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Richard Linklater's "Boyhood"
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Ethan Hawke stars as the professional actor in “Boyhood”

Richard Linklater is a director whose movies I’ve almost gone to see about a dozen times. I watched Dazed and Confused 20 years ago and it was not bad, and ever since I’ve just about seen every movie he’s made, but only actually got around to one or two. But a lot of people really like him, with critics particularly going wild over his latest, Boyhood.

In making this autobiographical movie about his childhood in Texas, Linklater used a cute gimmick. He started filming in the summer of 2002 with a seven year old boy as a fictionalized version of himself, and came back every year for a few days with the same cast through 2013 when the now strapping lad goes off to college to study photography.

It’s pretty good, although as the insidious Mr. Sneer says to the hopeful playwright in Sheridan’s 1779 comedy The Critic:

Sneer: Why then, though I seriously admire the piece upon the whole, yet there is one small objection; which, if you’ll give me leave, I’ll mention.

Sir Fret: Sir, you can’t oblige me more.

Sneer: I think it wants … incident.

Sir Fret: Good God! you surprise me! — wants incident!

Sneer: Yes; I own I think the incidents are too few.

Nothing much happens to the boy. It starts out with him being poor (he has to share a room with his bratty 9-year-old sister in a cheap Houston apartment) because his father (Ethan Hawke, good) and mother (Patricia Arquette, less good) have broken up.

But, over time, hereditary IQ wins out. Mom becomes a psychology professor and Dad gives up on his singer-songwriter dreams and passes all the rigorous math exams to be an actuary. The story in Boyhood is a mash-up of Linklater’s boyhood in the Houston area (Linklater’s mom became a professor at Sam Houston State) and Ethan Hawke’s in Austin (his parents met in college, then separated when he was four; his father became an actuary).

Mom gets married a couple of more times to ill-suited men. But nothing lasts (George Strait’s song All My Exes Are in Texas should have been on the soundtrack), in part because the new stepfathers don’t understand the boy, who, in contrast, has so much in common with his real father. Linklater’s subtext is that his mother and father should have gotten back together, but that never gets around to happening.

But, at least, housing is cheap, and college is practically free and not very hard to get into. Driving to college in his pickup truck, the lad stops to take some still lifes at the near ghost-town of Terlingua (namesake of the ultimate 1970s Texas alternative country album, Jerry Jeff Walker’s Viva Terlingua).

The notion of the Artsy Texan sounds oxymoronic, but I’ve known a lot of them. The low cost of living makes for an encouraging background for people with aesthetic orientations.

The movie is set in the present, but the uncompetitive way of life is out of the Baby Boomer past. Linklater is a year or two younger than me, and with my having gone to Rice U. in Houston in the 1970s, I very much recognized his characters as people I knew in Texas 35 years ago from the state’s bohemian 3-digit IQ set. The little boy grows up to be that kind of very deep-voiced dopesmoker; I knew about a dozen in high school and college.

So Boyhood was pleasantly nostalgic for me, but if you didn’t spend time in Texas in the 1970s I’m not sure how great the appeal would be. Linklater is kind of the opposite of another Texan arthouse director, Wes Anderson, whose The Grand Budapest Hotel will compete with Boyhood for a spot on a lot of critics’ lists come December. Anderson stylizes everything to within an inch of its life (with surprising success in his latest movie), while Linklater just sort of lets stuff happen.

Also, both directors have movie star alter egos: Wes Anderson and his college buddy Owen Wilson, while Linklater has Ethan Hawke, who is 9 years younger. Anderson and Wilson started out writing together but have increasingly moved in different directions as they’ve aged, while Linklater and Hawke seem to be getting even more on each other’s wavelength as their 9 year age difference becomes less important as their ages get higher. I earlier referred to this as Linklater’s autobiographical movie, but it might be just as much Hawke’s autobiographical movie, with Hawke playing his own father.

Both Anderson and Linklater would be really good if they were funnier (if you could combine the best of Anderson, Linklater, and Mike Judge into one, you’d have The Great Texas Director; maybe toss in Robert Rodriguez’s chutzpah, too).

The funniest scene in Boyhood comes in 2008 when the Bush-hating father is having his two kids hand out Obama lawn signs to neighbors. The angry white man with the Confederate flag tells them to get off his private property. At the next house, the nice white lady tells the adolescents how wonderful it is that today’s youth are getting involved in the democratic process, and then proceeds to tell the children at uncomfortable length about her erotic dreams involving Barack Obama.

That got a big laugh out of me, but most of the Arclight audience didn’t see what the joke was, and seemed to wonder why Linklater didn’t get back to making more fun of those horrible Texas Republicans.

 
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  1. Interesting that Ethan Hawke is in this and also that series of movies that follow him and that French actress over a number of years. Haven’t seen any of them though.

    • Replies: @jjbees
    I've seen the first one with ethan hawk and the blonde frenchie, it was very good if you can handle 2 hours of wading through sentimental romance. This is actually an endorsement...there needs to be more sentimentality and romance in life.
    , @Anon
    "Interesting that Ethan Hawke is in this and also that series of movies that follow him and that French actress over a number of years. Haven’t seen any of them though."

    Linklater is a talented director but fails when being overly earnest(Sun trilogy), moralistic(Tape), activist(Fast Food Nation), or improvisational(Waking Life, though an interesting experiment).

    He's best when being cool and engaged with multiple characters in films like D&C, Scanner Darkly, and Me & Orson Welles, which is splendid. In them, he's on the wavelengths of his characters without imposing an imperial 'personal vision' over everything, as PT Anderson did with his 'epic' films that beg for masterpiece status. And yet, there's enough style and personality in Linklater films to make them identifiable and eccentric in the way that most of John Sayles' films aren't.

    Linklater's one of the maturer members of the 'younger' generation of directors that include Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Todd Solondz, Pt Anderson, Wes Anderson, David O'Russell(though he finally seems to have matured with American Hustle). Linklater generally avoids self-pity, self-aggrandizement, or self-absorption(though somewhat close in Slacker and Waking Life) that has marred so many film directors, even of considerable talent.

