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Opening Shots: 'Slacker'


To sleep, perchance to dream...


The dreamer awakes.


Meanwhile, on the other side of the world... (From the opening shot of "Lost in Translation.")

Does this shot look uncannily familiar? A man asleep, or almost asleep, with his head against a window as the twilight world outside floats by. This one's from Richard Linklater's "Slacker," but we've also featured a similar opening shot from Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation."

I love the way the window, besides being a frame within a frame (suggesting a slightly fuzzy, abstracted reality in the background that's distinct from, but related to, what we're seeing in the foreground), is almost like a cartoon dialogue bubble, but instead of words it's filled with images. A dream, perhaps? It certainly has a dreamlike quality. And, of course, the sleeper/dreamer in this shot is the filmmaker himself, Richard Linklater. And the movie we're about to see is filled with stream-of-consciousness monologues and long, winding shots that drift from one character to another until the very end when some kids throw the camera itself off a cliff. Linklater (unlike Bill Murray in Coppola's movie) is on the right of the frame, with the window images moving from left to right. Linklater's face is on the strong axis, in terms of traditional composition, and the flow of motion seems natural and unforced, kind of like the path-of-least-resistance flow of the whole movie. Murray, on the left with the images moving right to left (against the way we Westerners read) seems to be swimming upstream in an Eastern world. (Speaking of upstream: You rarely see images of spawning salmon leaping left to right; upstream always seems to be right to left. See "My Own Private Idaho.")

When this guy gets off the bus, he sets the rest of the movie in motion by getting into a cab and verbally spinning a fractal theory of realities, all based on... a dream he had on the bus. Fragments:

Man, I just had the weirdest dream, back on the bus there. Do you ever have those dreams that are just completely real? I mean, they're so vivid it's just like ... completely real....

... Anyway, so this dream I just had was just like that except instead of anything bizarre going on, there was nothing going on at all. Man, it was like 'The Omega Man' ... there was nobody around. I was just traveling around, staring out the windows of busses and trains and cars. When I was t home I was like flipping through the TV stations endlessly. Reading. I mean, how many dreams do you have where you read in a dream? Man there was this book I just read on the bus, well, it was my dream so I guess I wrote it or something. But, man it was bizarre. It was like the premise for this whole book was that every thought you have creates its own reality, you know? It's like every choice or decision you make -- the thing you choose not to do fractions off and becomes its own reality, you know, and just goes on forever. I mean, it's like...

... As I got off the bus, the thought crossed my mind, just for a second, about not taking a cab at all but maybe walking or bumming a ride, something like that. I'm kind of broke right now; I should have done that, probably. But, uh, just because that thought crossed my mind, there now exists at this very second a whole other reality where I'm at the bus station and you're probably giving someone else a ride, you know? And that reality thinks of itself as the only reality....

By this point, the very first time I saw "Slacker," I was already falling in love with the movie... -- JE

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