7-2 | Table of Con­tents | DOI 10.17742/IMAGE.VOS.7-2.4 | Sol­da­niPDF


Abstract | Slack­er (1991) by Richard Lin­klater is con­sid­ered a mile­stone in Amer­i­can inde­pen­dent cin­e­ma (King). The film is entire­ly shot on loca­tion in Austin, Texas, main­ly in the area of the Drag. Its 24-hour nar­ra­tion of city life has spe­cif­ic fea­tures: a script con­ceived as a “Roadmap,” with no main char­ac­ters or turn­ing points; mem­bers of the scene and film crew as non-pro­fes­sion­al actors; and local Austin music. This arti­cle explores Slack­er’s unique rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the local indie scene and how its col­lec­tive per­for­mance became emblem­at­ic of a gen­er­a­tional phe­nom­e­non, thus shift­ing the cul­ture discourse’s empha­sis from space (Austin) to time (Gen­er­a­tion X).
Résumé | Slack­er (1991) de Richard Lin­klater est con­sid­éré comme un jalon d'une impor­tance clé dans le ciné­ma indépen­dant améri­cain (King, 2005). Le film en entier a été tourné à Austin au Texas, prin­ci­pale­ment dans le voisi­nage de la Drag. La nar­ra­tion de 24 heures de la vie urbaine pos­sède des car­ac­téris­tiques par­ti­c­ulières : un scé­nario conçu comme une « feuille de route », sans per­son­nages prin­ci­paux ou moments charnières; des mem­bres de l’équipe de mise en scène et de tour­nage comme acteurs non pro­fes­sion­nels; de la musique d’Austin. Cet arti­cle explore la représen­ta­tion unique de Slack­er de la scène indépen­dante locale et de quelle façon sa per­for­mance col­lec­tive est dev­enue emblé­ma­tique d'un phénomène généra­tionnel, en met­tant l'accent non plus sur l'espace (Austin), mais sur le temps (Généra­tion X).

Maria Tere­sa Sol­dani | Inde­pen­dent Researcher and Musi­cian

THE PERFORMANCE OF THE AUSTIN INDIE SCENE IN SLACKER:
From the Body of a Scene to the Body of a Generation

Slack­er (1990/1991) is Richard Linklater’s sec­ond fea­ture film, fol­low­ing his undis­trib­uted debut It’s Impos­si­ble to Learn to Plow by Read­ing Books (1988). It was shot on loca­tion in Austin, Texas between 1989 and 1990 and picked up for dis­tri­b­u­tion by Ori­on Clas­sics in 1991 after sev­er­al inde­pen­dent show­ings in the US. Geoff King con­sid­ers the movie a mile­stone in the his­to­ry of Amer­i­can indie film (21) and names it one of the most suc­cess­ful low-bud­get pro­duc­tions of all time (14). In his his­to­ry of Amer­i­can inde­pen­dent cin­e­ma, Emanuel Levy speaks of Lin­klater and Slack­er in rela­tion to region­al film­mak­ing, high­light­ing the impor­tance of local­i­ty as a foun­da­tion­al dimen­sion of indie film cul­ture (172-176). Slack­er was released the same year as the break­through nov­el Gen­er­a­tion X: Tales for an Accel­er­at­ed Cul­ture (1991) by Cana­di­an writer Dou­glas Cou­p­land. Sub­se­quent­ly, the main­stream media began to talk about the post-baby-boomer “twen­ty-some­thing” gen­er­a­tion por­trayed in the film and nov­el, group­ing togeth­er Slack­er, Gen­er­a­tion X, and grunge music (espe­cial­ly Nir­vana) as works by/from/on “Gen­er­a­tion X.” Film schol­ar Peter Han­son grouped Slack­er with­in the cat­e­go­ry of the “Cin­e­ma of Gen­er­a­tion X” (62-63), his label for cer­tain new films pro­duced in the late 1980s and 1990s, such as Kevin Smith’s Clerks (1994), Ben Stiller’s Real­i­ty Bites (1994), and David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999). He argued:

Gen-X film­mak­ers are those direc­tors born between 1961 and 1971, a ten-year peri­od that falls well with­in the range giv­en by soci­ol­o­gists seek­ing to iden­ti­fy when Gen­er­a­tion X was born. While ten years of birth can’t encom­pass an entire gen­er­a­tion, the film­mak­ers in these years were exposed to key social, polit­i­cal, and cul­tur­al fac­tors. There­fore, their col­lec­tive body of work can be ana­lyzed as a reac­tion to those forces that shaped their gen­er­a­tion as a whole. (5)

In the 1980s inde­pen­dent music scenes asso­ci­at­ed with alter­na­tive rock cul­ture flour­ished in the US (see Straw “Sys­tems of artic­u­la­tion;” Kruse), pro­duc­ing a phe­nom­e­non that the jour­nal­ist Michael Azer­rad lat­er called “the Amer­i­can indie under­ground 1981-1991.” Dur­ing those years, a pro­lif­ic inde­pen­dent scene took shape in Austin, involv­ing such bands as Glass Eyes, Ed Hall, Zeit­geist, and Dhar­ma Bums, who steadi­ly played in urban venues and pro­duced DIY records. More­over, many musi­cians moved to Austin, such as the band But­t­hole Surfers and the song­writer Daniel John­ston. In 1985 MTV ded­i­cat­ed an entire episode of Cut­ting Edge to the scene, giv­ing it the title “Austin Avalanche of Rock and Roll”.  The pro­gram was pro­duced by the inde­pen­dent I.R.S. Records and direct­ed by Jonathan Day­ton with Valerie Faris (Lit­tle Miss Sun­shine, 2006).

This arti­cle explores Slack­er’s filmic con­struc­tion of the local indie scene, exam­in­ing the process by which Austin’s region­al­ism became emblem­at­ic of a cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non that was both nation­al and gen­er­a­tional. I will trace the process by which Slack­er was con­ceived, writ­ten, pro­duced, direct­ed, and shot in Austin, and show how this inde­pen­dent­ly pro­duced film was deeply con­nect­ed both to the local indie music scene and to the form of the city sym­pho­ny film. Draw­ing on Rob Stone’s analy­sis of Slack­er, I will exam­ine the ways in which the mak­ing of the film, involv­ing, as it did, a local cul­tur­al scene, pro­duced com­plex rela­tions between space and time. I will fur­ther explore these issues by invok­ing the con­cepts of dérive (Guy Debord), time-image (Gilles Deleuze), chrono­tope (Mikhail Bakhtin), and gen­er­a­tion (Karl Mannheim), sug­gest­ing that Slack­er con­structs a dis­tinc­tive rela­tion between the visu­al­i­ty of the Austin indie scene and the gen­er­a­tional dis­course com­mon­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the film.

