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scrawls his author’s signature early in the film. Arriving by bus in Austin, he is the first figure we see. Ensconced in a Roy’s Taxi cab, he begins a manic monologue to an impassive driver. “You know in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy meets the Scarecrow and they do that little dance at the crossroads and they think about going in all those directions and they end up going in that one direction?” he asks, and continues without waiting for reply. “All those other directions, just because they thought about them, became separate realities. I mean, they just went on from there and lived the rest of their lives…you know, entirely, different movies, but we’ll never see it because we’re kind of trapped in this one reality-restriction type of thing.” Slacker is a meditation on this one realityrestriction type of thing that is life, and Linklater’s opening speech is a key to the film’s structure and technique. Shortly after he leaves the taxi, another character enters our visual frame, and the camera chooses to follow him and abandon Linklater. Slacker is the product of seemingly serendipitous encounters between lens and passersby. We follow a figure for a few minutes until distracted by another. In the film’s brachiated tree-like structure, branches multiply exponentially, but at every juncture we can follow only one. Many of Linklater’s choices are inspired. A sidewalk conversation interrupted by a woman’s spirited account of a freeway sniper \(an “old man,” she calls him, somewhere beshe got from a Hollywood gynecologist an authentic specimen of Madonna’s pap smear. A man runs over his mother in front of their house and then calmly waits for the police to arrest him. In a nearby bookstore, a conspiracy junkie expatiates on JFK assassination theories and on the book he is preparing, to be called either Profiles in Cowardice or Conspiracy A-Go-Go. Though his daughter later claims he never went to Spain before the 1950s, an older man regales a youthful burglar with tales of his experiences in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. But other moments are so utterly banal that we long for those other movies that would have followed different characters on the street, or the same characters at different stages. Beery profundities about Saturday morning cartoons and two men bent over an auto hood babbling about carburetors and distributors make you nostalgic for the road taken by The Wizard of Oz. A man and a woman agree to meet at a movie, but we never see them again or learn the name of the movie. Would, it be slicker than Slacker? “The tragedy of life,” declares a peripatetic man into his portable tape recorder, “is that man is never free yet strives for what cannot be.” The camera’s fluid movements through ceaseless tracking shots celebrate slackness, the characters’ delightful delusion that they are open to anything. Slacker avoids montage, the filmmaker’s overt manipulation of plot, in favor of takes so .long you yearn, for the elusive freedom to turn your attention elsewhere. Slackness is also a lack of regimen. “I’ll get a job when I hear the true call,” says a man rejoicing over his stepfather’s funeral, and that call is nowhere audible. Rejecting plans, purposes, and patterns \(“The underlying order is chaos,” explains a woman who has arranged a circle of skateboards to illusSlacker are so laid back their pates could graze their heels. Their gestures are gawky, their sentences swollen with lazy expletives like “man,” “you know,” and “wow.” They are content with printed pablum like USA Today. Yet the slackers erupt in verbal Niagaras, hyperkinetic monologues that overwhelm everything until we move on. Like Henry Jaglom’s Eating, Slacker projects tanillusion of a flaccid slice of life. But behind both is a disciplined sensibility. Linklater is no slacker, though he plays the part convincingly. None of the slackers the camera accosts is given a full name. Anonymous attitudes embodied by local folk who never made a name in movies, they pass before us briefly and then vanish forever. Like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, a congeries of eccentrics whose unity is its setting, Slacker is an Austin movie composed of characters but not genuine personalities. And yet it cannot presume to represent any of the Texas capital except its slacker class. Do not expect to see BY CHARLEY MACMARTIN STEPHEN KINZER KNOWS how the worldof mass media functions. “There are certain things you cannot write for the New York Times,” he said over breakfast during an April visit to Austin. “The Times, and daily newspapers in general, play a particular role in our society.” Kinzer works deep in the world manufactured by the New York Times. From 19831989, he headed the Times bureau in Managua while the Reagan Administration fought to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Before that, Kinzer worked parttime as a reporter for the Boston Globe on the events leading up to the July 197.9 Sandinista victory in Nicaragua. Earlier, he served as press secretary for Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Kinzer makes no bones about his distaste for Reagan’s approach to Nicaragua. “It was a policy based on ignorance,” he said. Toward the end of his tenure as Times bureau chief in Managua, Kinzer candidly related in a 1989 Cape Cod Times interview, “Reagan .., denounced the Sandinistas for having converted Nicaragua into a ‘totalitarian dunCharley MacMartin worked on agricultural projects in Belize and Nicaragua before joining the Nicaragua solidarity movement in 1985. He works with CISPES in Austin and writes for the and Polemicist. jocks or Greeks on its West Campus streets. We meet someone’s visiting Hellenic cousin, but, despite the large foreign population in the neighborhood, she and an English photographer are the only two slackers born abroad. And, despite Austin’s heightened ethnic sensitivity and presence, the camera, lingers on only one dark complexion, a black man selling Mandela T-shirts. Another slacker regrets how massive apathy allowed George Bush to be elected by a mere 18 percent of eligible voters. Most of the other slackers are too busy being idle to bother about politics. You would scarcely know from this film that Austin is a loveseat of government and a hotbed. of reform. Glancing at the Capitol several blocks away, one man declares: “I’ve always dreamed of pulling a Guy Fawkes on the Texas Legislature.” But most of the others have dreams like the one that Linklater’s character recalls: “There was nothing going on at all.” The would-be Fawkes is obsessed with Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who assassinated William McKinley. “There was such a thing as belief put into action in those days,” he muses. Slacker depicts a day-and-a-half devoid of beliefs or actions. You might prefer the story of Leon Czolgosz, but that would be another movie. [:1 aggerations that ignores the abuses of Guatemalan colonels, Salvadoran death squad leaders, and Argentine torturers, with whom he is so friendly.” Kinzer understands what media analysts term the study of paired examples, which brings to light the underreporting of embar rassing events \(e.g., U.S.-sponsored genocide ments of official enemies \(e.g., s UCH OUTBURSTS OF clarity underscore the disappointment in reading Kinzer’s Blood of Brothers, a chronicle of the decadelong contra war in Nicaragua. The book fails the test of paired examples. The title itself suggesting a genuine civil war echoes of Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani’s strained attempts at equating El Salvador’s civil war with the mercenary war carried out in Nicaragua by the United States. . Kinzer helped create such illusions during the bloody 1980s. “Everybody in, the United States was able to have an opinion about Nicaragua,” Kinzer explained in Austin, “however, only a few people were in the position of providing the information, the facts ….And I was one of them.” This role carried a heavy responsibility. Early in the war, Kinzer was the first to discover a contra mercenary camp full of U.S.issue weaponry in Honduras, thus puncturing the Reagan Administration’s myth that the U.S. and Honduras had nothing to do with Tainted Blood 20 JUNE 28, 1991