Austin-based auteur Richard Linklater’s new film “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” opens this weekend. In tribute to the Academy Award nominee’s vast and varied career of more than 20 films, with a handful in pre-production, Vanity Fair has put together a video interview retrospective with Linklater, starting with his 1985 grassroots short “Woodshock.”
Linklater told Vanity Fair he started playing with film in junior high, with his rough-around-the-edges, first foray into filmmaking, “Woodshock,” marking a step-up from Super 8 into 16mm. “It’s a short, in and around a blissed-out, drug-fueled music festival in Austin in the summer of ’85. No one involved remembered probably being filmed,” he said. “Ecstasy was actually legal then, interestingly!”
Linklater’s breakout came in 1991 with the Sundance premiere of “Slacker,” where the film was nominated for the festival’s Grand Jury Prize. This proto-mumblecore, indie dramedy told in a documentary style takes us through a day in the life of the oddballs and outcasts of Generation X Austin, Texas. “The idea of ‘Slacker’ came to me at about 2 in the morning, on a long drive” Linklater said. “The narrative structure hit me in one shot — why can’t you tell a story moving from one character to the next? I was 23, in love with cinema, and its possibilities.” He said the idea gestated for six years.
“So much of the content in ‘Slacker’ was found-object art,” Linklater said, referencing one of the film’s most memorable scenes featuring an Austin slacker hawking a Madonna pap smear. “A very intelligent, quirky friend of mine named Matt was theorizing on the pornography of the future and he said, ‘It might be Madonna pap smears,'” Linklater said. “It finds its way into this movie as an actual commodity, for sale.” Looking back on this moment, Linklater said, “What a weird mindset I must have been in.”
After “Slacker” came 1993’s iconic teen stoner comedy “Dazed and Confused,” which heralded the arrival of ’90s icons such as Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Renée Zellweger, and, of course, Matthew McConaughey as 20-something man-child David Wooderson, in the Oscar winner’s first major screen role. Then just 23, Matthew McConaughey lobbied for the role, telling Linklater, “Hey, I’m not this guy, but I know this guy.”
Set in the last day of high school in May 1976, “Dazed and Confused” was Linklater’s first “quote-unquote real movie,” with a significant budget and talented indie cast. “One of the great things about getting to do this is the cathartic aspect; you do get to recycle aspects of your own experience. I really do work from a very specific autobiographical place, at least as a jumping-off point,” said Linklater, who said the film helped repopularize the “teen movie” that became the fashion in the mid-1990s.
After doing two sprawling ensemble films with “Slacker” and “Dazed,” Linklater said, “I remember having this urge inside me, it’s time to do that intimate story.” This was the genesis of 1995’s two-hander romance “Before Sunrise” — which since spawned the sequels “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight,” which follow protagonists Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) over the next 20 years as they drift in and out of each other’s lives after one fateful night in Vienna.
Linklater remembers visiting his sister in Philadelphia in 1989, when he met a young woman in a toy store who became the real-life inspiration for Celine. “She was flirting with me, and we had this kind of connection,” he said. “We really spent that whole night just walking around Philly. It was that magical thing that happens between people. Even that night, I was very aware, I want to make a film about this.” Though Linklater never saw her again, it was revealed in a 2013 Chicago Tribune article that the woman died in 1994. “Before Midnight” is dedicated to her.
Another Linklater favorite is 2001’s “Waking Life,” which pioneered the digital rotoscoping animation technique where animators trace over motion-picture film, frame by frame, to disorienting, trippy effect. “It was one of those great mash-ups of form and content,” he said. “That the thing that doesn’t work in my head will work like that,” Linklater said of his dreamlike, philosophical reverie that remains a cult classic — and probably one of the all-time stoner movies.
Linklater’s 2014 coming-of-age epic “Boyhood,” which won Patricia Arquette a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, “had a very brief gestation,” he said, despite being shot, in sequence, in pieces across a 12-year period. “It came to me in a flash, and then I just got going on it. Luckily IFC gave me a couple hundred thousand a year to make it,” he said. “We started in summer ’02. 12 years is a long way, very abstract. Halfway through, it had matured, just because the kids came into their element…Each year it got better and better, and I realized, that’s what growing up feels like.”
Finally, for his new film, “Where’d You Go Bernadette,” Annapurna’s Megan Ellison brought Maria Semple’s novel to Linklater, and he was immediately struck by the narrative of an agoraphobic architect (Cate Blanchett) on the lam. “My personal jumping-off point was my mom,” he said. “This obsessive parenting, mother-daughter relationship, and it’s also a depiction of an artist who is not creating their art, which is the scariest thing in the world.”
“Where’d You Go Bernadette” is now in theaters. Watch Vanity Fair’s whole interview with Linklater below.