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Slacker (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Linklater
Written byRichard Linklater
Produced byRichard Linklater
CinematographyLee Daniel
Edited byScott Rhodes
Distributed byOrion Classics
Release dates
  • April 21, 1990 (1990-04-21) (USA Film Festival)
  • July 5, 1991 (1991-07-05) (United States)
Running time
97 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.2 million[2]

Slacker is a 1990[3] American comedy drama film written, produced, and directed by Richard Linklater, who also stars in it. Filmed around Austin, Texas on a budget of $23,000, the film follows an ensemble cast of eccentric and misfit locals throughout a single day. Each character is on screen for only a few minutes before the film picks up someone else in the scene and follows them.

Slacker premiered at the USA Film Festival on April 21, 1990,[4] and was released in the United States on July 5, 1991, by Orion Classics. The film received positive reviews from critics and grossed over $1 million against a production budget of $23,000. In 2012, Slacker was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[5]


Slacker follows a single day in the life of an ensemble of mostly under-30 bohemians and misfits in Austin, Texas. The film follows various eccentric and misfit characters and scenes, never staying with one character or conversation for more than a few minutes before picking up someone else in the scene and following them.[6]

The characters include Linklater as a talkative taxi passenger, a UFO buff who insists the U.S. has been on the moon since the 1950s, a JFK conspiracy theorist, an elderly anarchist who befriends a man trying to rob his house, a television set collector, and a hipster woman trying to sell a Madonna pap smear. The woman selling the pap smear appears on the film poster, and was played by Butthole Surfers drummer Teresa Taylor.[7]

Most of the characters grapple with feelings of social exclusion or political marginalization, which are recurring themes in their conversations. They discuss social class, terrorism, joblessness, and government control of the media.


  • Richard Linklater as "Should Have Stayed at the Bus Station"
  • Rudy Basquez as Taxicab Driver
  • Mark James as "Hit-and-Run Son"
  • Bob Boyd as Officer Bozzio
  • Terrence Kirk as Officer Love
  • Stella Weir as Stephanie from Dallas
  • Teresa Taylor as Pap Smear Pusher
  • Mark Harris as T-shirt Terrorist
  • Frank Orrall as "Happy-Go-Lucky Guy"[8]
  • Abra Moore as "Has Change"
  • Louis Black as Paranoid Paper Reader
  • Sarah Harmon as "Has Faith in Groups"[9]
  • John Slate as Conspiracy-A-Go-Go author
  • Lee Daniel as GTO
  • Charles Gunning as Hitchhiker Awaiting "True Call"
  • Louis Mackey as Old Anarchist
  • Scott Rhodes as Disgruntled Grad Student
  • Kim Krizan as "Questions Happiness"
  • Athina Rachel Tsangari as Cousin from Greece (credited as Rachel Reinhardt)
  • Kalman Spelletich as Video Backpacker
  • Kendall Smith as "Post-Modern Paul Revere"




Richard Linklater had founded the Austin Film Society in 1985 with a group of collaborators, including filmmaker Lee Daniel.[10] Despite initial success, the Austin Film Society's business dwindled. Linklater's disappointment was compounded by not being able to distribute his recently completed first feature, the experimental It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, which had cost Linklater $3,000 to make.[11][12] Linklater began to plan a second feature, to be shot in Galveston, although plans fell through for it when he could not secure funding. He began to consider an idea in which multiple characters are followed by a camera in a relay-race style, an idea he had considered for five years.[12][13] The earliest treatment of the film comprised linked scenes with different characters, and was tentatively titled No Longer/Not Yet.[14]



Most of the scenes in the treatment grew out of experiences that Linklater had either gone through or was told about by others. For instance, the episode in which a son runs over his own mother was inspired by an incident that occurred near Linklater and Lee Daniel's Austin house. Linklater explained that these ideas were "inspired by or adapted from bookish ideas of pre-existing texts," such as his friend Jack Meredith's short stories, or another friend, Sid Moody's, conspiracy theories.[14] The final scene was inspired by an afternoon Daniel had spent atop the Twin Peaks in San Francisco.[15]