    But he can be deadly when he gets overly earnest because, deep down inside, he's a pretty nice guy. But niceness and earnestness together are too much. D&C and Me & Orson Welles work beautifully because niceness(pitcher & quarterback in D&C and the aspiring actor in M&OW) is bounced around like a pinball in the wild or competitive world of competing egos and assholes. Niceness is forced to adapt and toughen up, which makes it somewhat compelling.

    But in the Sunrise/Sunset Trilogy, it's just a nice guy and a nice girl falling in cutesy love, reminiscing about the past, and earnestly going through marital troubles because both try so hard to be true to themselves and to each other but fail. Well-made and well-acted but wearying after a while.

    Boyhoods sounds too earnest and too nice. As a gimmick, I knew someone would have to do it some day, and Linklater took the challenge. He's the man for the job, but the problem is he's too much the man for the job.

    Still, he hasn't had many successes, which is a pity. Both D&C and M&OW bombed though D&C has gained cult status.
  2. Where did Mason end up going to college? Does any college in Texas really have photography as a major? Is majoring in photography something a movie director would think of as great but most people would think of as extremely stupid these days? Since Steve mentioned that the movie had the noncompetitive 80’s vibe of early generations, did Mason end up at a competitive university without being competitive? Since it was set in Texas in modern times, did the movie ever mention the 10% rule getting admitted to all state colleges?

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    Mason's older sister breezes into UT Austin with no mention of the 10% Rule.

    He goes to UT El Paso because it's the furthest away but still has in-state tuition and the only place in Texas that has some real scenery nearby (Big Bend National Park)

    , @Anonymous
    The only university close enough for a day trip to Big Bend is in Alpine: Sul Ross University.
  3. bomag [AKA "doombuggy"] says:

    …erotic dreams involving Barack Obama.

    I thought everybody has those.

  4. Hawke’s mother is into helping those poor persecuted and kept down Gypsies in Romania. He himself floats in a bubble of his own ego above us mere mortals. I still like him as an actor.

  5. I saw Dazed and Confused as an adult and even though I’m only 31 and it’s supposed to be set in the 70’s, it reminded me a lot of my own high school experience. The silly hazing rituals led by seniors living their one moment of glory in life were pretty spot on.

    Also, for what it’s worth, our rival high school actually stereotyped us as stuck in the 70’s (or rather, the part of the 60’s that happened in the 70’s as you’d say) and would dress up like this for the rivalry game pep rally to make fun of us.

    I like the comment about the “uncompetitive way of life” from the Baby Boomer era since I’m trying to change careers to being an actuary at the moment and these days even passing the exams is not necessarily a ticket to an easy job offer. It’s a different era from when my mom got an offer from Lockheed without even interviewing.

  6. Item is not germane to subject of this specific entry, but is relevant to general theme:

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-28490546

  7. Though inexpensive and uncompetitive were – and where I live in Texas, still are – apt, I prefer spacious and generous. I think those are what appeal to the artsy impulse here, those are what make people say, “You could have fun making a movie about this place.” Even un-artsy people would answer, “Yeah, you really could.”

  8. Sounds like Tree of Life without the dinosaurs.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    "Sounds like Tree of Life without the dinosaurs."

    Right, although Tree of Life's best is better than Boyhood's best. But Boyhood only has toy dinosaurs so they average out pretty similar.

  9. But, over time, hereditary IQ wins out.

    There are currently 40 reviews linked at MetaCritic (Metascore: 100). I’m fairly certain that in all forty of those reviews, nobody else makes that point.

  10. At the next house, the nice white lady tells the adolescents how wonderful it is that today’s youth are getting involved in the democratic process, and then proceeds to tell the children at uncomfortable length about her erotic dreams involving Barack Obama.

    That got a big laugh out of me, but most of the Arclight audience didn’t see what the joke was,

    The number of people who are confirmed to have read Dreams from My Father must be reaching triple digits.

  11. SFG says:

    ” The low cost of living makes for an encouraging background for people with aesthetic orientations.”

    The Southwestern landscape also fascinates a lot of people for aesthetic reasons. You grow up on movies and TV shows made on the East Coast or in Europe, both of which have forested climates, and then you go out and there’s all that brown and those weird plants with spikes on them. There’s a reason the Europeans went ga-ga for Westerns, and the Italians went and made their own.

  12. What the hell happened to this generation is a big but mostly untold story. What’s autobiographical for me is the Offspring. “The Kids Aren’t Alright” could have been set on my street in lower middle-class/blue collar Orange County, and I think I recognize some of the video locations.

    A lot of people coped with the decline by moving to Colorado or Arizona, and yes some to Texas. The tech industry replaced some of the jobs lost by aerospace, defense and other manufacturing, but by and large people are just living on vastly reduced expectations.

  13. @Dave Pinsen
    Interesting that Ethan Hawke is in this and also that series of movies that follow him and that French actress over a number of years. Haven't seen any of them though.

    I’ve seen the first one with ethan hawk and the blonde frenchie, it was very good if you can handle 2 hours of wading through sentimental romance. This is actually an endorsement…there needs to be more sentimentality and romance in life.

    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
    I think the last movie I saw Ethan Hawke in was Training Day, which was good.
  14. “Anderson stylizes everything to within an inch of its life (with surprising success in his latest movie), while Linklater just sort of lets stuff happen.”

    Are you suggesting Linklater’s directorial style is more along the lines of someone such as Christopher Guest? (e.g. Everyone improvs their way through the project and chips fall where they may).

  15. Speaking of movies with interesting concepts. Here’s a story about a company that produces beautiful handwritten letters a la “Her.” 20:00 http://www.dw.de/euromaxx-highlights/a-17810976; http://schreibstatt.de

  16. Great reactions and musings. I wish more pieces about new movies were like this one. Who really needs another cookie-cutter-style “review,” you know?

    You and Linklater are a few years younger than I am, and I grew up in the NE rather than the West or Texasm, but even so I often recognize the world he puts onscreen. It looks a lot like high school and college to me. Youngsters don’t believe me when I tell ’em that there was a time when teens weren’t obsessed with “careers,” but it was certainly the case. I couldn’t believe it when the ’80s and ’90s came along and all kids could talk about were careers.

    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
    You and Steve ought to watch this episode of this past season's Louie: http://vod.fxnetworks.com/watch/cb939026-bc89-4fe8-bec8-a9aa1ed6cf66#272437315863

    It's a movie-length episode set in the late '70s or early '80s of Louie's youth. The music in it is interesting too: to save money, the soundtrack uses ripoffs of Led Zeppelin, etc.

  17. Both directors would be really good if they were funnier (if you could combine the best of Anderson, Linklater, and Mike Judge into one, you’d have The Great Texas Director; maybe toss in Robert Rodriguez’s chutzpah, too).

    We really need the telepod out of The Fly.

    Another great Texan creative: Robert E. Howard, inventor of Conan, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, tales of the weird South West.

  18. I wrote off Linklater after that Orson Welles abomination.

    I’ve known loads of artsy Texans as well.

  19. “Lack of incident!” THAT’S the phrase I was looking for 20 years ago when I first saw “Dazed and Confused.”

    I was a teen in the Seventies myself, and I recognized all the characters, all the music, all the haircuts all the clothes of my high school days. Linklater got ALL the details right.

    He just didn’t have a story.

    • Replies: @Seneca
    Excellent point. Absolutely" lack of incident" ...that is the same thing I was thinking when I saw Dazed and Confused , but couldn't find the word for it . The movie has amazingly accurate detail, but the story didn't t seem to go anywhere or get me engaged.

    Doesn't this phenomenon tie into Steve's recent post on Whorf, Orwell, and Zimmerman? If we don't have a word for it then we cannot fully describe something we our experiencing? When I saw the movie originally, I remarked to a friend that the plot was weak. But really it was weak because of a "lack of incident" (yes stuff happened in the movie but not of the type to get me engaged or very interested in the movie).
    , @Anon
    “'Lack of incident!' THAT’S the phrase I was looking for 20 years ago when I first saw 'Dazed and Confused.' I was a teen in the Seventies myself, and I recognized all the characters, all the music, all the haircuts all the clothes of my high school days. Linklater got ALL the details right. He just didn’t have a story."

    What need for a 'story' when the entire movie takes place in one day and has so many characters?
    And 'lack of incident'? It seems D&C is all about incidents on a special day that is the rite of passage for so many kids in the town. It is vividly alive from beginning to end.
    And there is a theme.
  20. Sam Haysom [AKA "Matt Buckalew"] says:

    Wes Anderson just needs to team back up with Gene Hackman again and have Owen Wilson help him with writing his scripts. The problem is the critics don’t like funny they like clever and precocious so I don’t see Anderson cranking out anything as funny as Tenanbaums again, which got good but definitely not great reviews.

    I had no idea how much the critics loved Linklater until Steve mentioned it and I looked it up. He even got good reviews for School of Rock and Bad News Bears.

    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
    Tenanbaums was like Idiocracy in that the set design and witty touches were a lot better than the movie's plot. The 375th Street Y, the conversation in the closet with all the '70s board games, etc.
  21. @Anon
    Sounds like Tree of Life without the dinosaurs.

    “Sounds like Tree of Life without the dinosaurs.”

    Right, although Tree of Life’s best is better than Boyhood’s best. But Boyhood only has toy dinosaurs so they average out pretty similar.

  22. @guest007
    Where did Mason end up going to college? Does any college in Texas really have photography as a major? Is majoring in photography something a movie director would think of as great but most people would think of as extremely stupid these days? Since Steve mentioned that the movie had the noncompetitive 80's vibe of early generations, did Mason end up at a competitive university without being competitive? Since it was set in Texas in modern times, did the movie ever mention the 10% rule getting admitted to all state colleges?

    Mason’s older sister breezes into UT Austin with no mention of the 10% Rule.

    He goes to UT El Paso because it’s the furthest away but still has in-state tuition and the only place in Texas that has some real scenery nearby (Big Bend National Park)

    • Replies: @guest007
    Steve,

    Given how you poked fun at the movie "Her" for predicting a future Los Angeles devoid of Latinos, you should also poke fun of the choice of UTEP for Mason's college. UTEP is a school that is only 8% non-Hispanic white. Yet, young Mason manages to not only find a white roommate but also two white girls as friends. http://collegeresults.org/collegeprofile.aspx?institutionid=228796

    IN 2014, there is no way that a college professor mother even if she is at Texas State-San Marcos (the former Southwest Texas State University) is going to let her son go off to a school with such bad academic performance, no matter how photographic the Organ or Sacramento Mountains are or how close to Big Bend National Park.
  23. @jjbees
    I've seen the first one with ethan hawk and the blonde frenchie, it was very good if you can handle 2 hours of wading through sentimental romance. This is actually an endorsement...there needs to be more sentimentality and romance in life.

    I think the last movie I saw Ethan Hawke in was Training Day, which was good.

  24. @Paleo Retiree
    Great reactions and musings. I wish more pieces about new movies were like this one. Who really needs another cookie-cutter-style "review," you know?

    You and Linklater are a few years younger than I am, and I grew up in the NE rather than the West or Texasm, but even so I often recognize the world he puts onscreen. It looks a lot like high school and college to me. Youngsters don't believe me when I tell 'em that there was a time when teens weren't obsessed with "careers," but it was certainly the case. I couldn't believe it when the '80s and '90s came along and all kids could talk about were careers.

    You and Steve ought to watch this episode of this past season’s Louie: http://vod.fxnetworks.com/watch/cb939026-bc89-4fe8-bec8-a9aa1ed6cf66#272437315863

    It’s a movie-length episode set in the late ’70s or early ’80s of Louie’s youth. The music in it is interesting too: to save money, the soundtrack uses ripoffs of Led Zeppelin, etc.

  25. @Sam Haysom
    Wes Anderson just needs to team back up with Gene Hackman again and have Owen Wilson help him with writing his scripts. The problem is the critics don't like funny they like clever and precocious so I don't see Anderson cranking out anything as funny as Tenanbaums again, which got good but definitely not great reviews.

    I had no idea how much the critics loved Linklater until Steve mentioned it and I looked it up. He even got good reviews for School of Rock and Bad News Bears.

    Tenanbaums was like Idiocracy in that the set design and witty touches were a lot better than the movie’s plot. The 375th Street Y, the conversation in the closet with all the ’70s board games, etc.

  26. Steve, no need to post this but I just got a message that a previous comment I edited was marked as span.

  27. The sex scenes were very Oedipal. Kind of creeped me out but a lot of people in the audience seemed to be really into it. Is it a SWPL thing?

  28. Off topic:

    Does the Harper Lee/To Kill a Mockingbird story seem suspicious? She produced a limited amount of work in college, bumps around not accomplishing much, then gets funded to write a book that is on race. After that she drops off the face of the planet. The first part sounds a lot like Obama. I know the simplest and most likely correct answers are that Capote wrote most of the book, or she’s an alchoholic, but something just doesn’t seem right.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    Has anybody done a comparison of prose styles in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Capote's books? Capote was very, very good but his career output seems thin.
  29. Sam Haysom [AKA "Matt Buckalew"] says:

    I would completely disagree Dave. To my mind RT had the least mesmerizing sets and witty images, but the best plot of any of them. I thought the way the Anderson slowly whittled the multiple plot lines down into two (Margot’s infidelity and Chaz’s reconcilement with his dad) was actually quite impressive. But mostly I liked RT the most because it had actual jokes as opposed to just witty visual jokes.

  30. Ehh, I dunno, it seems like the quest for Incident just encourages a lot of stupid plot twists, McGuffins, and shocking secrets like incest and the like.

  31. “I saw Dazed and Confused as an adult and even though I’m only 31 and it’s supposed to be set in the 70′s, it reminded me a lot of my own high school experience. The silly hazing rituals led by seniors living their one moment of glory in life were pretty spot on.”

    “Dazed And Confused” was suppose to take place in Texas yet I didn’t see any Mexican looking faces in the film. It was pretty much a Whitopia with the exception of the token Black guy with the afro.

    Texas must have been a very White state in the 1970s.

    • Replies: @guest007
    Mr. Linklater attended Huntsville High School. I doubt if there were that many Latinos attending ther back in the 1970's. And even if there were some Latino kids, they would have lived in a world that was usually separate from the white kids.
  32. @astorian
    "Lack of incident!" THAT'S the phrase I was looking for 20 years ago when I first saw "Dazed and Confused."

    I was a teen in the Seventies myself, and I recognized all the characters, all the music, all the haircuts all the clothes of my high school days. Linklater got ALL the details right.

    He just didn't have a story.

    Excellent point. Absolutely” lack of incident” …that is the same thing I was thinking when I saw Dazed and Confused , but couldn’t find the word for it . The movie has amazingly accurate detail, but the story didn’t t seem to go anywhere or get me engaged.

    Doesn’t this phenomenon tie into Steve’s recent post on Whorf, Orwell, and Zimmerman? If we don’t have a word for it then we cannot fully describe something we our experiencing? When I saw the movie originally, I remarked to a friend that the plot was weak. But really it was weak because of a “lack of incident” (yes stuff happened in the movie but not of the type to get me engaged or very interested in the movie).

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    I saw Sheridan's "The Critic" in Chicago in about 1987 in a production directed by Tom Stoppard in conjunction with his play about critics, "The Real Inspector Hound." As director, Stoppard had the actor playing Mr. Sneer absolutely hammer the first syllable in the word "incident" and it brought the house down. Ever since, my wife and I use the word "IN-ci-dent" as a one word depiction for an arthouse movie without enough plot.
  33. @Seneca
    Excellent point. Absolutely" lack of incident" ...that is the same thing I was thinking when I saw Dazed and Confused , but couldn't find the word for it . The movie has amazingly accurate detail, but the story didn't t seem to go anywhere or get me engaged.

    Doesn't this phenomenon tie into Steve's recent post on Whorf, Orwell, and Zimmerman? If we don't have a word for it then we cannot fully describe something we our experiencing? When I saw the movie originally, I remarked to a friend that the plot was weak. But really it was weak because of a "lack of incident" (yes stuff happened in the movie but not of the type to get me engaged or very interested in the movie).

    I saw Sheridan’s “The Critic” in Chicago in about 1987 in a production directed by Tom Stoppard in conjunction with his play about critics, “The Real Inspector Hound.” As director, Stoppard had the actor playing Mr. Sneer absolutely hammer the first syllable in the word “incident” and it brought the house down. Ever since, my wife and I use the word “IN-ci-dent” as a one word depiction for an arthouse movie without enough plot.

  34. Anon • Disclaimer says:
    @astorian
    "Lack of incident!" THAT'S the phrase I was looking for 20 years ago when I first saw "Dazed and Confused."

    I was a teen in the Seventies myself, and I recognized all the characters, all the music, all the haircuts all the clothes of my high school days. Linklater got ALL the details right.

    He just didn't have a story.

    “’Lack of incident!’ THAT’S the phrase I was looking for 20 years ago when I first saw ‘Dazed and Confused.’ I was a teen in the Seventies myself, and I recognized all the characters, all the music, all the haircuts all the clothes of my high school days. Linklater got ALL the details right. He just didn’t have a story.”

    What need for a ‘story’ when the entire movie takes place in one day and has so many characters?
    And ‘lack of incident’? It seems D&C is all about incidents on a special day that is the rite of passage for so many kids in the town. It is vividly alive from beginning to end.
    And there is a theme.

  35. Anon • Disclaimer says:
    @Dave Pinsen
    Interesting that Ethan Hawke is in this and also that series of movies that follow him and that French actress over a number of years. Haven't seen any of them though.

