Forgive me, if you will, for crowbarring in yet another Kubrick anecdote on the blog but what can I say, this was the first thing I that swam to mind when I first heard of director Richard Linklater’s unique approach to constructing his new ‘indie epic’ Boyhood. Back in the twilight of his career when Stanley was developing Artificial Intelligence, the film that went on to be made by Spielberg following Kubrick’s passing in 1999, some similar anecdotes to Boyhood’s production began circling. Dissatisfied with the constraints of SFX Kubrick had taken to shooting the secretly cast child star of his revolutionary (or should tha be evolutionary?) SF epic every couple of years, in order to capture the genuine passing of time or….erm…something. Well, those absurd rumors have been utterly debunked and they don’t even gel with the films final mechanic contortions – the whole point of A.I. is that David is a timeless automaton – so when it transpired that a director had managed to conduct this astonishing feat over a twelve years period in a manner akin to the celebrated 7-up non-fiction series or in some ways an alternate on Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films I knew we could potentially be perched in the parlour of brilliance. Linklater can be great, I love Waking Life, Dazed & Confused and his PKD adaptation is among the best, and he also likes to stir in a few ‘light’ studio pictures into the mix (School Of Rock, The Bad News Bears) to keep himself afloat financially speaking. His most celebrated achievement thus far is his Before trilogy which offer the clearest antecedent to this extraordinary new film, by filming a couple’s peaks and troughs with the same cast over three films and twenty years he created a Generation X birthed trilogy which now stretches deep into the 21st century with (I’m sure) further installments to come. In a more concentrated fashion Boyhood maps a similar yet more individual path, filmed in incremental yearly spurts the aging and development of its central protagonist to remarkable time-lapse effect, the phrase ‘masterpiece’ is somewhat over-egging the evolution but this is an astounding film, bursting with warmth and promise.
Mostly set in around his home state of Texas and flitting like a tumbleweed around the state due to the vagaries of his mom’s turbulent love life the central character of Boyhood is Mason Jr. (Ella Coltrane) whom we first meet as a discombobulated and distracted six-year-old, lying on his back and gazing at the clouds. His young parents Olivia (welcome back a brilliant Patricia Arquette – where have you been?) and Mason Snr. (Ethan Hawke) have separated but Mason and his slightly older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) have a good relationship with their genuinely affectionate father, a misplaced spirit who hasn’t quite found his niche in life, drifting from seasonal labour assignments while struggling and failing to power his musical career with any traction. Mom is more of a realist with a sensible head screwed on her shoulders,understanding that her crucial responsibilities are to provide and shelter her beloved kids, perhaps at the sacrifice of her own desires and career ambitions. Mason reluctantly manages the teasing and adolescent antics of his elder sibling as time marches incrementally along, moving through the eduction system as his family is tossed on the occasionally turbulent seas of life and love, a dozen years elapsing throughout the films generous but not excessive near three-hour duration.
Like a pre-pubescent gazing in rapt and slightly confused wonder at the lingerie section of a mail-order catalogue Boyhood manages to generate a similar tingly and warm feeling, an episode which forms just one of numerous shared fragmentary glimpses of childhood which signal Linklater’s nostalgic nuances. This is a film constructed of incremental and half-muted moments, an utter rejection of the more formulaic and traditional dramatic act structure which would have to include major life events – the first day at high-school, the first kiss, his mothers remarriage to another suitor, his sisters departure for college – in favour the real memories and moments which into memory from the purlieus’ of a half-forgotten dream. The film is almost stolen by Samantha whom teases and goads her brother with hilarious lighthearted malice, she had me and the rest of the Picturehouse preview audience in frequent hysterics. Given it’s design Boyhood is a film of performances with its central achievement pivoting on the maintenance of its unusual USP, Coltrane’s naturalistic, shambling persona anchors the picture but praise must be lavished on Arquette and Hawke who both evolve quite remarkable performances. Seeing them both grow, progress and endure life’s numerous triumphs and challenges is just as affecting as Mason’s on-screen maturation, with a real sense of people growing in resigned and poignant wisdom beyond a change in mere haircut or costume.
Following identical techniques to Céline and Jesse in the Sunrise films Linklater also had his collaborators write their own dialogue with his assistance and under his supervision, erecting an infrastructure which enables the players to fully own the characters with an organic nuance which is throughly disarming. The film is a time-machine (well, what film isn’t but that’s another story, as Tarkovsky noted in general that all cinema is ‘sculpting in time’) through which a pathos soaked meld of comedy merges with the tragedy, but it’s in the incidental accrual of detail and incident that most fascinates Linklater, it’s the ellipses between eras in the quiet and seemingly at the time the unremarkable moments which are harmonised through the films suitably street credible soundtrack – and doesn’t music have that magical power to transmit you back to when you first heard ‘that’ track, to when you first danced to ‘that’ tune? Since seeing the film on Sunday afternoon the film has stayed with me, nudging and nagging on the seared synapses, prompting a series of musing mediations on its bittersweet but defiantly unsentimental purpose. Arquette gets the films most poignant line which she buries with a devastating downplayed delivery, it’s a quietly immolating moment with all the quiet pathos of Ozu at his very best. Linklater puts the final polish on the film’s halo with a perfectly optimistic ending to his most perfect film to date – the dawning of a life full of possibilities, brimming with intellectual and romantic adventure like a seraphic rising sun embracing a new day. This is a terrifically warm, affectionate and affecting film, and one of the years absolute must sees;