Linklater developed a list of guidelines for the film, including its narrative, dialogue, and camera movements.[15] The list functioned as an unofficial script or storyboard, and envisioned the film as "one long sequence," directing Daniel's photography to be "quiet but eloquent," muted, and with a documentary feel. Linklater's intent was to allow the viewer to "be aware that they are watching a construct," believing that the form of the film would underline the alienation of the characters.[16]

Fundraising and crew[edit]

Most of the funds for the film were gathered from Linklater's family and friends.[17] He used his Shell gasoline credit card to supply cast and crew with snacks and drinks, also providing homemade peanut butter sandwiches.[18] Linklater gathered a crew from among the film society. Due to his 16mm Arriflex camera and experience, Daniel became the director of photography, and helped secure a dolly for the film's production borrowed from KLRU, a local TV station. Linklater and Daniel had a 16mm editing bed that would contribute to the majority of the film's post-production. A number of other film society contributors and regulars were enlisted as crew, including Denise Montgomery as sound recordist, Deb Pastor as art director, and Meg Brennan as script supervisor. Without being formally offered the job, Anne Walker-McBay became production manager and co-casting director after expressing interest in casting for the film. Walker-McBay's husband, Chris Walker, was enlisted as an assistant to Daniel.[15]


Linklater initially did not want to appear in the film as the first character, but was convinced to do so by Daniel.[citation needed]

Slacker did not have an organized casting process. Rather, Linklater employed friends and approached people in the street with off-beat looks or personality. He carefully worked with each actor to shape their roles, carefully constructing the improvisational look of the film. Linklater also cast notable Austinites of the era, such as Louis Black, Abra Moore, and Teresa Taylor of the band Butthole Surfers.[13]

The film was shot in 1989 with a 16 mm Arriflex camera on location in Austin, Texas with a budget of $23,000 ($49,000 in today's dollars[19]).[2] According to Linklater, the film was shot without permits. They were approached by the police at one point, but were allowed to proceed when Linklater explained they were making a movie.[20]


Slacker premiered at Austin's Dobie Theater on July 27, 1990.[3][21][22] Orion Classics acquired Slacker for nationwide distribution, and released a slightly modified 35mm version on July 5, 1991.[22][23] It did not receive a wide release but went on to become a cult film bringing in a domestic gross of $1.2 million ($2.39 million in today's dollars[19]).[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "Slacker is a movie with an appeal almost impossible to describe, although the method of the director, Richard Linklater, is as clear as day. He wants to show us a certain strata of campus life at the present time".[24] In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "Slacker is a 14-course meal composed entirely of desserts or, more accurately, a conventional film whose narrative has been thrown out and replaced by enough bits of local color to stock five years' worth of ordinary movies".[25]

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A−" rating, writing, "Slacker has a marvelously low-key observational cool ... the movie never loses its affectionate, shaggy-dog sense of America as a place in which people, by now, have almost too much freedom on their hands".[26] In his review for the Washington Post, Hal Hinson wrote, "This is a work of scatterbrained originality, funny, unexpected and ceaselessly engaging".[27] Rolling Stone's Peter Travers wrote, "What Linklater has captured is a generation of bristling minds unable to turn their thoughts into action. Linklater has the gift of a true satirist: He can make laughter catch in the throat".[28]

In his review for the Austin Chronicle, Chris Walters wrote, "Few of the many films shot in Austin over the past 10 or 15 years even attempt to make something of the way its citizens live. Slacker is the only one I know of that claims this city's version of life on the margins of the working world as its whole subject, and it is one of the first American movies ever to find a form so apropos to the themes of disconnectedness and cultural drift".[23] Time magazine's Richard Corliss wrote, "Though set in the '90s, Slacker has a spirit that is pure '60s, and in this loping, loopy, sidewise, delightful comedy, Austin is Haight-Ashbury".[29]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 82% based on 45 reviews, and an average rating of 7.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Slacker rests its shiftless thumb on the pulse of a generation with fresh filmmaking that captures the tenor of its time while establishing a benchmark for 1990s indie cinema."[30] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 69 out of 100, based on 16 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[31]