Slack­er depicts a 24-hour day in the city life of Austin’s res­i­dents. No cen­tral char­ac­ter emerges and no pro­fes­sion­al actors were used. The film’s nar­ra­tive is orga­nized as a flux of meet­ings between two, three, or more peo­ple, in streets, venues, and hous­es locat­ed, for the most part, in the Drag—the neigh­bor­hood along the west­ern side of the cam­pus of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin. Levy sum­ma­rizes the film’s nar­ra­tive as a chain of events: “[Slack­er] trav­els across the lone­ly, eccen­tric tra­jec­to­ries of dozens of peo­ple over a sin­gle day (from dawn to dawn), drop­ping some char­ac­ters just as they become inter­est­ing, find­ing some­thing pecu­liar in near­ly every episode” (175).

This “Austin movie” (Lin­klater 3) opens with the image of a bus trav­el­ling at dawn as we see a male pas­sen­ger wake up. The sil­hou­ette of the face, cap­tured against the mov­ing land­scape, belongs to Lin­klater him­self. Over this image are two sets of titles: “DETOUR FILM PRODUCTION presents” and “SLACKER.” In the sec­ond shot the bus stops at the Austin sta­tion as the male pas­sen­ger gets off and takes a cab towards an unknown des­ti­na­tion. The third shot is a long take of the pas­sen­ger as he tells the taxi dri­ver the sto­ry of his dreams and his the­o­ry of the exis­tence of par­al­lel real­i­ties: he explains how, in the exact moment in which a per­son makes a choice, all oth­er (lost) oppor­tu­ni­ties still exist con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous­ly. In the orig­i­nal script, the char­ac­ter is called “Should Have Stayed at Bus Sta­tion,” a name defined by func­tion rather than giv­en in a cus­tom­ary act of nam­ing. The movie adopts this approach through­out, giv­ing name­less char­ac­ters equal weight.

 

Slack­er’s script con­tains real events, local leg­ends, and fic­tion­al sto­ries involv­ing over a hun­dred char­ac­ters, young peo­ple liv­ing in Austin at that spe­cif­ic his­tor­i­cal moment. King describes the film as an inno­v­a­tive choral nar­ra­tion (i.e. “Tan­gled Webs: Mul­ti-Strand Nar­ra­tive”), iden­ti­fy­ing this ele­ment as char­ac­ter­is­tic of Amer­i­can inde­pen­dent cin­e­ma (84-85). Slack­er is a col­lec­tive urban tale, map­ping Austin through the tra­jec­to­ries of mul­ti­ple fig­ures. Each scene flows into anoth­er, con­nect­ed by at least one char­ac­ter, and this chain of scenes pro­duces the urban, social, and cul­tur­al car­togra­phies of Austin, fol­low­ing a script that was, indeed, known as “the Roadmap” (Lin­klater 23).

Slack­er “Should Have Stayed at Bus Sta­tion” 00h 00min 00s:

James Haley argues that Slack­er is a non-fic­tion film and notes how its essence lies in the fact of its being set in the Drag, inso­far as what fills the film is the human­i­ty of that neigh­bor­hood:

Richard Linklater’s Slack­er could not have been made any­where but in Austin, Texas. Oh, sure, a crew could film such footage on any urban loca­tion. But that would be fic­tion. Only Austin—and more specif­i­cal­ly, only the eight blocks of the Guadalupe Street Drag that skirts Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas—could open its col­lec­tive trench coat and flash its vitals at an unsus­pect­ing audience—and have it be true in reveal­ing its nether­world of space cadets, goof­balls, punk groupies, gen­tly aging icon­o­clasts, cof­fee shop feminists-gone-‘round-the-bend,’ con­spir­a­cy dweebs lurk­ing in used-book stores, artists, anti-artists, and a whole pur­ga­to­ry of oth­er refugees from the world of pro­duc­tive san­i­ty. (“GTT,” Lin­klater 5)

In the 1980s, the Drag was the heart of the Austin indie scene, which had flour­ished since Raul’s start­ing play­ing punk music at the end of the 1970s, thus estab­lish­ing that scene’s inde­pen­dence from the local­ly root­ed pro­gres­sive coun­try and blues scenes. As Will Straw points out, estab­lish­ing a scene pro­duces the key con­text for alter­na­tive rock music cul­ture: “[the scene] is that cul­tur­al space in which a range of musi­cal prac­tices coex­ist, inter­act­ing with each oth­er with­in a vari­ety of process­es of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, and accord­ing to wide­ly vary­ing tra­jec­to­ries of change and cross-fer­til­iza­tion” (“Sys­tems of Artic­u­la­tion” 373). The musi­cians in the scene cre­ate “forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion through which the build­ing of musi­cal alliances and the draw­ing of musi­cal bound­aries take place” (373), cre­at­ing high­ly hybrid, per­son­al, and eclec­tic styles devel­oped “with­in an ongo­ing process of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and com­plex­i­fi­ca­tion” (376). Austin in the 1980s was defined by such a bound­ed cul­tur­al space, with music prac­tices that involved mul­ti­ple styles estab­lish­ing a spe­cial rela­tion between space and time, as we shall see.

The Austin music scenes: performers and sweating bodies

In his case study of Austin, Bar­ry Shank defines a scene as an “over­pro­duc­tive sig­ni­fy­ing com­mu­ni­ty” in which “far more semi­otic infor­ma­tion is pro­duced than can be ratio­nal­ly parsed” (122). Shank speaks of the “inter­ro­ga­tion of dom­i­nant struc­tures of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and poten­tial cul­tur­al trans­for­ma­tion” that takes place dur­ing live musi­cal per­for­mance, in “an evi­dent dis­play of semi­otic dis­rup­tion” (122). In the Austin scene, Shank sug­gests, “the music … per­formed is the result of an entire set of social and cul­tur­al rela­tion­ships inter­sect­ing through the ‘per­son­al­i­ties’ of the musi­cians in the field of musi­cal per­for­mance” (138). He fur­ther elab­o­rates on the per­for­mance of sin­cer­i­ty in con­nect­ing the mem­bers of the scene to Austin itself:

This belief in the impor­tance of sin­cere per­son­al expres­sion estab­lished a com­mu­nica­tive atmos­phere that elicit­ed a will­ing and plea­sur­able iden­ti­fi­ca­tion among Austin’s young music fans. These young fans devel­oped a ten­den­cy to group togeth­er in the city’s music clubs—listening, danc­ing, and fan­ta­siz­ing along with the per­for­mances of local musi­cians. Once this tra­di­tion was estab­lished, the clubs of Austin began to func­tion as a cul­tur­al synec­doche. (15-16)

The venues Shank sur­veyed, such as Raul’s or Sparky’s, were crowd­ed with Com­mu­ni­ca­tions stu­dents from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas and peo­ple whose age, sex­u­al­i­ties, gen­ders, and races ren­dered them mar­gin­al (104). Local film­mak­ers, writ­ers, musi­cians, record sell­ers, and pro­mot­ers began to share inter­dis­ci­pli­nary projects that involved sev­er­al art forms and media, includ­ing per­for­mance art, music, film, video, and writ­ing. In Shank’s terms, the Austin indie scene became “a media-con­scious move­ment” (115).

