21 Years: Richard Linklater

21 Years: Richard Linklater

2014, NR, 78 min. Directed by Michael Dunaway, Tara Wood.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 14, 2014

There’s enough commentary from a variety of speakers about Richard Linklater’s artistic voice in this documentary that even those who’ve closely followed the filmmaker’s extraordinary career from the get-go will remain engaged. And when there’s not, there’s always the entertaining animated segments that pop up with regularity to illustrate ideas.

The filmmakers default primarily to the musings of a variety of stars who have appeared in Linklater’s movies: Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Billy Bob Thornton, Keanu Reeves, Zac Efron, Jack Black, Nicky Katt. Of these, McConaughey and Hawke (the two who’ve worked with Linklater the most) offer the most insightful comments about the director’s working methods. Yet there’s nothing groundbreaking or original about any of the actors’ thoughts that haven’t been expressed before. Collected, their contributions sound more like an adulatory tribute reel rather than any sort of critical analysis.

It seems odd that Dunaway and Wood spend most of their time talking with actors, rather than seeking out Linklater and the voices of some of his other collaborators. The Duplass brothers, Kevin Smith, and Jason Reitman make the case for why Slacker was the watershed film that spurred their own filmmaking careers. Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black [full disclosure: my boss] comes off as the film’s most articulate and original thinker about the throughline of Linklater’s career. Curiouser still are the Linklater collaborators left out: industry facilitators like John Pierson, attorney John Sloss, producer Anne Walker-McBay, and artistic cohorts like cinematographer Lee Daniel and music composer Graham Reynolds. Neither does the film delve very deeply into Linklater’s professional choice to remain based in Austin; and his founding of the Austin Film Society and its phenomenal growth and influence on the city over the decades almost seems like a tacked-on aside at the end of the movie rather than one of the ongoing concerns of his career.

Yet even these oversights would be acceptable if this amiable doc had more cohesion and organizational structure. The film’s working premise – that the first 21 years of an artist’s career define his career – is an artificial self-imposition. But Dunaway and Wood toss out that analytic structure from the start. Linklater’s first feature, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, is nowhere in sight, and the film hopscotches around Linklater’s career in an order that’s neither chronological nor thematically logical. Certain films are almost entirely shunned (subUrbia, Fast Food Nation, Linklater’s numerous projects with Speed Levitch, and his doc about UT coach Augie Garrido, to name a few), and other films are given too much weight (Thornton talking about The Bad News Bears springs to mind).

It’s perhaps surprising that there aren’t more Linklater documentaries out there, considering how substantial, influential, and plain fucking brilliant his body of work is. In the meantime, 21 Years will have to do.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Films
Hundreds of Beavers
Loony live-action cartoon about a 19th century fur trader who goes to war with the titular rodents

Richard Whittaker, Feb. 23, 2024

Drive-Away Dolls
Ethan Coen solo effort is screwball without the comedy

Matthew Monagle, Feb. 23, 2024

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Last One Down the Mountain: Belated Thoughts on the Sundance Film Festival
Last One Down the Mountain: Belated Thoughts on the Sundance Film Festival
Even virtually, the 2024 fest felt revitalized

Feb. 21, 2024

Joy Ride
Raunchy road trip goes all the way to China for filthy fun

July 7, 2023


21 Years: Richard Linklater, Michael Dunaway, Tara Wood

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle