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Richard Linklater's Diamonds in the Rough

The legendary Austin filmmaker provides a guided tour through three years of a formative decade

By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 24, 2014

Richard Linklater's Diamonds in the Rough

The title of this new Austin Film Society series – Jewels in the Wasteland: A Trip Through Eighties Cinema With Richard Linklater – is telling. Not the part about Linklater curating and being on hand to present and discuss these films (the film society's founder and artistic director has always been diligently involved with the organization and its programming). The title "Jewels in the Wasteland" is a none-too-subtle put-down of Eighties cinema. Yet generalizations about decades are easy and, as Linklater was quick to point out when we discussed this series and the period by phone, "Actually, there were a lot of great films – there always are."

The Eighties were the period during which Linklater became, by his own definition, "cinema-crazy" and "watched almost every film that came out" in the commercial and repertory spheres. In the Eighties, the Hollywood old guard began to disappear, while mergers and studio conglomerates were forcing a "corporate clampdown," according to Linklater. The blockbuster mentality also came of age in the Eighties. "Those big blockbusters were still rare in the Seventies," he notes. "But by the Eighties, you see a conscious effort to manufacture that every weekend." Paradoxically, as the decade wore on, "the indie world became more viable." By mid-1989, Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape was released after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, which helped put independent American cinema, as well as the festival that showcases it, on the map. By 1991, Linklater's Slacker came out, helping to bring eyes to Austin filmmaking as well.

Five films are scheduled for the first installment of this series, which only covers the years up to 1983. "I'm going to talk about these from a personal, subjective viewpoint," explains Linklater. "The King of Comedy was the first film I so looked forward to seeing, I marked the date," and "was at the first matinee." The film "was in theatres a week or two. That's how well that one did, and it affected Scorsese's career at that time. It's one of those gems. It feels like a Seventies film, a little holdover. Over the years, I appreciate it more and more."

The international front is represented by one of the last films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Veronika Voss. Linklater describes it as "one of the beautiful ones from late in his career. ... He was doing this glam thing with beauty and old Hollywood. It's interesting to see where that might have gone. Those films are still very subversive." On the other hand, Valley Girl is "almost a Hollywood indie" which was made for "a few hundred thousand dollars" with a young cast "all working for minimum. ... Every era has its teenage movies," he notes, but this is one of the "gems."

Sam Fuller's White Dog is a "film completely out-of-time. It was basically an underground movie in the Eighties. ... It was a banned film, more or less, and pretty much unavailable because of the controversy. I remember watching it on a VHS tape." Fuller, who was absent from filmmaking for much of the Seventies, "put his total spirit in and made a polarizing, political Sam Fuller movie. It's an exciting notion that Sam Fuller is sprinkled in among Eighties auteurs."

As for Reds, Linklater regards Warren Beatty's film as "an all-time masterpiece. ... Talk about a film that will never get made again ... [with] subject matter that's so densely political – about the Russian Revolution, Communism, the spirit of that time. ... And again, you don't get a lot of chances to see it on the big screen. ... I really value it highly; I think it's that good. And structurally it's very interesting – all those narrators. When people gave me shit on Bernie [about all the people talking to the camera, I would always say] 'I have one word for you: Reds.'"

Jewels in the Wasteland: A Trip Through Eighties Cinema With Richard Linklater

All films screen on Wednesdays at 7:30pm at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre (6226 Middle Fiskville).

Jan. 29: The King of Comedy (1982, D: Martin Scorsese)

Feb. 5: Veronika Voss (1982, D: Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

Feb. 12: Valley Girl (1983, D: Martha Coolidge)

Feb. 19: White Dog (1982, D: Sam Fuller)

Feb. 26: Reds (1981, D: Warren Beatty)

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