This preface to Generation X demography, and the best capture of the then 20-30 somethings, and now 30-40 somethings, remains as fascinating and unusual as when it first named its cult of dispossessed young wonks. In short, this is a timelessly good film.
It's roving camera style has been imitated but unmatched. The demi-documentary spins out some ninety scenes with unnamed characters going about their non-working business. No office interiors appear in this 'round-the-clock view of Austin, Texas in 1990. College students, young unemployed people, hobbyists, fanatics, and various crazies paint a picture of my g- g- g- generation, a baffled set of over-educated, under-appreciated men and women.
Having met and interviewed cast member Kalman Spelletich (TV Backpacker), I gained a little insight into the process of making this film. Kal is the leader of the Seemen, a robotic art performance and building team that is similar to the infamous Survival Research Labs (SRL). Kal builds robots in metal and fire that walk, shoot, burn, bash, and stun; and hosts interactive performances where old ladies operate flame-throwers, people stand behind Plexiglas and have fire shot at them, and mic-ed machines create cacophonous concertos.
At the recent Burning Man Arts Festival, Kal had two installations. The main one I missed, but heard was a dud-a cumbersome rocketship that accelerated up a roller-coaster ramp to topple off the end and thud a few feet from the launch pad which then intentionally, but anti-climactically, burned slowly to the ground. The other one I loved: a series of metal sculptures surrounded on the ground with bits of metal and wood which people could pick up and use to clobber on the structures. The sounds were amazing, and the chance to relieve all that aggression on these structures was welcome. 10 stars and a strong recommendation to see the Seemen perform if you ever get the chance. But I digress.
A friend of filmmaker Richard Linklater, Kal remembers being approached about the movie: "He always came around saying, 'I'm gonna make this film,' and I'd say, 'yeah, Rich, I'm going to make a film too.' And then one day he said, 'Okay, we're ready to shoot your scene.'" So he and Richard scripted the conceptual rant of the TV Backpacker, a man living in a room with wall-to-wall television.
The character is busy monitoring reality, and complains about how in real life, you don't get to rewind, pause, or adjust the hue when it's all wrong. Then he introduces another character on a video tape whose Ph.D. thesis project was kidnapping his entire committee and holding them hostage.
The scripting was patch-work, according to Kal. Some actors wrote their own parts, some collaborated with Richard, and some were given the part. "There was a lot of improvisation."
I particularly like the film for its gritty-ness. The characters are subtle exaggerations, larger than life by maybe 12 to 27%, and often not exaggerated at all. Though we get to see several "peak experiences"-a jilted lover hurling his ex's possessions into a river, a crazy man murdering his mother, a woman cracking under psychological pressure in a diner-we also see enough boredom and hyper-normalcy not to feel separated from the characters. An example: the guy that leaves his house because he has to be at band practice "in, like, five hours," (this said, while glancing at his watch-free wrist).
The humor is excellent and subtle. Richard Linklater's own scene opens the film in a prologue that introduces the bemused existentialism of the rest of the film-but I'm starting to sound like one of the characters myself, and well I might! So I'll just conclude that there's a great deal to get out of this film besides entertainment. If you haven't seen it, you'll never understand me until you do.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.