Thursday, June 27, 2013

IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO LEARN TO PLOW BY READING BOOKS (1988) - Richard Linklater


There's a scene in Before Sunrise where Ethan Hawke pitches to Julie Delpy his idea for a day-in-the-life TV show that follows different ordinary people going about their ordinary days for 24 hours at a time. Linklater's first feature-length film, It's Impossible to Learn to Plow... might be the closest the director ever came (or will come) to realizing that pitch but in a Super-8 format at a brisker 85 minutes.

Nothing much happens in this film, and that is mostly the point. A nameless guy in Austin (played by Linklater) lounges around at home listening to audiotapes made by a friend. He picks up his bottled water supply, does his laundry, goes to the ATM. Eventually, he takes a train trip to Missoula to visit this friend. Similarly routine things happen-- uneventful hikes, shooting pool, reading, playing basketball, drinking beer. Nameless guy returns to Austin where he hangs out with a few other friends, drives around town, takes care of his mother's dogs for a spell, watches some Sterling Hayden movies on the tube, a Carl Dreyer movie in the theater, then goes to the post office and refills his bottled water supply. He explains to a guy on street (Daniel Johnston) what his Russian t-shirt means (see above movie title). Even when he randomly meets a girl at the train station and we think we might see the seedlings of Linklater's later travelogue romance Before Sunrise, the girls falls asleep on the bench and Nameless Guy leaves a handwritten note on her luggage and splits.

Such is life. And directorial first efforts.

But for a first feature, and a first feature about banality no less, It's Impossible... actually moves pretty briskly from scene. It's not nearly as film school tiresome as the premise sounds (or the cumbersome title suggests). Though it is obviously more experimental than entertainment-minded, there is a certain underlying suspense that keeps you watching: Will this guy connect with anyone in any meaningful way? For a Linklater film, it has surprisingly little dialogue. Yet, somehow it works as companion piece (and blueprint) to the much chattier, multi-character Slacker. Even with the words stripped away, Rich still has something to say.

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