    “Interesting that Ethan Hawke is in this and also that series of movies that follow him and that French actress over a number of years. Haven’t seen any of them though.”

    Linklater is a talented director but fails when being overly earnest(Sun trilogy), moralistic(Tape), activist(Fast Food Nation), or improvisational(Waking Life, though an interesting experiment).

    He’s best when being cool and engaged with multiple characters in films like D&C, Scanner Darkly, and Me & Orson Welles, which is splendid. In them, he’s on the wavelengths of his characters without imposing an imperial ‘personal vision’ over everything, as PT Anderson did with his ‘epic’ films that beg for masterpiece status. And yet, there’s enough style and personality in Linklater films to make them identifiable and eccentric in the way that most of John Sayles’ films aren’t.

    Linklater’s one of the maturer members of the ‘younger’ generation of directors that include Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Todd Solondz, Pt Anderson, Wes Anderson, David O’Russell(though he finally seems to have matured with American Hustle). Linklater generally avoids self-pity, self-aggrandizement, or self-absorption(though somewhat close in Slacker and Waking Life) that has marred so many film directors, even of considerable talent.

    But he can be deadly when he gets overly earnest because, deep down inside, he’s a pretty nice guy. But niceness and earnestness together are too much. D&C and Me & Orson Welles work beautifully because niceness(pitcher & quarterback in D&C and the aspiring actor in M&OW) is bounced around like a pinball in the wild or competitive world of competing egos and assholes. Niceness is forced to adapt and toughen up, which makes it somewhat compelling.

    But in the Sunrise/Sunset Trilogy, it’s just a nice guy and a nice girl falling in cutesy love, reminiscing about the past, and earnestly going through marital troubles because both try so hard to be true to themselves and to each other but fail. Well-made and well-acted but wearying after a while.

    Boyhoods sounds too earnest and too nice. As a gimmick, I knew someone would have to do it some day, and Linklater took the challenge. He’s the man for the job, but the problem is he’s too much the man for the job.

    Still, he hasn’t had many successes, which is a pity. Both D&C and M&OW bombed though D&C has gained cult status.

  36. Is the Russian Dynamite Death Chair more of a Russian or Texan art form

  37. @Lugash
    Off topic:

    Does the Harper Lee/To Kill a Mockingbird story seem suspicious? She produced a limited amount of work in college, bumps around not accomplishing much, then gets funded to write a book that is on race. After that she drops off the face of the planet. The first part sounds a lot like Obama. I know the simplest and most likely correct answers are that Capote wrote most of the book, or she's an alchoholic, but something just doesn't seem right.

    Has anybody done a comparison of prose styles in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Capote’s books? Capote was very, very good but his career output seems thin.

    • Replies: @Boomstick
    There's been some talk of the help going in the other direction--Harper Lee providing some editing for In Cold Blood. I don't think Capote could have kept quiet if he had a significant hand in Mockingbird.
    , @Lugash
    I can't a good comparison of the two. A NPR interview backs the idea that Lee wrote TKAM by herself based on a private Capote letter and that TKAM's writing style matches her college lit magazine writings. Comparing TKAM and In Cold Blood probably wouldn't work due to the fiction/nonfiction aspect and

    I have no personal knowledge of how the publishing industry works, but going from a mishmash of short stories by an unknown author to the Great American Novel and then to research assistant on another book just seems odd.
    , @syonredux
    RE: Capote's possible contributions to TKAM,

    Paul Johnson has speculated that there was something rather intriguing in the way that Hammett's productivity as an author declined after he met Lillian Hellman. Hammett's last finished novel, THE THIN MAN, came out in 1934, the same year that THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, Hellman's first play, made its debut. Now, to be sure, Hammett was a massive booze hound. Plus, he seems to have been one those authors who derive little pleasure from the act of writing, but it still seems rather odd....
  38. “Texas” long ago succeeded “California” as the #1 source of obsolete nostalgic stereotypes. I knew a guy at my New England prep school from Berkeley via Travis County, Jewish father/Chinese mother, with a memorable”King of the Hill”-stonerfied drawl (FAIK running an HBD think tank now). I’d ask him about the auld sod: Q- Is everybody blaring country & western all the time / A-“Didn’t really notice it constantly; mostly I listen to Primus, Phish” Q- Are there really men wearing Stetsons around town, to work, while driving, etc. / A-“Ask a guy in a cowboy hat where he’s from and he’ll usually say Oklahoma”

  39. ray says:

    “Mom gets married a couple of more times to ill-suited men. But nothing lasts (George Strait’s song All My Exes Are in Texas should have been on the soundtrack), in part because the new stepfathers don’t understand the boy, who, in contrast, has so much in common with his real father.”

    Gee. Imagine that. Multiply by thirty, forty million little boys, you get. . . well pretty much the dying (but Fabulously Empowered!) culture of modern America.

    “Linklater’s subtext is that his mother and father should have gotten back together, but that never gets around to happening.”

    Nupe. Explains why little boys come up to me in grocery stores and say ‘I don’t have a daddy’. Gotta be pretty desperate for that.

    Cheers.

  40. Lack of incident could be Linklater chickening out pointing the finger at Mom putting her own sexual happiness over her son’s future and happiness.

    If I had to guess, that would be it.

  41. @Steve Sailer
    Has anybody done a comparison of prose styles in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Capote's books? Capote was very, very good but his career output seems thin.

    There’s been some talk of the help going in the other direction–Harper Lee providing some editing for In Cold Blood. I don’t think Capote could have kept quiet if he had a significant hand in Mockingbird.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    It would be the nicest thing Capote ever did.
  42. @Boomstick
    There's been some talk of the help going in the other direction--Harper Lee providing some editing for In Cold Blood. I don't think Capote could have kept quiet if he had a significant hand in Mockingbird.

    It would be the nicest thing Capote ever did.

  43. @Steve Sailer
    Has anybody done a comparison of prose styles in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Capote's books? Capote was very, very good but his career output seems thin.