In 1985, Lin­klater and some friends found­ed the Austin Film Soci­ety, with the aim of dis­trib­ut­ing inde­pen­dent, for­eign, and exper­i­men­tal films that had not yet been shown in town. That same year Lin­klater and cam­era­man Lee Daniel shot and edit­ed a short film on Wood­shock, the annu­al inde­pen­dent music fes­ti­val staged in Austin. Both the name of the event and the title of the film ref­er­enced Wood­stock, the leg­endary rock music fes­ti­val of 1969. Wood­shock 1985 was staged in the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment of Drip­ping Springs, with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Austin’s most notable local bands along­side oth­er US indie acts. Lin­klater and Daniel edit­ed sev­en min­utes of the recre­ation­al activ­i­ties of the scene’s mem­bers in the fes­ti­val area, but did not show any activ­i­ty tran­spir­ing on the stage. The live music per­formed dur­ing the fes­ti­val was the back­ground sound for some inter­views and jokes involv­ing the audi­ence, heard against images of half-naked bod­ies under the sun as cap­tured by the Super 8 cam­eras. Among the var­i­ous peo­ple shown, a still unknown Daniel John­ston pro­mot­ed his self-pro­duced tape of home-record­ed music, his behav­ior exem­plary of the sin­cer­i­ty Shank observed in the Austin music scene. In the end titles, Lin­klater and Daniel iron­i­cal­ly called Wood­shock “a film attempt.” At the very least, this embry­on­ic Super 8 film, with its empha­sis on show­ing the bod­ies of its mem­bers, trans­lat­ed into visu­al terms the con­cept of the inde­pen­dent local scene. These sun-scorched bod­ies spurred those process­es of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion between musi­cians and audi­ence that, in Shank’s account, were part of the “car­ni­va­lesque atmos­phere” of live per­for­mances in Austin:

The bod­ies of the per­form­ers (par­tic­u­lar­ly that of the lead singer) are framed on a stage, where their ges­tures map out a sex­u­al­ized field of affect, mean­ing and desire. The vibra­tions of the music then cir­cu­late an over­whelm­ing eroti­cism through danc­ing and lis­ten­ing bod­ies, an eroti­cism that in turn is cast upon a widest vari­ety of sec­ondary objects, rapid­ly trans­lat­ing the libid­i­nal ties of love and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion into one anoth­er and back again, in the over­pro­duc­tion of the signs of iden­ti­ty and the over­stim­u­la­tion of the sense. These are the nec­es­sary con­di­tions for the devel­op­ment of a scene: a sit­u­at­ed swirling mass of trans­for­ma­tive signs and sweat­ing bod­ies, con­tin­u­al­ly recon­struct­ing the mean­ing of a com­mu­nion of indi­vid­u­als in a pri­ma­ry group. (128)

Wood­shock was Lin­klater and Daniel’s first exer­cise with con­tent and form: it framed the “trans­for­ma­tive signs and sweat­ing bod­ies” (Shank) of the mem­bers of the Austin indie scene in exper­i­men­tal fash­ion and made use of a spe­cif­ic film for­mat, Super 8, which had played a key role in the his­to­ry of avant-garde and under­ground cin­e­ma.

Slacker: the filmmaking process

Lin­klater describes Slack­er as “sort of a group art project” (qtd. in Low­est­ein 26). The film is a col­lec­tive nar­ra­tive in which no scene is more sig­nif­i­cant than the oth­ers and in which there are no turn­ing points; each scene is only con­nect­ed to the fol­low­ing scene in the chrono­log­i­cal order estab­lished by the pas­sage of time (i.e. day/night/day). The only instance of rep­e­ti­tion is that the first day’s dawn, which opens the film, is mir­rored in that of the sec­ond day, which clos­es the film. These two events, mark­ing the bound­aries of a 24-hour cycle, are con­nect­ed to ear­li­er and lat­er films by Lin­klater. The first sequence recalls It’s Impos­si­ble to…, and ini­ti­ates the imag­i­nary account of day­dream­ing which is at the core of Wak­ing Life (2001); the topos of the encounter on the road is devel­oped in the tril­o­gy Before Sun­rise (1995), Before Sun­set (2004), and Before Mid­night (2013). In addi­tion, the last sequence in Slack­er recalls the Super 8 films that Lin­klater and Daniel made over sev­er­al years at the begin­ning of their careers, such as Wood­shock: “In itself, this last sequence is the kind of film I was first mak­ing. Lee and I would, say, take a trip out of town and shoot Super 8 the whole time. Then you get the footage back, edit it, and maybe project it while a friend’s band plays” (Lin­klater 128).

In order to pre­pare his cast and crew, Lin­klater col­lect­ed some pro­duc­tion notes grouped accord­ing to the fol­low­ing top­ics: “Ver­ti­cal nar­ra­tive… Script… Visu­al… Cast­ing… To the Actor… Char­ac­ters… Dia­logue… This Film… The View­er… A Method” (Lin­klater 10-13). These notes were pub­lished in 1992 in Linklater’s book on Slack­er, which also includ­ed the first script, a his­to­ry of the pro­duc­tion, actors’ pro­files, cast rem­i­nis­cences, notes from the crew, and an inter­view with the author:

 

VERTICAL NARRATIVE

A film as a long sequence in which each shot, each event and char­ac­ter, lead only to the next.

New scene/New start: each com­plete in itself, the next is sim­ply jux­ta­posed to it. The rela­tion­ship between var­i­ous scenes can be con­nect­ed lat­er (or before – cause can fol­low effect).

The audi­ence will itself con­struct causal rela­tion­ships.

The scenes and char­ac­ters change… but the pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of the movie remain the same.

What seems like a straight line (as nar­ra­tive) will actu­al­ly be a cir­cle (emo­tion­al­ly speak­ing).

…any appar­ent philo­soph­i­cal and polit­i­cal con­tra­dic­tions are actu­al­ly an inte­gral part of the non-nar­ra­tive…”

 

SCRIPT

A film where any­thing goes – any­thing peo­ple do can be inte­grat­ed into this film.

A film of peo­ple pos­ing prob­lems, even in a con­fused state (pos­si­bly to be solved or addressed dif­fer­ent­ly else­where).

