Richard Linklater had a celebrated return to form with the debut of his new film “Last Flag Flying,” which was shown opening night at the New York Film Festival. Following its warm festival debut, Linklater sat down with NYFF Director Kent Jones to discuss the films that inspired him most. “What is film? Linklater said, “To me its moments. Not necessarily the best moment in a film or the most emotional ones, but the moments that jarred me as a viewer and a filmmaker.”
As expected, his choices included some of the greatest films ever made, starting with “Raging Bull.” “That film changed my life,” he remarked, “make no mistake.” Emphasizing the sound design of the film, and a presence of a flaw in the scene he chose, Linklater applauded the picture, saying that, “recreating something but also translating that realness into it is so profound.” He reminisced that as a teen he discussed the film with a friend who said that “Raging Bull” was an exact depiction of what it was like growing up in New York at the time. Linklater was stunned, saying that it was “such a compliment to [Martin Scorsese’s] filmmaking.” One can’t help to make the connection between this observation and Richard Linklater’s own films since he is well-known for his commitment to realism.
The next film Linklater excitedly mentioned was David Lynch‘s “Eraserhead.” “A director makes a choice, a choice on how you want the audience to perceive your story. Although,” he paused with a chuckle, “I doubt Lynch had any reservations about his choices on this!” He said that the element that stuck with him most was the fact that the elevator scene was shot in real-time, and also pointed out the sound design. The audience feels pulled into the moment as if they themselves are waiting for the elevator doors to finally close. Linklater goes on to say that David Lynch is “one of the great cinema artists of our time,” and it was through his work that he realized how accepting the audience can be. “If you set your rules, they will follow you, as long as its intriguing and compelling,” he said.
Stanley Kubrick‘s epic “Barry Lyndon” was another picture Linklater passionately discussed. “[Narration] is such a bold, bold choice. I always loved voice-over,” he said. Based on the way Linklater describes it, it is evident what appeals to him most is that Kubrick appeared to be unafraid to break the rules. “Cinema 101 tells you ‘no narration. Don’t talk about it. Movies have to move.’ All these rules,” Linklater lamented. “With Kubrick’s reverse zooms and everything, its just a beautiful film.”
“Who here has seen ‘Barry Lyndon’?” he asked. While only a few hands were raised, Linklater sternly told the audience, “We love the Criterion [Collection] so you have no excuse! Now it’s all available!” (The film is available from the boutique label on October 17th). Although Richard Linklater is not known to use voice-over in his work, the element of rebellion is a common theme in his films, so in that sense, Kubrick’s influence is certainly apparent.
As expected, Alfred Hitchcock made the list as well with his iconic film “Psycho.” Linklater remarked that what stirred him most in the scene he selected is the power of cinema over identification. The clip he chose was when the car is sinking into the mud and stops, at which point the protagonist looks around for a few anxious moments in silence until the car resumes sinking once more. “Hitchcock pulls you in so successfully into his point of view,” Linklater says, “It’s so brilliant the way he cut it [and] the way it flows.” Norman Bates, played so superbly by Anthony Perkins, smiles slyly as the car continues to sink beneath the surface. “That little smile,” Linklater mused, “that little bit of relief is so subtle it’s just beautiful.” He compared it “Taxi Driver” by saying, “You’re rooting for him, you might not turn him in maybe,” to laughter from the audience, “you only realize at the end that he’s a total psychopath.”
Next on Richard Linklater’s favorites list was “The General” by Buster Keaton and “Pickpocket” by Robert Bresson. In “The General,” once the train falls into the river (one of many sequences Keaton was famous for) the expression the general himself gives is “one of the greatest deadpan reaction shots ever,” says Linklater, “the less clear the reaction is, the more you invite the audience to participate in your film.” Reflecting on his own films, Linklater said, “I’ve done enough comedy to know that sometimes the more neutral and subtle you make it, you are encouraging the audience to participate in your film a little bit.”
On “Pickpocket” Linklater commented, “No one has the precision of Bresson.” With an exactness still envied by some of today’s best filmmakers, he was able to capture the swiftness of the pickpocket, focusing on the hands and feet of the actors, rather than their faces. When working on a Richard Bresson retrospective for the Austin Film Society Linklater founded in 1985, he sent Bresson a letter. “He sent me a really nice letter back,” he says. They later bonded over the “power of cinema” and Linklater recalled that Bresson was pleasantly surprised to hear his films were being shown in Texas. “Interesting cinema note,” Linklater went on, “that these masterpiece films [were done] on such a low budget!” Bresson’s film was done on such a low budget that some of the actors had to be reused. “I’ve seen this film so many times I see them in other places and I laugh,” Linklater mused, “but what he was able to do was breathtaking.”