    I can’t a good comparison of the two. A NPR interview backs the idea that Lee wrote TKAM by herself based on a private Capote letter and that TKAM’s writing style matches her college lit magazine writings. Comparing TKAM and In Cold Blood probably wouldn’t work due to the fiction/nonfiction aspect and

    I have no personal knowledge of how the publishing industry works, but going from a mishmash of short stories by an unknown author to the Great American Novel and then to research assistant on another book just seems odd.

    • Replies: @IMHO
    "(Harper Lee) ... going from a mishmash of short stories by an unknown author to the Great American Novel (TKAM) then to research assistant on another book just seems odd"

    Creative genius doesn't always come with the focus & organization (now called the brain's administrative functions) necessary to be productive. And diligent/organized/productive writers aren't necessarily geniuses (Stephen King?)
    If I had to choose the simplest explanation, I'd probably go with writer's block, which is often a kind of perfectionism. She was probably acutely aware of what good writing was and unforgiving of any efforts that didn't measure up.
    If alcohol is involved, it's just as likely the effect as it is the cause of writer's block (or even the cure!)

    Besides, what's wrong with being a one-hit-wonder? Oh, John Kennedy Toole ... nevermind.

  44. “his father (Ethan Hawke, good) and mother (Patricia Arquette, less good) have broken up”

    Funny, I saw things the other way around. Granted, Ethan Hawke seemed basically good but he is immature. He is able to drift in and out of the children’s lives, play at being a musician whilst being the ‘cool’ part-time father who gets to let his children eat fast food and go to baseball games, whilst the mother is the one who has to nag about homework and pays the bills. Even at the end of the film, when he has finally matured and got a proper job and family, he offers to give the boy’s mother some money, but when he opens his wallet there is nothing there, and after promising to go and get some, nothing more is heard about it.

    In contrast the mother is the one who makes the sacrifices, and whilst her ex partner has his new family, she is left facing a future with her children gone, no money and no husband.

    Having said all that, I was watching the film last night wondering what you would have made of it, and am glad to see the review. Linklater does seem like a writer who ‘notices things’–both in this film and the ‘Sunrise’ films I thought there were moments of truth about male/female differences that break the rule of only being allowable when they are flattering to the female sex.

    One other thing that occurred to me after the film is that maybe Americans really don’t like to see portrayals of failure (I’m not American, so perhaps I’m wrong about this). I did not know this film was as autobiographical as you say here, but I felt that given the challenges of his youth and his general ‘slacker’ attitude, it was all rather convenient that he should win photography prizes and get the scholarship. “You just need to have something that makes you stand out from the pack, and then the girls will come running’ says his father. Of course we know this is going to be his photography. But it left me wondering, ‘but what if he didn’t have that’?

    • Replies: @Uncle Kenny
    "(Ethan Hawke, good) ... (Patricia Arquette, less good)"

    These parentheticals referred to the quality of the performances, not the moral standing of the characters, n'est-ce pas?
  45. Texas must have been a very White state in the 1970s.

    Every state was a very white state in the 1970s, with the possible exception of Hawaii. The ruin has been delivered fast and furiously.

    • Replies: @syonredux
    Mississippi was 36.8 % Black in 1970

    South Carolina was 30.4% Black in 1970

    Alabama was 26.2% Black in 1970

    New Mexico was 37.4 % Hispanic in 1970
  46. astorian says:

    “Lack of incident!” THAT’S the phrase I was looking for 20 years ago when I first saw “Dazed and Confused.”

    Ditto. I can still remember walking out of that movie and asking my friends (all of whom had partaken of recreational herb before viewing) what the hell was the point of that film? One explained that he’d read an interview with Linklater who stated that Dazed and Confused (1993) was intended as was a “snapshot of the last day of school in 1976”. That made sense, but still it wasn’t a very interesting, much less compelling story.

    Matt Buckalew says:

    The problem is the critics don’t like funny they like clever and precocious so I don’t see Anderson cranking out anything as funny as Tenanbaums again, which got good but definitely not great reviews.

    Agreed. It’s possible to be clever and funny, but Anderson just isn’t capable of “ha ha” funny in the high comedic traditon of Caddyshack (1980). By that same token, Rushmore (1998) didn’t make me do anything more than crack a smile, and I walked out thinking it was a complete waste of Bill Murray’s talent.

    Steve Sailer sez:

    Both Anderson and Linklater would be really good if they were funnier (if you could combine the best of Anderson, Linklater, and Mike Judge into one, you’d have The Great Texas Director; maybe toss in Robert Rodriguez’s chutzpah, too).

    Give me Tobe Hooper, Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge. THAT would be an entertaining movie.

  47. #32 Jefferson:

    I’m not Texan but it’s my understanding that in the 1970s Hispanics weren’t a common sight in Texas beyond the border counties or the far south end of the state.

  48. Priss Factor [AKA "Link"] says:

    Boyhood could be doubly autobio.

    Both the kid and father could be alter egos of Linklater.

    Probably no director was as obsessed with his parents, directly or indirectly, as Bergman was.

    Best Intentions, Sunday’s Children, Private Confessions, Fanny and Alexander, and others.

    Even when Bergman’s films were about himself, there’s a sense of comparing himself with the father.
    Faithless for example. An admission that Bergman, as a free and modern man, was no better than his sometimes brutal father. Even worse perhaps.

  49. @Jefferson
    "I saw Dazed and Confused as an adult and even though I’m only 31 and it’s supposed to be set in the 70′s, it reminded me a lot of my own high school experience. The silly hazing rituals led by seniors living their one moment of glory in life were pretty spot on."

    "Dazed And Confused" was suppose to take place in Texas yet I didn't see any Mexican looking faces in the film. It was pretty much a Whitopia with the exception of the token Black guy with the afro.

    Texas must have been a very White state in the 1970s.

    Mr. Linklater attended Huntsville High School. I doubt if there were that many Latinos attending ther back in the 1970’s. And even if there were some Latino kids, they would have lived in a world that was usually separate from the white kids.

