MCN Columnists
Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

A Story Of Deep Delight: Talking BOYHOOD With Richard Linklater

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With his untitled, longitudinal narrative that became Boyhood, Richard Linklater had the ambition to trace the smaller gestures of childhood that become etched memories, with a soulful-eyed, pout-lipped little casting find named Ellar Coltrane at the center of the narrative for the twelve years to come. His character, Mason, would grow from the age of 6 or so to 18, from 2002 to September 2013, from pouty little boy to willowy, pillow-lipped man.

His parents, Olive and Mason, Sr., would be played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who had already participated in Before Sunrise, one of Linklater’s many films that observe the unity of a single day in limited or contained locations. In short, it would be a story that encompasses lifetimes. The characters—the actors—transforming the way we do, unreflective, in the eyes of our families, our friends.

Mason, Sr. remains vagabond dad, a well-meaning Peter Pan who sometimes seems to hold on only by his cheekbones, while Olive goes through inferior men who are never the father that free-spirited Mason manages to be just by being himself. The marvel, as you’d expect, is observing the course of time quietly furrowing the faces of the adults, and the deepening of their fine performances through the years-long shoot, as well as the transformation before our eyes, in semi-documentary but dreamy fashion, the faces and bodies of Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, who plays his older sister, Samantha.

Boyhood is perfectly imperfect, and surely not the last compelling use of feature filmmaking as the ideal form to encapsulate duration and unities of location to come from the 53-year-old writer-director. Linklater and I talked in Chicago a couple days before Boyhood opened.

RAY PRIDE: I’ve had a few good experiences with seeing your films on a big screen in front of a big crowd.

RICHARD LINKLATER: Me too! You kind of remember those first ones, especially.

RP: What was your first film—

RL: —at Sundance? Oh, Slacker. It was, what’s the downtown one, the main one? The little one, the old theater. The Egyptian. Kinda late the second day of the festival. And it got kind of a muted response. Desert Storm had just started, people were in a war mood, it was kind of edgy and some of the humor of the movie… I had played it around, I had played it at other festivals and it always got this laugh. And I realized, oh there was something different. But it caught on, it started slowly but then by the end of the festival, it had really picked up.

RP: For Boyhood, did you actually walk up to people and ask them, “What are you doing for the next twelve years?”

RL: [laughs] I asked… I asked Patricia on the phone. I talked to Ethan about it. That was the deal. Even people coming in for, say, to play the part of Mason Jr., the parents, that was the description of the character, over twelve years we’re gonna shoot, so anyone auditioning, they knew it. It wasn’t a sleight-of-hand thing.

RP: You can’t sign anyone to a contract that long, unless you’re a Scientologist.

RL: Yeah, I know. A billion years!

RP: Fortunately, you finally finished in under a billion years.

RL: Yeah, I know. It felt like it!

RP: There are all these notions about time and duration in your movies, but it always feels like the films articulate them in a way, in a form that conversation can’t.

RL: And yet they are conversational. So, therein lies the challenge, to kind of put words out there that tell your story, and communicate what you want to communicate, but it’s not necessarily how people talk all the time. But to make it feel real. That’s the hard part.

RP: That illusion, with Slacker, Dazed, the Before films taking place in a single day, it still feels naturalistic and yet it’s utterly constructed.

RL: Yeah. You can’t… People, when they want to go, oh yeah, it’s all improvised, and I’m all like… Nothing’s improvised! Show me one movie that’s improvi—I don’t understand the notion, it’s just this lazy idea that it’s easy, or something. It’s like mathematical, I think, even. It’s that kind of precision you’re actually going for. You can’t put it any other way. A lot of rehearsal, a lot of workshopping time. A lot of script, script.

RP: You can’t just make another Before the year after the last one.

RL: Those are so hard. The last one was the hardest ever.

RP: Before Sunset and Before Midnight, I would’ve felt certain affinities toward both in any case, but they also each landed at the right moment in my own life. Touchstones of behavior, settling and not settling. The tense dynamic between the two of them in Before Midnight, especially the long take in the hotel room toward the end of the movie, it’s not fancy blocking, it’s performance that’s, well, not metronomic, but mathematical, like you say.

RL: Yeah. Boyhood‘s much more different. It covers a lot of time, it has a lot of scenes. But the Before movies are not that many scenes per movie, but they’re played out. Boyhood has like 143 different scenes. That’s a lot. So there’s a lot of shorter… it’s just a different kind of method of storytelling. But, y’know, I wanted it to be accepted in the same kind of way by the viewer as some kind of reality. If I can not betray that feeling, y’know, that you’re watching something real, then I think the viewer has a chance to feel something there.

RP: It’s a testimony to how fluid it is that I never realized there were so many scenes.

RL: It’s not as many scenes as we all have in twelve years of… it felt appropriate for this story it’s trying to tell and the structure of it.

RP: You edited each year?

RL: Yeah. Edited every year like it was a final film, just attached it everything that came before it.

RP: “Whew! Here’s another eight minutes!”

RL: More like fifteen. Every year was running a little longer than I would have thought of initially but I’ve never done a film that wanted to be itself more than this film. It just had its own… it was talking to me all these years. I would just watch it over and over as it was in the process of becoming, and just feel my way through it. Do I need to move that scene up? We need to go to this level with the relationships. It was just a sculpture of some kind.

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RP: There’s a poem by Jorge Luis Borges quoted at the top of the press kit, “Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river.” But there’s another poem that’s a favorite of mine, by a fellow Kentuckian, Robert Penn Warren, called “Audubon: a vision.” Do you know it?

RL: Robert Penn Warren I know, not the poem.