Opti­mistic cin­e­ma: any­thing is pos­si­ble, noth­ing is pro­hib­it­ed.

Some­thing filmed is auto­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from some­thing writ­ten, and there­fore orig­i­nal” Jean-Luc Godard

 

VISUAL

Cam­era: qui­et but elo­quent (espe­cial­ly when it moves).

Col­ors: mut­ed, not bright, mud­died by the envi­ron­ment.

Fic­tion… enter­ing into doc­u­men­tary. Doc­u­men­tary of char­ac­ters act­ing out a fic­tion?

Lack of estab­lish­ing shots: as a par­ti­tion­ing effect (same with the char­ac­ters’ lack of devel­op­ment).

Envi­ron­ment: sug­gests doc­u­men­tary.

Char­ac­ter: pas­sion. (10-11)

Faith­ful to this method­olog­i­cal frame­work, Lin­klater payed par­tic­u­lar­ly atten­tion to the per­for­ma­tive aspect of film­mak­ing, pro­duc­ing notes on actors, char­ac­ters, and dia­logue. In his cast­ing, the direc­tor favored find­ing a per­sona, some­one with atti­tude, phys­i­cal pres­ence, inter­est­ing life expe­ri­ences, and par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al tastes (11). The notion of per­sona has been key in descrip­tions of inde­pen­dent scenes, espe­cial­ly those involv­ing musi­cians, and has been a promi­nent fea­ture of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of such scenes with­in films. One need only think, for exam­ple, of those films made with­in the No Wave scene, which flour­ished amidst the decay of New York City’s East Vil­lage at the end of the 1970s and is some­times con­sid­ered the first “inde­pen­dent scene” (Yoko­bosky 127). A key fea­ture of No Wave was the cre­ation of hybrid forms of music, film, media, and visu­al arts in which scene-based per­sona such as Lydia Lunch were seen to embody cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics of the scene over­all. The sense that per­sona and per­for­mances are cen­tral to the visu­al­i­ty of the Austin indie scene is clear in the case of Slack­er. Lin­klater not­ed in his inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion to cast and crew that “[p]erformance will depend on the screen pres­ence: the actor must give off the right vibra­tions, be the sur­face that rep­re­sents the com­plex depths, and be able to cap­ture the essence of the moment of that time” (11).

In Slack­er the per­for­mance of the Austin indie scene is enact­ed in sev­er­al ways. First of all, per­for­mances by vir­tu­al­ly all of those involved in local indie music—Glass Eye, Poi Dog Pon­der­ing, Bad Mutha Goose, Daniel John­ston, Shoul­der, Sick Peo­ple, Jean Caf­feine, Hick­hoids, But­t­hole Surfers, Tri­an­gle Mal­let Apron, Not For Sale, The Texas Instru­ments, Pock­et Fish­er­man, Crust, Ed Hall, The Jack­of­fi­cers, and St. Cecilia—are almost entire­ly diegetic. Their music is played live and unplugged along the street, in day­time or, plugged-in, at venues, in night­time; it is repro­duced on sound sys­tems at home, in a car, or in a bar; it is lis­tened to by a few peo­ple or by larg­er groups. All these con­texts are the dai­ly expe­ri­ence of music and urban life, not the extra­or­di­nary events we might asso­ciate with main­stream rock and pop cul­ture. There are only two excep­tions in this restric­tion of music to diegetic sources: the final scene, with its ambigu­ous use of “Die Graskop Pol­ka,” which may be diegetic (com­ing from the car radio) or not; and the end titles, in which we hear the But­t­hole Surfers’ song “Strangers Die Every­day.”

The scene which stands as the fullest per­for­mance of the Austin music scene is also the most emblem­at­ic scene in Slack­er as a whole. A guy who comes out of a house (Ulti­mate Los­er) and a young woman (Stephanie from Dal­las) are speak­ing in the street. They are updat­ing each oth­er on their recent lives—UL is still play­ing with his band, the Ulti­mate Losers, while SfD has just come back to town after a peri­od in a clin­ic in Dal­las, TX—when anoth­er girl (the Pap Smear Push­er) inter­rupts their flirt­ing to try to sell them what she presents as the “orig­i­nal Madon­na pap smear.”

Slack­er “Madon­na Pap Smear” 00h 24min 30s:

The per­for­mances in this scene are by three musi­cians active in Austin: Scott Mar­cus (UL) and Stel­la Weir (SfD) from the Glass Eye, and Tere­sa “Ner­vosa” Tay­lor (PSP) from the But­t­hole Surfers. The scene effects an irony of sorts with respect to pop-star wor­ship, and this itself encap­su­lates the film’s anti-Hol­ly­wood atti­tude. The rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Austin indie scene also includes per­for­mances by mem­bers of the film’s crew: Lin­klater; D.O.P. and cam­era­man Daniel (GTO); cam­era­man assis­tant Clark Walk­er (Cadil­lac Crook); edi­tor Scott Rhodes (Dis­grunt­ed Grad Stu­dent); sound engi­neer Denise Mont­gomery (Hav­ing a Break­through Day); and script-super­vi­sor Meg Bren­nan (Sit­ting at Café). Lin­klater describes these peo­ple as “friends” with “a com­mon aes­thet­ic,” “kind of a film fam­i­ly” (Lin­klater 128-129). These alliances, emblem­at­ic of Linklater’s approach, would con­tin­ue over sev­er­al years and movies, adding a strong per­son­al and reflex­ive dimen­sion to his film­mak­ing.

The “Roadmap”: Slacker as a City Symphony

Shank’s sense of Austin’s music venues as form­ing a “cul­tur­al synec­doche” is one way of under­stand­ing Slack­er’s con­nec­tions to the film form of the city sym­pho­ny. Its 24-hour nar­ra­tion and restric­tion to the bound­ed space of Austin are the most obvi­ous char­ac­ter­is­tics Slack­er shares with city sym­phonies, “those films,” in Scott MacDonald’s words, “that pro­vide a gen­er­al sense of life in a spe­cif­ic metrop­o­lis, often by reveal­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic dimen­sions of city life from the morn­ing into the evening of a com­pos­ite day” (3). This film form—developed in Europe in the 1920s, in the work of Wal­ter Ruttmann, Dvi­ga Ver­tov, and Alber­to Cavalcanti—inspired the city films on NYC made by van­guard film­mak­ers such as Rudy Bur­ck­hardt. It is use­ful to see a num­ber of inde­pen­dent, music-cen­tred Amer­i­can films as vari­a­tions on the city sym­pho­ny: The Blank Gen­er­a­tion (Amos Poe and Ivan Kral, 1976), The Decline of West­ern Civ­i­liza­tion (Pene­lope Spheeris, 1980), The Slog Movie (David Markey, 1982), Athens, GA: Inside/Out (Tony Gay­ton, 1986). These films sug­gest affini­ties between the project of the city sym­pho­ny form and the doc­u­men­ta­tion of cul­tur­al scenes. They make vis­i­ble “the the­atri­cal­i­ty of the city […] [and] the city’s capac­i­ty to gen­er­ate images of peo­ple occu­py­ing pub­lic space in attrac­tive ways […].  [In them, m]usic pro­vides a pre­text for being out in the city, for con­sum­ing cul­ture in moments of col­lec­tive inter­ac­tion which are embed­ded in the more dif­fuse pub­lic life of cities, in drink­ing and in pub­lic, in col­lec­tive con­ver­sa­tion” (Straw, “Cul­tur­al Scenes” 412).