  50. Jon says:

    It always amuses me to hear how backwards people think Texas is. I’m not sure it was ever true, but it’s certainly not true any more.

    Most people would be shocked, shocked to discover that Austin is more liberal and artsy than where they’re from, no matter where they’re from.

    Ft. Worth, which is 30 miles and 30 years west of Dallas, is even alarmingly hip, although in a not-overly-stupid-or-annoying way.

  51. @Lugash
    I can't a good comparison of the two. A NPR interview backs the idea that Lee wrote TKAM by herself based on a private Capote letter and that TKAM's writing style matches her college lit magazine writings. Comparing TKAM and In Cold Blood probably wouldn't work due to the fiction/nonfiction aspect and

    I have no personal knowledge of how the publishing industry works, but going from a mishmash of short stories by an unknown author to the Great American Novel and then to research assistant on another book just seems odd.

    “(Harper Lee) … going from a mishmash of short stories by an unknown author to the Great American Novel (TKAM) then to research assistant on another book just seems odd”

    Creative genius doesn’t always come with the focus & organization (now called the brain’s administrative functions) necessary to be productive. And diligent/organized/productive writers aren’t necessarily geniuses (Stephen King?)
    If I had to choose the simplest explanation, I’d probably go with writer’s block, which is often a kind of perfectionism. She was probably acutely aware of what good writing was and unforgiving of any efforts that didn’t measure up.
    If alcohol is involved, it’s just as likely the effect as it is the cause of writer’s block (or even the cure!)

    Besides, what’s wrong with being a one-hit-wonder? Oh, John Kennedy Toole … nevermind.

  52. @peterike
    Texas must have been a very White state in the 1970s.

    Every state was a very white state in the 1970s, with the possible exception of Hawaii. The ruin has been delivered fast and furiously.

    Mississippi was 36.8 % Black in 1970

    South Carolina was 30.4% Black in 1970

    Alabama was 26.2% Black in 1970

    New Mexico was 37.4 % Hispanic in 1970

  53. @Al Gore Rhythms
    "his father (Ethan Hawke, good) and mother (Patricia Arquette, less good) have broken up"

    Funny, I saw things the other way around. Granted, Ethan Hawke seemed basically good but he is immature. He is able to drift in and out of the children's lives, play at being a musician whilst being the 'cool' part-time father who gets to let his children eat fast food and go to baseball games, whilst the mother is the one who has to nag about homework and pays the bills. Even at the end of the film, when he has finally matured and got a proper job and family, he offers to give the boy's mother some money, but when he opens his wallet there is nothing there, and after promising to go and get some, nothing more is heard about it.

    In contrast the mother is the one who makes the sacrifices, and whilst her ex partner has his new family, she is left facing a future with her children gone, no money and no husband.

    Having said all that, I was watching the film last night wondering what you would have made of it, and am glad to see the review. Linklater does seem like a writer who 'notices things'--both in this film and the 'Sunrise' films I thought there were moments of truth about male/female differences that break the rule of only being allowable when they are flattering to the female sex.

    One other thing that occurred to me after the film is that maybe Americans really don't like to see portrayals of failure (I'm not American, so perhaps I'm wrong about this). I did not know this film was as autobiographical as you say here, but I felt that given the challenges of his youth and his general 'slacker' attitude, it was all rather convenient that he should win photography prizes and get the scholarship. "You just need to have something that makes you stand out from the pack, and then the girls will come running' says his father. Of course we know this is going to be his photography. But it left me wondering, 'but what if he didn't have that'?

    “(Ethan Hawke, good) … (Patricia Arquette, less good)”

    These parentheticals referred to the quality of the performances, not the moral standing of the characters, n’est-ce pas?

    • Replies: @AlGoreRhythms
    Of course, how daft of me. I suppose it just seemed like the kind of Sailerist construction that he would use to say something like that. Oh well, too late to edit my foolishness away. So it will stand as a lesson for me to read every post at least three times before I comment in the future.
  54. @Steve Sailer
    Mason's older sister breezes into UT Austin with no mention of the 10% Rule.

    He goes to UT El Paso because it's the furthest away but still has in-state tuition and the only place in Texas that has some real scenery nearby (Big Bend National Park)

    Steve,

    Given how you poked fun at the movie “Her” for predicting a future Los Angeles devoid of Latinos, you should also poke fun of the choice of UTEP for Mason’s college. UTEP is a school that is only 8% non-Hispanic white. Yet, young Mason manages to not only find a white roommate but also two white girls as friends. http://collegeresults.org/collegeprofile.aspx?institutionid=228796

    IN 2014, there is no way that a college professor mother even if she is at Texas State-San Marcos (the former Southwest Texas State University) is going to let her son go off to a school with such bad academic performance, no matter how photographic the Organ or Sacramento Mountains are or how close to Big Bend National Park.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    But he's not going to get into UT Austin with both the 10% Rule and additional affirmative action in place. Although the movie is nominally set in the present, much of its appeal is that it is actually a leisurely vacation in the past before Tiger Mothers and everything else that's come along to make boyhood more stressful.
  55. For what it’s worth. I remember some years back watching a panel on CSpan-2’s Book TV that “To Kill a Mockingbird” had the hell edited out of it. Lee would send in the manuscript, get notes back from the editor, send in the revised version, get more notes, and on and on. As a writer myself, I know good and damned well there’s a point in which editing really becomes co-writing, which I think explains why Lee was a one trick pony.

    • Replies: @syonredux
    Then there's the oft-repeated tales of Maxwell Perkins' struggles with Wolfe's titanic manuscripts:

    "The greatest professional challenge Perkins ever faced was posed by Thomas Wolfe, whose talent was matched only by his lack of artistic self-discipline. Unlike most writers, who are often blocked, words poured out of Wolfe. A blessing in some ways, this was a curse too, as Wolfe was greatly attached to each sentence he wrote. After a tremendous struggle, Perkins induced Wolfe to cut 90,000 words from his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929). His next, Of Time and the River (1935), was the result of a two-year battle during which Wolfe kept writing more and more pages in the face of an ultimately victorious effort by Perkins to hold the line on size.[1] Grateful to Perkins at first for discovering him and helping him realize his potential, Wolfe later came to resent the popular perception that he owed his success to his editor. Wolfe left Scribner's after numerous fights with Perkins. Despite this, Perkins served as Wolfe's literary executor after his early death in 1938 and was considered by Wolfe to be his closest friend."

