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Movie Recommendation

Spotlight on: Waking Life
Alternate: Detour

Waking Life DVD Cover

[Amazon.co.uk] [Amazon.ca]
Waking Life

Richard Linklater is one of the great independent directors working today. No matter what you think of his work, you cannot deny that he is an original voice. I don't like all his movies, but I invariably look forward to trying out each new one. Waking Life is one of the good ones.

To start with, its very existence is a sign of this man's imagination. One can only imagine the conversation involved (celebrity voices are not impersonated; they are only in your mind):

Linklater: "I want to make a movie."
Somebody: "Wow, great! What about?"
Linklater: "Well, it doesn't have a plot."
Somebody: "Uh-huh?"
Linklater: "Yeah, it's basically about this guy, who'll be in every scene, but mainly as a listener, who meets these people and they talk to him. About their different philosophies."
Somebody: "Oh, yeah?"
Linklater: "And that's not all."
Somebody: "Oh, no?"
Linklater: "No, after I film the whole thing on digital video, I'm going to give it to this animation studio to rotoscope over the video. You know, animate the whole thing."
Somebody: "Right, so you want to animate it after you've already shot it."
Linklater: "Right, so they just have to trace over the existing image so it sort of looks hand-drawn. But it'll all be done on computer."
Somebody: "Computer. Filmed on DV, then animated on computer. But it'll look hand-drawn. And no plot, just talking. About philosophy."
Linklater: "Yeah."
Somebody: "What a great idea. You go, Rick."
Linklater: "Cool."
And so he does. He films the whole thing and edits it into a feature. Now at this point, most directors would consider their film finished. But not Rick Linklater. No, now he gives Waking Life to Bob Sabiston at LineResearch to totally cover over with animation. So, basically, he's made two films in one.

If you've seen Slacker, you'll be familiar with the style. In that film, one scene blends into another through the use a minor character from one scene (often no more than a walk-on) becoming the focus of the next scene. Well, here the blend is not so logical. Several scenes appear to be dreams from which our hero (played by Wiley Wiggins from Dazed and Confused) awakens at the end. Only even his awakening appears to be part of the dream. Eventually, he realizes that he is not really waking up, and this begins to disturb him. (How to tell when you're dreaming--and make the most of it--becomes the subject of one conversation.) But he continues to meet up with people, often trying to interrupt their monologues with his own questions about his problem. Until he finally runs into a guy playing pinball (Linklater) who tells him simply to "wake up."

But does he?

Animating Waking Life was the best idea Linklater had. Often one's mind wanders during these characters' monologues (several of them just aren't that interesting), but the animation surrounding them keeps your interest. It not only saves the film, but makes it better. It transcends itself. Instead of becoming Slacker meets My Dinner with Andre, it turns into art--that rarest of creatures, cinematic art.

Conversations that would be as dull as a dormitory-kitchen knife are enlivened. Concepts not understood become graspable through the use of illustrative drawings. Even the actors themselves (primarily amateurs including several professors from the University of Texas at Austin) are shown in a new light through the eyes of the animators. (One wonders what they thought of the animators' taking license with their likenesses.) My favorites were the "human interaction" scene, the "holy moment" scene, the story told in the bar, and the above "pinball" scene where Linklater tells the film's most interesting story about Philip K. Dick's writing of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.

Have your own "holy moment" and immerse yourself in the dream world of Waking Life.

(Note on the DVD: This baby is loaded. Making ofs, interviews, several commentaries, and a very compelling animated short film called "Snack and Drink" featuring an autistic boy. Very educational regarding the process of bringing this movie through its paces and very entertaining as well. Well worth the price.)

[See Richard Linklater's Picks for the Top Ten Films of All Time]

Detour DVD Cover Alternate Recommendation: Detour

I had never heard of it before, but Detour was advertised on the cover as "putting the noir in film noir." I thought the sentence was silly, but I got the idea.

Being a fan of film noir myself, I was intrigued. Well done, it is a truly engrossing experience--an eye into the lives of the "other half."

The cover also went on to laud the performances of leads Tom Neal and Ann Savage (never heard of them, either) and, surprisingly, told the truth. Detour was a ride.

I wouldn't say it was well done, but it you can handle Roger Corman flicks, this should be a breeze. The acting is first-rate, the story is interesting (although the wraparound story is unnecessary and the ending is a puzzler), and the mood is set perfectly. Summarily, the middle of the film is the best part.

I'm not sure I would recommend purchase (the DVD contains the film and naught else), but at only 68 minutes, for fans of film noir, one viewing of Detour is definitely required.

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