Mac­Don­ald con­sid­ers Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) to be a city sym­pho­ny, not­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of the film that, arguably, are shared with Slack­er—the com­bi­na­tion of gen­res (i.e. fic­tion, doc­u­men­tary, avant-garde) and the crit­i­cal anal­o­gy between cin­e­mat­ic and musi­cal forms:

In an orches­tra, dozens of musi­cians play instru­ments that have evolved over his­to­ry to pro­duce a mul­ti­par­tite, but uni­fied and coher­ent per­for­mance with­in which the indi­vid­u­al­i­ties of the con­tribut­ing musi­cians are sub­sumed; in the city, the indi­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tions of mil­lions of peo­ple (work­ing with tech­nolo­gies that have devel­oped over cen­turies) are sub­sumed with­in the metropolis’s mega-par­tite move­ment through the day, a move­ment that reveals sev­er­al pre­dictable highs and lows. (4)

Oth­er ele­ments con­nect Slack­er to this film form: the real­is­tic look of the 16mm film, gen­er­al­ly used for doc­u­men­tary films; the choral and decen­tered nar­ra­tion; the first sequence, with its titles at dawn, that func­tions as a pre­lude; the pres­ence, at the begin­ning, of an author who explains his inter­pre­ta­tion of real­i­ty in self-reflex­ive terms; the final sequence, with its use of Super 8 film in an exper­i­men­tal fash­ion to sig­nal a new dawn; and the “fire­works” visu­al­ly cre­at­ed by the cam­eras as they are thrown in the air. Fur­ther com­par­isons of Slack­er with Do the Right Thing are use­ful: while the lat­ter focus­es on ques­tions of race, the for­mer fore­grounds ques­tions of gen­er­a­tion (of the twen­ty-some­things) in its rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the scene. Both films seek to devel­op alter­na­tive ways of deal­ing with social issues. For Mac­Don­ald, the alter­na­tive dimen­sions of Lee’s film were “demon­strat­ed by the pro­duc­tion process of the film, which required indi­vid­u­als with back­grounds even more var­ied that those of the char­ac­ters in the film to find ways to col­lab­o­rate, not just for one day, but for sev­er­al of the hottest weeks of New York sum­mer, in a neigh­bor­hood in Bed-Stuy” (15, orig­i­nal empha­sis). This col­lab­o­ra­tive and alter­na­tive work process pre­sumes the exis­tence of a his­tor­i­cal con­tin­u­um between time unfold­ing before, dur­ing, and after the events which make up the die­ge­sis.

In Do the Right Thing the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of dai­ly life in a sin­gle block (Bed­ford-Stuyvesant) in a bor­ough (Brook­lyn) of an Amer­i­can city (New York) is crit­i­cal in rela­tion to the nation­al media dis­cours­es that debat­ed the film’s polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al issues. In Slack­er we find a sim­i­lar set of rela­tion­ships, except that, in the case of Linklater’s film, the spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal issue is not explic­it­ly addressed but rather con­veyed implic­it­ly through the inde­pen­dent means with which the film was made. The filmic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Austin and ren­der­ing of the visu­al­i­ty of the local indie scene may be inter­pret­ed in terms of emerg­ing issues hav­ing to do with gen­er­a­tional iden­ti­ty.

Using the film form of the city sym­pho­ny, both Do the Right Thing and Slack­er por­tray the col­lec­tive as a liv­ing organ­ism, made up of indi­vid­ual pieces that become emblem­at­ic of a wider body. As synec­doches of the coun­try, Bed-Stuy and the Drag require that we shift our per­spec­tive as “view­ers” from the local to the nation­al. The under­ground inde­pen­dent scene rep­re­sent­ed in Slack­er shared many fea­tures with those scenes pro­lif­er­at­ing dur­ing the 1980s across trans-local net­works, mov­ing on from the effer­ves­cent expe­ri­ence of No Wave in NYC and punk scenes in Los Ange­les. Slack­er offers a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Austin indie scene as a cul­tur­al synec­doche; the film moves from show­ing how venues embody the urban scene to sug­gest­ing ways in which the scene is coex­ten­sive with a nation­al ter­ri­to­ry. Indie scenes are visu­al­ized from the per­spec­tive of two sub­ject posi­tions: one posi­tions the sub­ject in the city and the oth­er locates the sub­ject in rela­tion to a map­ping of the nation as a whole. The visu­al­iza­tion of the scene is pro­duced by spe­cif­ic inde­pen­dent or alter­na­tive media (e.g. DIY record­ings and films, graf­fi­ti art, and print mate­r­i­al such as fanzines, posters, and fly­ers) which are both made by the mem­bers of scenes and cir­cu­late between them with­in larg­er net­works.

The Urban Night as Territory of the Austin Indie Scene

Scenes are inex­tri­ca­bly con­nect­ed to night-time. The day­time parts of Slack­er are struc­tured around lin­ear nar­ra­tives estab­lished by the chrono­log­i­cal chain of events, in which any cli­max is avoid­ed. Dif­fer­ent­ly, those sequences set in the night rep­re­sent var­i­ous kinds of intensification—in par­tic­u­lar, an increase in the num­ber of meet­ings between char­ac­ters as well as in the loud­ness of diegetic sound and the fre­quen­cy of cuts.