American Film Institute recognition:

Home media[edit]

Slacker was released on VHS in June 1992 by Orion Home Video. An estimated 7,000 copies were shipped (it was also released on LaserDisc, but a reliable estimate of units shipped is lacking). A book also titled Slacker containing the screenplay, interviews, and writing about the film was published by St. Martin's Press, also in 1992. The film was re-released on VHS on March 7, 2000, by MGM. The film was released to DVD worldwide on January 13, 2003.[citation needed] A two-disc Criterion Collection boxed-set edition was released on August 31, 2004, in the US and Canada only. The set has many "extras", including a book on the film and Linklater's first feature film, It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, released on home video for the first time. Entertainment Weekly gave this edition an "A−" rating.[33]

Impact and legacy[edit]

The release of the film is often taken as a starting point (along with the earlier Sex, Lies, and Videotape) for the independent film movement of the 1990s. Many of the independent filmmakers of that period credit the film with inspiring or opening doors for them, including Kevin Smith, who has said that the film was the inspiration for Clerks.[34]

Linklater has said that he wanted the word to have positive connotations. For example, in a self-interview in the Austin Chronicle, Linklater stated: "Slackers might look like the left-behinds of society, but they are actually one step ahead, rejecting most of society and the social hierarchy before it rejects them. The dictionary defines slackers as people who evade duties and responsibilities. A more modern notion would be people who are ultimately being responsible to themselves and not wasting their time in a realm of activity that has nothing to do with who they are or what they might be ultimately striving for."[35]

In the early 1990s, Slacker was widely considered an accurate depiction of Generation X because the film's young adult characters are more interested in quasi-intellectual pastimes and socializing than career advancement. Linklater—who is a member of the "Baby Boom" generation (having been born in 1960)—has long since eschewed the role of generational spokesperson. Moreover, Slacker includes members of various generations, and many of its themes are universal rather than generation-specific.[36]

Slacker 2011[edit]

In 2011, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Slacker's release, Daniel Metz and Lars Nilsen of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain developed a remake of the film, titled Slacker 2011, which is an anthology film in which each segment of the original film is remade as a segment written and directed by a different filmmaker or filmmaking team.[37] Altogether 26 directors were involved in the film, including Bradley Beesley, Bob Byington, Michael Dolan, Jay Duplass, Geoff Marslett, PJ Raval, Bob Ray, Duane Graves, Ben Steinbauer and David Zellner.[38] Some segments are word-for-word remakes, while others are only loosely based on their source material.[37] The film was produced by Alamo Drafthouse and the Austin Film Society.[37] Linklater was not involved in the project, although he approved of the idea, saying, "It would be against the slacker ethic to not give one’s blessing to someone else's weird inspiration."[37]

Works cited[edit]

