BoyhoodRichard Linklater (USA 2014)Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater Ethan Hawke
Plus ca change… Move on…
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood comes heavily trailed for the durational character of its shoot.It was made over an eleven year period from 2002 to 2013, over which time the movie was shot periodically using the same actors.The USP was that this method of filming the story would allow some natural traits to become visible: ageing most obviously, and that the story would have a certain organicity, organic both in respect of its internal and external relations of caste/characters.
The question is does its durational quality amount to anything more than a gimmick? A sales Macguffin used to lure in the audience exploiting their expectation of gazing on something actual: a real ageing process rather than the usual faked ageing process.As if ‘the real’ was an added value currency, thatthe ‘real’ is something the viewer yearns for in the age of the unreal the veiled and the fake. Next up we’ll have feature films construed on the premise of’ real’ births or ‘real’ deaths or ‘real’ fights ‘real’ fucks.Just so we know it’s ‘real’, not faked.
My feeling is that the distinction between the real and fake has nothing to do with origination of material but rather with intention of the project, the intention of the players and the form given to the material. Linklater’s intention was to make an American feature film; his material is framed shot and edited to be a feature film.Without the manipulations of the Boyhood publicity machine whose purpose was to modify and premould the anticipation of the audience and the way in which they received the film, there was nothing in Boyhood that couldn’t have been successfully faked. If the audience had not known they were watching the same people, speak their same scripted lines over an 11 year period, I doubt that many would have realised.
This is because the film script is nothing more than a standard Hollywood formula:a suburban saga of overcoming.Its durationaltheme makes it into a soap opera.Boyhood is built on a fragmentary structure, strips of action separated by a couple of years.But its basic template is the Soap Opera, as itfollows the emotional familial intertwining’s of its four main characters. It is shot in the conventional shot reverse shot style, cutting away on the dialogue; it has nothing to offer in relation to the perception or the internality of its long distance actors except what they give us in the dialogue slots. (The material does no feel real in any sense that it actually touches them) In an actual documentary, the look on a face,a moment of spontaneity, body language or a tone of voice can open up vistas of the unsayable.But in Boyhood as in Soaps, it is only what’s scripted directed and edited that is seen.In Boyhood everything is on the table.
Even with its fragmented structure comprising strips of time, Boyhood stays true to its form, the Soap Opera.And this form, like a primal ‘Blob’ absorbs anything real, and processes it into a homogenised pulp. A stream of conventions.
Again as with many so called independent films ‘product placement’ features as an evident concern catching the eye of the film maker. In this case it is ‘Apple’ and we sort of get a potted history of Apple products from the early classic iMac through to iPod and their recent stuff.Interestingly in films of this kind, unlike in actual life, the stuff always works: its reliable and never causes the user any frustration.In passing I must observe that the family would appear have been rather more likely to have had a pc than a Mac.Anyway it would have been refreshing to see a littlehuman machine interaction: rage and frustration, but this as probably a step to real.And there again, Apple probably wouldn’t approve; which again raises the old question of the interrelation between sponsors and producers. Featuring as it did Apple appliances was there any deal between the company and the producers? And if so what effect did such a relationship have on the scenario?Of course any producer (and indeed overt or covert sponsor) will usually deny any direct influence of any company over creative decisions.More to the point is the subtler (well not so subtle) pressure of self censorship on creative talent when accepting favour from another party.I obviously don’t know the situation in relation to Linklater and Apple Inc., but where there is blatant product placement, then I believe a disclaimer should be considered.And this use of Brandendorsement in movies seems to be on the rise.
Ok.So a lot of people are going to like Boyhood’s scenario and script. It’s contemporary in its focus: single mums, split families, spliced families, grafted families, social media, art, creativity, being yourself.Most of its strips have their narrative theme built around the relationships of Mum.But everything else is a vacuum, a strange pantomime that takes place in an ethereal suburbia, The film takes a couple of shots at relating to politics: there is a anti-Bush rant by Dad, and Dad supports Obama in ’08.But these events feel like add-ons; attempts to lay claim to a certain sort of credibility. Otherwise the tensions of both social and political relations are absent. Mostly we are in the vacuum of the family, a place where time for all its passing, actually seems to stand still.Like a good soap Boyhood ticks all the politically correct boxes but the characters seem unaffected by anything, which is perhaps what I meant in saying time seems to stand still in the movie.
There is the old suburban advice given to people after difficulties: “Move on”. And that’s what the characters in Boyhood do.They move on. All the time. Divorce, failed relationships, abusive husbands and foster dads, lost friendships everyone just moves on as if nothing had really happened. The only exception is at the end of the final strip. Mason is leaving home for college, and Mum becomes sad and comments that with Mason and Samantha gone, that’s it for her. She has built her life around them and now there is nothing.What’s left for her?But by now, it is too late in Boyhood for ‘thoughts’. The film is over and the scene melodramatic, more a piece of theatre for Mason than a real internal shift in consciousness. Somehow we know Mum will: Move on: And so will we. Adrin Neatrour