In Slack­er, when day gives way to night, sev­er­al changes hap­pen, gen­er­at­ing a sense of excess in the film’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the cul­tur­al scene. The night is explored by the eye of the cam­era as it goes from venue to venue: we see bars over­flow­ing with beer, non-stop smok­ing, char­ac­ters jump­ing into a van to go to a con­cert, oth­ers try­ing to avoid pay­ing for tick­ets by using the guest-list or copy­ing an admis­sion stamp onto their skin and so on. Some peo­ple are mak­ing a video project dur­ing a Tri­an­gle Mal­let Apron per­for­mance, or attend­ing an Ed Hall con­cert at the Con­ti­nen­tal Club, or drink­ing and speak­ing about pho­tog­ra­phy, or hop­ping onto a car to fin­ish the day in someone’s bed. We can read the night in Slack­er in Straw’s terms, “as a cir­cum­scribed, ter­ri­to­r­i­al phe­nom­e­non, with its dis­tinc­tive prac­tices, sen­so­ry fea­tures and char­ac­ter­is­tic sites of nar­ra­tive action (like night-clubs). In par­tic­u­lar, the sense of night as ter­ri­to­ry fol­lows the recog­ni­tion that night has its own pop­u­la­tions, per­son­al­i­ty types and dis­tinc­tive forms of behav­iour” (“Chrono-Urban­ism” 54). The night in Slack­er can be con­ceived as a “ter­ri­to­ry” to pass through, with its characters—and the cam­era which fol­lows them—constantly in motion.

In the night sec­tion of Slack­er the ele­ments that char­ac­ter­ize the cul­tur­al scene in Austin are enhanced by spe­cif­ic filmic choic­es: not only do vir­tu­al­ly all of the shots take place in pub­lic loca­tions, but new media for­mats are intro­duced (video, Super 8) and the diegetic music is main­ly played live on stage. TV and VHS appear dur­ing sun­set in the media lab of the char­ac­ter “Video Back­pack­er,” and video, in the form of Fish­er Price Pix­elVi­sion, returns in the night­time to cap­ture in a club the dark per­for­mance of an exper­i­men­tal ensem­ble. The already men­tioned Super 8 sequence, dur­ing the final dawn, is both a cel­e­bra­tion of night-life in Austin and an expres­sion of Linklater’s own excite­ment at the films pre­vi­ous­ly made to por­tray that artis­tic scene and its mem­bers. In addi­tion, these two sequences are shot from the view­point of a film­mak­er “inside the scene”—in both the cin­e­mat­ic and social sens­es of “scene”—who is attempt­ing to cap­ture its life just as Lin­klater and Daniel had attempt­ed to do in Wood­shock. In this way, Lin­klater includes oth­er ele­ments of an advanced self-reflex­iv­i­ty with­in the film. The direc­tor notes, with respect to the end­ing, that “Slack­er is a cel­e­bra­tion of day-to-day life. Espe­cial­ly the last scene, with the all-night partiers dri­ving around and film­ing each oth­er. It’s a micro­cosm of the whole film, ordi­nary peo­ple say­ing ‘Hey, my life’s wor­thy of cin­e­ma’” (17).

Slack­er “Clos­ing sequence” 01h 28min 14s:

Slacking in Time-Images

The cre­ation in Slack­er of fic­tion­al char­ac­ters whom Lin­klater (12) called “not devel­oped,” in a nar­ra­tion with no pro­tag­o­nists or antag­o­nists, pro­duces a nar­ra­tive that is “alter­na­tive” rel­a­tive to those of Hol­ly­wood clas­sic cin­e­ma (see King 82-86). These non-pro­fes­sion­al actors and actress­es per­form a sto­ry that avoids lead­ing roles and engages in a col­lec­tive con­struc­tion. Rob Stone sug­gests that Slack­er embod­ies the “pol­i­tics of slack­ness” as a form of oppo­si­tion both to estab­lished Hol­ly­wood cin­e­ma and to the doc­trines of Reaganomics. Musi­cians, pro­mot­ers, artists, poets, video ama­teurs, stu­dents, writ­ers, and bar­tenders mix their roles, shift­ing con­tin­u­ous­ly between fic­tion and real­i­ty. The local scene is rep­re­sent­ed as a col­lec­tive body shar­ing a com­mit­ment to inde­pen­dent prin­ci­ples. This way of mak­ing the movie, its adop­tion of DIY media and prac­tices, sug­gests, to indi­vid­u­als who most­ly belong to the same gen­er­a­tional cohort, an alter­na­tive way of posi­tion­ing one­self with­in Amer­i­can soci­ety. Lin­klater not­ed:

I think this gen­er­a­tion has drift­ed far­ther away from any kind of ide­olo­gies: see­ing all offi­cial sys­tems of thought as alien­ations. And when you look at the Amer­i­can polit­i­cal sys­tem, there’s noth­ing to feel aligned with, you’re not rep­re­sent­ed. (18)

Work isn’t manda­to­ry in our soci­ety. […] If you’re will­ing not to have a fam­i­ly, a new car, nice liv­ing con­di­tions, nice clothes, and eat out every night; if you are will­ing to go, “I just want to work part-time or not at all and spend most of my time mak­ing music, writ­ing, read­ing, or watch­ing movies,” you can con­scious­ly drop out. (19)

A deep­er analy­sis of the spa­tial and tem­po­ral cat­e­gories in Slack­er adds fur­ther ele­ments with which to inter­pret the shift from the local space of Austin to the larg­er his­tor­i­cal cat­e­go­ry of Gen­er­a­tion X. Guy Debord’s notion of dérive, Gilles Deleuze’s time-image, and Mikhail Bakhtin’s chrono­tope help illu­mi­nate the film’s “reter­ri­to­ri­al­iza­tion of a part of Amer­i­ca called Austin” (Stone 22). Stone describes the filmic space in Slack­er as “a mun­dane space of tran­sit,” “a space of vir­tu­al con­junc­tion, grasped as pure locus of the pos­si­ble” (21-22). The cam­era drifts along the street space, from char­ac­ter to char­ac­ter and from place to place. Debord’s account of dérive is use­ful in cap­tur­ing the ways in which chains of events are orga­nized in the film: “In a dérive one or more per­sons dur­ing a cer­tain peri­od drop their usu­al motives for move­ment and action, their rela­tions, their work and leisure activ­i­ties, and let them­selves be drawn by the attrac­tions of the ter­rain and the encoun­ters they find there” (50). The drift could unfold over a day or a few hours and involve the entire city, a neigh­bor­hood, or at least a few blocks. In Slack­er, the drift is con­veyed through the shoot­ing process, the use of long shots which most­ly involve motion, and a style of edit­ing marked by a lim­it­ed use of cuts.