RP: It’s a 32-page poem cycle, but it ends with this:

Tell me a story.

 In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

RL: [laughs] That’s wonderful. But you must not tell me its name, it will be a story of time. What is the mystery, “you must not tell me,” why is that?

RP: “Don’t show me the trick, don’t explain, let me find the mystery, just delight me.”

RL: Yeah, yeah.

RP: It’s an effect also at the end Rilke’s “An Archaic Torso of Apollo,” where the Olympian voice of the poem turns and simply states, “You must change your life.” Out of nowhere!

RL: “You must change your life.” That’s pretty cool.

RP: I’ve known the Warren poem since I was 15, as a boy, in Kentucky. But then to see something align, something you’ve loved, all of a sudden—

RL: Yeah, like some new articulation of that.

RP: Are there any interesting interpretations you’ve gotten of Boyhood that are out of left field? In interviews I’ve read, interviewers are rehearsing a lot of the same notions.

RL: Well, it’s always personal. I got a text from a friend who like, God, Ethan’s life is hell at the end, that new family, kid, ugh! Someone who was really put off by that. But I look at them, and go, oh, they’re one of those people that never wants kids. It just looks like hell on earth, the ultimate compromise of something. But, y’know, it’s easy to judge [laughs] how miserable you would be if you were in someone else’s life. We all make do with our own somehow.

RP: I’ve read concern over abusive stepfathers and the drinking.

RL: Are they that abusive? I mean, the first guy clearly has a drinking problem but he never strikes them with his hand. He never, y’know, he pushes his own kid around a little bit. The second guy never hits him, he’s just– Y’know, maybe the kid’s just being a dick. The thing is, it’s his point of view. Those guys might be okay guys. I mean, hell, the mom was with them. At some point, it just goes bad, obviously, and they’re not there forever, but maybe the kid would just remember the worst of it. That point of view is like, hey, you’re in my space and I resent you as an authority figure. I didn’t pick you, my mom did, fuck you. That’s common, that’s a pretty fraught relation, the stepparent. It’s like, who are you, you’re in my space.

RP: The awareness of making a period piece in present tense: That concept washed over me pretty quickly on my first viewing.

RL: We started with tube TVs, the iMacs. It was so interesting to do that, the phenomenon of a period film, thinking, what will be different here, twelve years on. The only thing we could ever bet on was the technology. You could know that computer’s changing, that phone’s not going to be here long. These games aren’t going to be, they’re going to change. So that was the one constant. I was more amazed how little the outer culture changed, outside of technology. It looked more the same than different that I think it would have at other points in our history. If you go through a decade, you get some pretty cultural-shifty… If you started in ’59 and went to ’71—

RP: That particular era has already been shorthanded to death through films using the same stock footage over and over in montages, such as Cronkite taking off his glasses and putting them back on when he announces JFK’s death—

RP: Is this how you’re representing the past, thirty seconds–

RL: —of the same bits, John-John saluting his dad. These touchstone things, it’s kind of like the greatest hits you hear on the radio, what was great in the moment has just been ground into dust. It means almost nothing anymore, there’s no emotion attached to it. I was definitely trying to avoid those kinds of moments. I mean, things you would remember, the film is a memory, remember, a war was going on, remember, there was a presidential election or a “Harry Potter” book release, just don’t… not the big stuff of a life, that falls off into banality. Or just boring, y’know, like graduations. Graduation? Yeah, I remember it. It was boring. We did al those things and it’s just not compelling.

RP: Are they too universal? What’s the boundary here?

RL: I dunno. Just the utter… yeah, for me, personally, as an observer, in those big moments I always felt like an extra in my own life, like more of an observer. Like the way memory works, and the way you recall your life, I was more interested in the things you wouldn’t’ve predicted. Why am I still thinking about that? Why is that retained, that weekend? That conversation, that encounter, why is that still here and so much other stuff that was put out to be a big deal, it’s still there, but so what?

RP: There’s a syndrome I’m forgetting the name of, where certain kids experience that distanciation you’re describing, they panic, freeze, can’t function because they’re seeing themselves in the moment and not acting.

RL: That’s youth in a nutshell: A lot of times, you just don’t know you’re having a moment, until you’ve thought about it, years later. I made a joke the other day, someone was talking about the moments. I said, it’s hard for young people to be aware of a moment. You’ve been cultured and you’re being molded to be something. It’s accepted you’re not a real person yet, that you’re, you’re this kind of work-in-progress person and everyone is in your face, trying to manipulate and influence. When you’re having those moments… I remember being abstractly lost in the future and the past, y’know. It’s hard to be in the moment, especially as a kid. When you’re being groomed for the future.

RP: Well, thanks for taking the twelve years.

RL: [laughs] It’s weird, to have that kind of time, then we have approximately one minute-and-twenty seconds per year to talk about it.

The list of cities, theaters and opening dates for Boyhood is here.

6 Responses to “A Story Of Deep Delight: Talking BOYHOOD With Richard Linklater”

  1. Danny says:

    Actually, Samantha is Mason Jr.’s older sister.

  2. Ray Pride says:

    You are too kind. Thank you, i’ve corrected.

  3. cary jones says:

    I have been reading all of the reviews and articles about Boyhood and this was the most interesting. You really got to the real Link later here. Good job. Love this movie!

  4. Ray Pride says:

    Thank you very much.

  5. PatrickP says:

    Gotta tip my hat to Patricia Arquette. She’s the professional backbone of a lot of these scenes with some young actors and she’s taken a role that requires her to age in a natural convincing manner. It’s really great work.

  6. Ray Pride says:

    Role of a lifetime.

Pride

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