There’s a key scene in Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny where the famed American director reads through an old journal from the 1980s, written during his years working on an oil rig. It comprises various film ideas, writings and script drafts, and in the back is a meticulously kept log of purchases. Literally every cent is accounted for, revealing a young man who spent every conceivable spare moment at the cinema in his hometown of Huntsville, Texas – a town described as having 15,000 people and one stop sign.
“Movie, movie, movie, Pepsi, gas, movie, movie, Pepsi, gas, beer, movie…” Linklater reads aloud, before talking about devouring everything that screened at his local theatre. It’s a fleeting, nostalgic scene, but it feels pivotal in as much as it reveals two traits inherent to any successful filmmaker: an unbridled passion for the art form and a methodical, pragmatic head to transform scattered ideas into fully formed cinematic realities.
Linklater has a seemingly dichotomous personality in Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’s feature documentary, coming across as easy going to the point of almost appearing lackadaisical. “He’s so Buddhist he doesn’t even know he’s Buddhist,” is how one acquaintance describes him. And yet he so believes in the work that he will fight tooth and nail to see projects through to completion, regardless of whether they turn out to be award-winners or theatre-clearers.
This temperament has clearly won him a lot of admirers and regular collaborators who appear in the film, such as Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey. All of whom give the impression they would do anything with, or for, Linklater. In fact, his faith in the abilities and intellect of his actors almost baffles some of those he works with, so hands-off and trusting is he in his directional duties. “I’ve never heard him use the word ‘no’,” says McConaughey, while Hawke goes as far as crediting Linklater with saving his life, so profoundly nourishing was the experience of working on Before Sunset.
Dream Is Destiny projects Linklater’s role as an outsider filmmaker, someone who eschews convention and industry kowtowing in favour of a quiet life in rural Texas, “He doesn’t care how Hollywood sees him,” says Hawke. Linklater himself attests, “If you get too close to the industry, it thwarts thinking.” For every flirt with mainstream success or major studio production, Linklater claims he has always tried to subvert the Hollywood system, to use the opportunity to follow up with something personal and unexpected. In the documentary he focuses on the fallout of 1998’s The Newton Boys, stating that the film’s box office failure acted like a reset switch. It’s no coincidence that he returned to low-budget filmmaking with Waking Life and Tape in the early 2000s.
Above all, the documentary paints Linklater as a master of the milestone, having a knack of honing in on pivotal moments and life experiences and extracting nuanced drama from them. Nowhere is this more evident than in 2014’s Boyhood and the Before trilogy. He jokes about Before Sunrise for being, “The lowest grossing film ever to spawn a sequel,” and how the only three people in the world who wanted it to be made were Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and the director himself. If Dream Is Destiny reveals a single truth about Linklater via its retracing of these long-term journeys, it’s this: he is a man with an unwavering commitment to cinema. Despite the highs and lows, through the lo-fi indies, the esoteric animations or the glossy studio pictures, you get the feeling Linklater would rather fail on his own terms than be a success on somebody else’s.
Published 2 May 2016
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