These ele­ments, togeth­er with the col­lec­tive nar­ra­tive, the absence of main char­ac­ters, the frus­tra­tion of any action-direct­ed plot, and dia­logue which takes the form of mono­logues lead towards the accom­plish­ment of the time-image, as Gilles Deleuze has described it. The French philoso­pher iden­ti­fies a rup­ture in Ital­ian Neo­re­al­is­mo, marked by the “art of encounter––fragmented, ephemer­al, piece­meal, missed encoun­ters” (Zavat­ti­ni qtd. in Deleuze 1) where “the real was no longer rep­re­sent­ed or repro­duced, but ‘aimed at’” (1). What Deleuze calls “the cri­sis of the action-image” emerges first in “the form of trip/ballad films” and “the slack­en­ing of the sen­so­ry-motor con­nec­tions” (3), whose result tends towards  a “pure opti­cal-sound image” (4). Speak­ing of the Japan­ese direc­tor Ozu, but in terms whose per­ti­nence for Slack­er seems clear, Deleuze sug­gests that it is in the fram­ing of dai­ly life that the film image becomes time-image:

There is becom­ing, change, pas­sage. But the form of what changes does not itself change, does not pass on. This is time, time itself, ‘a lit­tle time in its pure state’: a direct time-image, which gives what changes the unchang­ing form in which the change is pro­duced. The night that changes into day, or the reverse, recalls a still life on which light falls, either fad­ing or get­ting stronger […]. Ozu’s still lifes endure, have a dura­tion, over ten sec­onds of the vase: this dura­tion of the vase is pre­cise­ly the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of that which endures, through the suc­ces­sion of chang­ing states. […] Each is time, on each occa­sion, under var­i­ous con­di­tions of that which changes in time. Time is the full, that is, the unal­ter­able form filled by change. Time is ‘the visu­al reserve of events in their appro­pri­ate­ness’. (17)

Char­ac­ters in Slack­er are framed in their chang­ing every­day­ness, with each scene last­ing as long as their encoun­ters on the road. Char­ac­ters, as well as actors, share a time that pre­sumes a time before and after the moment of shoot­ing: the time of their lives with­in the spaces of Austin.

In the street the cam­era meets that var­ied human­i­ty whose col­lec­tive life is cel­e­brat­ed in Bakhtin’s con­cep­tion of the car­ni­val, as “a spir­it of resis­tance” and “an organ­ic form of life” (Stone 99). Even if the char­ac­ters in Slack­er may appear pur­pose­less, they avoid sta­sis by express­ing an ener­gy for social and cul­tur­al activ­i­ties: the drift­ing cam­era explores the space they occu­py in small groups and their col­lec­tive time is expe­ri­enced as dura­tion, even by the view­ers. Accord­ing to Stone, the con­cepts of time-image and car­ni­val con­verge in the “chrono­tope,” a nar­ra­tive tem­po­ral-spa­tial unit where­in time becomes vis­i­ble and space makes the pas­sage of time into movement—“a con­crete whole” (Bakhtin 84). A key con­nec­tion is made “between the motif of meet­ing and the chrono­tope of the road” (98), while the “pub­lic square” is con­sid­ered the “real-life chrono­tope” (131). This spe­cif­ic unit makes pos­si­ble “the tem­po­ral con­ti­gu­i­ty of phe­nom­e­na” as “col­lec­tive,” “dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed and mea­sured only by the events of col­lec­tive life” (206, orig­i­nal empha­sis). For Bakhtin, what nov­els shared with the chrono­tope of the road is that “[t]he road is always one that pass­es through famil­iar ter­ri­to­ry”; “it is the socio­his­tor­i­cal het­ero­gene­ity of one’s own coun­try that is revealed and depict­ed” (245, orig­i­nal empha­sis). In read­ing Slack­er through the frame­work of the chrono­tope, the urban con­text of the Austin indie scene becomes a synec­doche for the young adults of the US whom the film rep­re­sents: “[t]ime, as it were, fus­es togeth­er with space and flows in it (form­ing the road); […] [the] road is turned into a metaphor, but its fun­da­men­tal piv­ot is the flow of time” (243-244). The char­ac­ters of Slack­er meet each oth­er at street lev­el, avoid any offi­cial tra­jec­to­ries through the drift, and join a com­mu­nal life found­ed in the pass­ing of time with­out being caught in any hier­ar­chic order or social roles. Their col­lec­tive activ­i­ties blos­som in what Bakhtin defined as “the time of pro­duc­tive growth”: “[t]he pas­sage of time does not destroy or dimin­ish but rather mul­ti­plies and increas­es the quan­ti­ty of valu­able things. […] This is a time max­i­mal­ly tensed toward the future. […] Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing there is as yet no pre­cise dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of time into a present, a past and a future” (207, orig­i­nal empha­sis).

The par­tic­u­lar rela­tion­ship here between Slack­er’s real, filmic, and metafilmic dimen­sions is held in the chain of events framed by the lens, which main­tains a con­stant dis­tance between cam­era and char­ac­ters. The cam­era drifts through the mul­ti­tude of char­ac­ters of equal sta­tus who are, in real life and at the same time, mem­bers of the local scene. This film­mak­ing strat­e­gy may enact the co-exis­tence of two types of time-image: the pres­ence of “sheets of pasts” and of “a present of the future, a present of the present and a present of the past, all impli­cat­ed in the event, rolled up in the event, and thus simul­ta­ne­ous and inex­plic­a­ble” (Deleuze 100, orig­i­nal empha­sis). In such a strat­e­gy, all the encounters—the con­certs, the car rides, and the pos­si­ble real­i­ties they open up—represent events: “From affect to time: a time is revealed inside the event, which is made from the simul­tane­ity of these three impli­cat­ed presents, from these de-actu­al­ized peaks of present” (100, orig­i­nal empha­sis). In Slack­er the char­ac­ters live in a tense that bears no clear dis­tinc­tion between past, present, and future; they expe­ri­ence col­lec­tive­ly “the time of pro­duc­tive growth” of which Bakhtin wrote (207). They express a state of becom­ing which is framed in time-images, rather than the indi­rect rep­re­sen­ta­tion of them­selves induced by an action-ori­ent­ed plot.

From the Body of a Scene to the Body of a Generation

Slack­er seeks to re-ter­ri­to­ri­al­ize the local scene by treat­ing it as a cir­cum­scribed unit of time and space with both par­tic­u­lar and uni­ver­sal mean­ings. The film rep­re­sents those mem­bers of the Austin indie scene in 1989/1990 who share cul­tur­al and social prac­tices (e.g., chat­ting in bars, attend­ing a con­cert, play­ing music) and, at the same time, a mul­ti­tude of sketched char­ac­ters caught up with­in nar­ra­tive strate­gies and topoi (e.g., dérives, encoun­ters, the road, and col­lec­tive life). The con­stant drift of the cam­era in the streets of Austin brakes the sen­so­ry-motor schema which is the basis of Hol­ly­wood films, cre­at­ing a filmic con­struc­tion that avoids plot-ori­ent­ed actions and char­ac­ters. Accord­ing to Stone, “time-images cre­ate this inces­sant flow of life and dis­solve the pat­terns of street based impres­sions and encoun­ters with­in the film. The reter­ri­to­ri­al­iza­tion of Amer­i­can val­ues thus occurs in Slack­er’s alter­na­tive his­to­ry of the nev­erend­ing moment” (99).

