Even being in Slacker didn't prepare Chronicle Editor Louis Black for the film's eventual impact.
A new print of Slacker will be screened on Sunday, July 1, at the Paramount Theatre in celebration of the 10th anniversary of its national release. There will be a reunion of cast and crew. After the screening, there will be a party at Antone's. The event is a benefit for the Austin Film Society and the D. Montgomery Fund.
I almost wasn't in Slacker. I'm in it for my 7.5 seconds of fame. And I almost passed on the shoot. Think what a truly great slacker story that would have made. "You know, I could have been in Slacker, but I decided to take a nap." It's not just that being in movies is boring, it's that I didn't take this production seriously at all. The filmmakers were the ragtag Austin Film Society collective, a loose-knit group of free spirits who lived to talk and think about films. Led by Rick Linklater, the AFS was always hitting up the Chronicle to provide advertising and editorial for their cinematic programming. We were happy to do this, and they had even garnered a few cover stories for their series. We attended their screenings and often went to the same parties, where we talked movies all night. Austin Community College film professors Charles Nafus and the late George Morris were central to this group. Morris was a devoted auteurist who could really be set off by the most casual attack on Blake Edwards' Darling Lili or the more maudlin Jerry Lewis. The parties would be a swirl of talk, a never-ending list of titles discussed and dissected, of directors praised and damned.
But be in their movie? I knew how dull and unrewarding being in movies was. I expected nothing more when Linklater called to ask if I would be in the film. He added that if I didn't show they could always get one of the crew for the role. Certainly, this crowd were gifted film programmers, but I didn't think of them as filmmakers, even though I knew that separately and together they had made some films. So, I almost didn't go. Rick had given me a time. At the last minute I pulled on a black T-shirt and headed out the door, showing up when I was scheduled at the GM Steakhouse on North Lamar. Remarkably, they were running right on time and had just finished setting up the shot. The production was very casual, operating out of the back of one van. Dolly tracks for the camera had been laid from the front door down the narrow, corridor-like length of the restaurant. There were only a few lights.
I had one line, "Stop following me." It was repeated twice, with Poi Dog Pondering's Frank Orrall sitting in front of me and the traumatized yacht owner muttering about sexual dysfunction at the counter. Over my head was a sign offering shrimp for sale. The shoot took an hour and a half. It was great. The set was filled with friends. It went by too fast. I thought nothing of it. Sometime later, Rick gave me a tape of the finished film. The first two times I watched it, I thought it was a filmic exercise rather than a coherent narrative.
Walters' Chronicle cover story not only explained the film to me, it helped launch Slacker's incredibly successful run at the Dobie Theatre. The film played for months, many of those with sold-out shows. A year later, Slacker opened in selected theaters nationwide, having been picked up by Orion Classics after being repped by indie legend John Pierson. One of the heads of Orion Classics was Michael Barker, an ex-Austinite and one of the best friends of the late Ed Lowry (Chronicle co-founder and guru). There are endless stories to be told here that would help get to the point, but no room. Anyway, when the Slacker still set (the eight or nine photos from the film that are sent out to publications so they can illustrate their reviews) was issued, one of the shots was of me sitting at the GM Steakhouse with a sign over my head offering a Plate O' Shrimp. The shot ended up in newspapers around the country, as old friends called to point out.
Even then, I was unprepared for the impact of Slacker. An American classic, it has inspired a generation of American filmmakers. Stop talking, it demands, and make your film. A generation responded by picking up cameras and gathering friends. Sunday night, 80 or so people who were in and/or worked on the film will gather to celebrate the anniversary of its release. A decade later, its call to arms is just as clear and specific. Stop talking, stop stalling, go do the work that is important to you.