    (WIKIPEDIA)
  56. @Steve Sailer
    Has anybody done a comparison of prose styles in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Capote's books? Capote was very, very good but his career output seems thin.

    RE: Capote’s possible contributions to TKAM,

    Paul Johnson has speculated that there was something rather intriguing in the way that Hammett’s productivity as an author declined after he met Lillian Hellman. Hammett’s last finished novel, THE THIN MAN, came out in 1934, the same year that THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, Hellman’s first play, made its debut. Now, to be sure, Hammett was a massive booze hound. Plus, he seems to have been one those authors who derive little pleasure from the act of writing, but it still seems rather odd….

  57. @guest007
    Steve,

    Given how you poked fun at the movie "Her" for predicting a future Los Angeles devoid of Latinos, you should also poke fun of the choice of UTEP for Mason's college. UTEP is a school that is only 8% non-Hispanic white. Yet, young Mason manages to not only find a white roommate but also two white girls as friends. http://collegeresults.org/collegeprofile.aspx?institutionid=228796

    IN 2014, there is no way that a college professor mother even if she is at Texas State-San Marcos (the former Southwest Texas State University) is going to let her son go off to a school with such bad academic performance, no matter how photographic the Organ or Sacramento Mountains are or how close to Big Bend National Park.

    But he’s not going to get into UT Austin with both the 10% Rule and additional affirmative action in place. Although the movie is nominally set in the present, much of its appeal is that it is actually a leisurely vacation in the past before Tiger Mothers and everything else that’s come along to make boyhood more stressful.

  58. @South Texas Guy
    @Lugash

    For what it's worth. I remember some years back watching a panel on CSpan-2's Book TV that "To Kill a Mockingbird" had the hell edited out of it. Lee would send in the manuscript, get notes back from the editor, send in the revised version, get more notes, and on and on. As a writer myself, I know good and damned well there's a point in which editing really becomes co-writing, which I think explains why Lee was a one trick pony.

    Then there’s the oft-repeated tales of Maxwell Perkins’ struggles with Wolfe’s titanic manuscripts:

    “The greatest professional challenge Perkins ever faced was posed by Thomas Wolfe, whose talent was matched only by his lack of artistic self-discipline. Unlike most writers, who are often blocked, words poured out of Wolfe. A blessing in some ways, this was a curse too, as Wolfe was greatly attached to each sentence he wrote. After a tremendous struggle, Perkins induced Wolfe to cut 90,000 words from his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929). His next, Of Time and the River (1935), was the result of a two-year battle during which Wolfe kept writing more and more pages in the face of an ultimately victorious effort by Perkins to hold the line on size.[1] Grateful to Perkins at first for discovering him and helping him realize his potential, Wolfe later came to resent the popular perception that he owed his success to his editor. Wolfe left Scribner’s after numerous fights with Perkins. Despite this, Perkins served as Wolfe’s literary executor after his early death in 1938 and was considered by Wolfe to be his closest friend.”

    (WIKIPEDIA)

  59. “The Southwestern landscape also fascinates a lot of people for aesthetic reasons. You grow up on movies and TV shows made on the East Coast or in Europe, both of which have forested climates, and then you go out and there’s all that brown and those weird plants with spikes on them. There’s a reason the Europeans went ga-ga for Westerns, and the Italians went and made their own.”

    Wait. I thought the show was set in Houston which is entirely covered by trees and gets 5 or 6 feet of rain per year.

  60. @Uncle Kenny
    "(Ethan Hawke, good) ... (Patricia Arquette, less good)"

    These parentheticals referred to the quality of the performances, not the moral standing of the characters, n'est-ce pas?

    Of course, how daft of me. I suppose it just seemed like the kind of Sailerist construction that he would use to say something like that. Oh well, too late to edit my foolishness away. So it will stand as a lesson for me to read every post at least three times before I comment in the future.

  61. So what’s the joke about the erotic dreaming the others didn’t get? Is it just a play on “Dreams of My Father” as in like his father dreamed of white women and now they are dreaming about his son? If it’s something in the Obama book could someone tell me what page to read because I don’t want to read the whole thing.

  62. The school where the kid ends up isn’t UTEP, which is a fur piece from Big Bend, but most likely close-to-Big Bend Sul Ross in Alpine.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    Yes, Alpine, Texas. It's at 4,500 feet and has some sizable hills around it, so the name "Alpine" isn't quite as silly as it sounds for a Texas town.
  63. @Anonymous
    The school where the kid ends up isn't UTEP, which is a fur piece from Big Bend, but most likely close-to-Big Bend Sul Ross in Alpine.

    Yes, Alpine, Texas. It’s at 4,500 feet and has some sizable hills around it, so the name “Alpine” isn’t quite as silly as it sounds for a Texas town.

  64. @guest007
    Where did Mason end up going to college? Does any college in Texas really have photography as a major? Is majoring in photography something a movie director would think of as great but most people would think of as extremely stupid these days? Since Steve mentioned that the movie had the noncompetitive 80's vibe of early generations, did Mason end up at a competitive university without being competitive? Since it was set in Texas in modern times, did the movie ever mention the 10% rule getting admitted to all state colleges?

    The only university close enough for a day trip to Big Bend is in Alpine: Sul Ross University.

  65. I just saw that film for first time, and I just didn’t get what was funny about the kids meeting the angry white man with the Confederate flag and then the female Obama fan. To me the white guy seemed like a crude SJW caricature of a white southern conservative, being mean to nice liberal kids. Or maybe it was a sly parody of a caricature?

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