  • Macor, Alison (2010). Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: 30 Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0292722439.
  • Horton, Robert. “Stranger Than Texas.” Film Comment 26, no. 4 (1990): 77–78. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43453863.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Slacker (15)". British Board of Film Classification. November 16, 1992. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d Slacker at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ a b Whittaker, Richard (July 24, 2020). "In 1990, Austin Audiences Watched Slacker... and Saw Themselves". Austin Chronicle. Austin, Texas: Austin Chronicle Corp. Retrieved October 13, 2022. It's a conspiracy. Whatever IMDB or Wikipedia tells you, don't believe it. Slacker did not open on July 5, 1991. That's the corporate line they want you to swallow.… On July 27, 1990, Slacker opened on one of the two screens at the now-defunct Dobie Theater, in the food court on the second floor of the 27-story Dobie Center dorms, just off the UT-Austin campus at the end of the section of Guadalupe known as the Drag.
  4. ^ "1990 Movie Releases". Collider. Retrieved May 29, 2024.
  5. ^ King, Susan (December 19, 2012). "National Film Registry selects 25 films for preservation". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  6. ^ "Slacker". The Criterion Collection.
  7. ^ Raftery, Brian (July 5, 2006). "Slacker: 15 years later". Salon.com. San Francisco, California: Salon Media Group. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  8. ^ "Frank Orrall". IMDb. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  9. ^ "Sarah Harmon". IMDb. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  10. ^ Macor 2010, p. 90
  11. ^ Baumgarten, Marjorie (June 29, 2001). "Slack Where We Started: Richard Linklater and John Pierson Ponder 'Slacker' and Its Aftermath". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved May 29, 2024.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ a b Macor 2010, pp. 93-94
  13. ^ a b Horton, Robert (1990). "Stranger Than Texas". Film Comment. 26 (4): 77–78. ISSN 0015-119X. JSTOR 43453863.
  14. ^ a b Macor 2010, p. 95
  15. ^ a b c Macor 2010, p. 96
  16. ^ Macon 2010, p. 97
  17. ^ Horton 1990, p. 77
  18. ^ Macor 2010, pp. 97-98
  19. ^ a b Johnston, Louis; Williamson, Samuel H. (2023). "What Was the U.S. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved November 30, 2023. United States Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the MeasuringWorth series.
  20. ^ O'Neal, Sean (July 20, 2021). "Thirty Years After 'Slacker,' the Film Is an Austin Time Capsule—And a Hopeful Tribute to Its Spirit". Texas Monthly. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
  21. ^ Black, Louis (October 3, 2003). "'The Austin Chronicle' and Richard Linklater". Austin Chronicle. Austin, Texas: Austin Chronicle Corp. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  22. ^ a b Baumgarten, Marjorie (June 29, 2001). "Slack Where We Started". Austin Chronicle. Austin, Texas: Austin Chronicle Corp. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  23. ^ a b Walters, Chris (July 5, 1991). "Slacker (review)". Austin Chronicle. Austin, Texas: Austin Chronicle Corp. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 23, 1991). "Slacker". Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago, Illinois: Sun-Times Media Group. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  25. ^ Canby, Vincent (March 22, 1991). "Some Texas Eccentrics and Aunt Hallie". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  26. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (August 2, 1991). "Slacker". Entertainment Weekly. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  27. ^ Hinson, Hal (August 23, 1991). "Slacker". Washington Post. Washington DC: Nash Holdings LLC. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  28. ^ Travers, Peter (July 11, 1991). "Slacker". Rolling Stone. New York City: Wenner Media LLC. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
  29. ^ Corliss, Richard (July 29, 1991). "Cinema & '90s". Time. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Archived from the original on November 23, 2007. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  30. ^ "Slacker (1991)". Rotten Tomatoes. Los Angeles, California: Fandango Media. Retrieved August 21, 2023.
  31. ^ "Slacker Reviews". Metacritic. San Francisco, California: CBS Interactive. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  32. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees" (PDF). American Film Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 13, 2011. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  33. ^ Willman, Chris (September 17, 2004). "Slacker". Entertainment Weekly. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Archived from the original on April 25, 2009. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  34. ^ Jolie, Lash (August 1, 2021). "Kevin Smith marks 51st birthday by kicking off filming of 'Clerks 3'". EW.com. Retrieved September 14, 2022.
  35. ^ Kopkind, Andrew (1992). "Slacking Toward Bethlehem". Grand Street. No. 44. pp. 176–178.
  36. ^ Speed, Lesley (Fall 2007). "The Possibilities of Roads Not Taken". Journal of Popular Film & Television. 35 (3). London, England: Taylor and Francis: 103. doi:10.3200/JPFT.35.3.98-106. S2CID 191613990.
  37. ^ a b c d Kelly, Christopher (July 3, 2011). "20 Years On, It's Déjà Vu for 'Slacker' and Austin". The New York Times.
  38. ^ Goldberg, Matt (May 3, 2011). "23 Austin Filmmakers to Remake Richard Linklater's SLACKER in Honor of Film's 20th Anniversary". Collider.

External links[edit]