie’s Traumatized Yacht Owner holds court, is still chugging along). Despite these setbacks, the evening stood as a testament to the eccentric spirit of Austin that still endures in various nooks and crannies. And as always for locals, each viewing of the film brings pleasurable little jolts of recognition. (“Hey – I rented a video from that guy last week!”)
Some members of the slack pack were quick to point out that, though their onscreen counterparts may have been partially inspired by their own personas, “Slacker” is not a documentary. For instance, John Slate (“JFK Buff”) would like you to know that he has interest in many conspiracies beyond the JFK assassination, and that the most recent presidential election may be the biggest one of all. On the other hand, Austin fixture Jerry Deloney revealed more than a touch of his “Been on the Moon Since the 50’s” character when he took the stage to deliver a rambling tribute to the “transcendental” nature of “Slacker.”
The most notable absentee was also one of the few cast members to pursue an acting career: Charles Gunning, “The Hitchhiker Awaiting the True Call.” Linklater recalled taking an acting class with Gunning (known as “Doug the Slug” to his cohorts), who delivered an improvised monologue about his hated step-father. Years later, when casting “Slacker,” Linklater devised a similar speech for the Hitchhiker character and showed it Gunning, who replied, “Well, I can relate to this!” Perhaps the most pleasant surprise, for both the cast and the audience, was the presence of taxi driver Rudy Basquez, memorable for maintaining a Buddha-like deadpan while passenger Linklater reels off his alternate universe theories. “What were you thinking when Rick was saying all that stuff?” asked an audience member. Rudy shrugged. “I had just come from a party. I wasn’t thinking much.”
When Linklater mentioned that the original cut of “Slacker” ran nearly three hours, the inevitable question arose: “Where’s the DVD?” Unfortunately, the rights to the film are currently entangled, but will revert back to Detour Filmproduction in a couple of years, at which point the DVD release will become a top priority. In fact, as Linklater revealed during the Q & A, many members of the cast had taken the time to record audio commentary for their scenes during a reception held earlier in the day (video footage of which may also turn up on the DVD).
Sponsored by the Austin Film Society, the special anniversary screening also served as a benefit for the D. Montgomery Award, given each year to a multimedia artist or deserving organization in memory of one of the original “Slacker Seven.” (Montgomery, who did the sound and appears in the film as “Having a Breakthrough Day,” died in 1997.) This year’s award was presented to the Austin Cinemaker Co-op, a non-profit collective dedicated to Super 8 film production and low-cost equipment rental.
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