Slack­er encour­ages per­son­al ways of liv­ing for a col­lec­tiv­i­ty Lin­klater refers to as “my gen­er­a­tion” (4). In this way, the movie sug­gests enjoy­ing appar­ent­ly pur­pose­less pub­lic and pri­vate activ­i­ties, such as chat­ting or read­ing, as part of a com­mon itin­er­ary, that of liv­ing in the pas­sage of time:

In a very short time, I went from think­ing […] that my gen­er­a­tion had noth­ing to say to think­ing that it not only had every­thing to say but was say­ing it in a com­plete­ly new way. It was a mul­ti­tude of voic­es coex­ist­ing and com­bin­ing and all adding up to some­thing that cer­tain­ly “meant” some­thing but couldn’t eas­i­ly clas­si­fied. Each indi­vid­ual had to find it in their own way and in the only place soci­ety had left for this discovery–the mar­gins. I think that’s where Slack­er takes place–the accred­it­ed sources of infor­ma­tion or the image we offi­cial­ly have of our­selves as a soci­ety. This seems the place where the actu­al buzz of life goes on, where the con­spir­a­cies, schiz­o­phre­nia, melan­choly, and exu­ber­ance all bat­tle it out dai­ly. (Lin­klater 4)

Linklater’s words ref­er­ence a sense of gen­er­a­tional iden­ti­ty that runs through Slack­er. This gen­er­a­tional sen­si­bil­i­ty is man­i­fest, first of all, in the alter­na­tive film­mak­ing strate­gies employed. The film is inde­pen­dent­ly and col­lec­tive­ly pro­duced, with no pro­fes­sion­al actors. At the lev­el of scriptwrit­ing, Slack­er is an urban choral nar­ra­tion con­ceived as a roadmap with no main char­ac­ters or pro­tag­o­nists. The style of shoot­ing is one in which the cam­era drifts through city spaces and keeps the same dis­tance from the char­ac­ters. Lin­klater made the movie with his friends and fel­low scene mem­bers, engag­ing the social and cul­tur­al spaces and prac­tices of the Austin indie scene. He also places him­self, as film­mak­er, “with­in the scene”: at the begin­ning, when he acts as the first char­ac­ter and looks for­ward to the nar­ra­tives of the films that will fol­low (e.g., Before Sun­rise, Wak­ing Life), and at the end, when he inserts a film sam­ple of his work with Daniel before Slack­er (e.g., Wood­shock).

With Slack­er, a live­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Austin indie scene became cen­tral to a dis­course of gen­er­a­tion which cir­cu­lat­ed in main­stream media. Both John Ulrich and Cather­ine Strong have traced his­to­ries of the term “Gen­er­a­tion X” which came to be applied both to the Austin scene rep­re­sent­ed in Slack­er and to the broad­er musi­cal phe­nom­e­na known as grunge. Ulrich fol­lows the his­to­ry of “Gen­er­a­tion X” from Robert Capa’s first pho­to­graph­ic stud­ies of the post-World War II gen­er­a­tion (3-8) to its asso­ci­a­tion with the phrase “Blank Gen­er­a­tion” (the title of a song, album, and film) and “appro­pri­a­tion” as a “sig­ni­fi­er of punk style” by Bil­ly Idol’s band when it took the name “Gen­er­a­tion X” (12-14). For Strong, soci­o­log­i­cal def­i­n­i­tions of “Gen­er­a­tion X” remain unclear, and media uses tend to apply it to any over­looked gen­er­a­tional phe­nom­e­na (131-152).

Accord­ing to Karl Mannheim, a gen­er­a­tion is not defined by shar­ing a decade of birth but rather by the cul­tur­al and social shar­ings that ren­der a col­lec­tiv­i­ty con­scious of itself. His work offers a num­ber of insights into gen­er­a­tional phe­nom­e­na whose per­ti­nence to our under­stand­ing of Slacker’s gen­er­a­tional sen­si­bil­i­ty seems obvi­ous:

The social phe­nom­e­non “gen­er­a­tion” rep­re­sents noth­ing more than a par­tic­u­lar kind of iden­ti­ty of loca­tion, embrac­ing relat­ed “age groups” embed­ded in a his­tor­i­cal-social process. (292)

Mem­bers of a gen­er­a­tion are “sim­i­lar­ly locat­ed,” first of all, in so far as they all are exposed to the same phase of the col­lec­tive process. […] What does cre­ate a sim­i­lar loca­tion is that they are in a posi­tion to expe­ri­ence the same events and data, etc., and espe­cial­ly that these expe­ri­ences impinge upon a sim­i­lar­ly “strat­i­fied” con­scious­ness. (297)

A fur­ther con­crete nexus is need­ed to con­sti­tute gen­er­a­tion as an actu­al­i­ty. This addi­tion­al nexus may be described as par­tic­i­pa­tion in the com­mon des­tiny of this his­tor­i­cal and social unit. (303; orig­i­nal empha­sis)

Youth expe­ri­enc­ing the same con­crete his­tor­i­cal prob­lems may be said to be part of the same actu­al gen­er­a­tion; while those groups with­in the same actu­al gen­er­a­tion which work up the mate­r­i­al of their com­mon expe­ri­ences in dif­fer­ent spe­cif­ic ways, con­sti­tute sep­a­rate gen­er­a­tion units. (304, orig­i­nal empha­sis)

A gen­er­a­tion as an actu­al­i­ty is con­sti­tut­ed when sim­i­lar­ly “locat­ed” con­tem­po­raries par­tic­i­pate in a com­mon des­tiny and in the ideas and con­cepts which are in some way bound up with its unfold­ing. (306)

In these terms, gen­er­a­tional col­lec­tive belong­ing is defined by the shar­ing of social and cul­tur­al spaces, prac­tices, and media. Cul­tur­al scenes, we might sug­gest, are the spaces in which this “shar­ing” takes place, but gen­er­a­tional sen­si­bil­i­ties are revealed in the ways in which these scenes are rep­re­sent­ed. The visu­al­i­ty of the local scene in Slack­er is cru­cial to accom­plish­ing a rup­ture of the sen­so­ry-motor schema char­ac­ter­is­tic of Amer­i­can cin­e­ma more wide­ly. The drift of the film’s cam­era through the spaces of the scenes reveals the var­ied human­i­ty of a new gen­er­a­tional phe­nom­e­non. The mul­ti­tude of scene mem­bers, them­selves char­ac­ters in the film’s own scene, inhab­it the open, strat­i­fied tem­po­ral­i­ty of Austin’s streets. Slacker’s fas­ci­nat­ing approach to film­mak­ing turns the per­for­mance of the Austin indie scene as col­lec­tive body into a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of that scene as the body of a gen­er­a­tion.

Works Cited

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This arti­cle is licensed under a  Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.