There’s been a lot of words on the street about this film. Pretty much all good from what I had heard. So I thought I better give it a watch myself.
If you’ve been tuned out from all media recently, you won’t know that this film was created over a 12 year stint, with the same primary cast, tracking the life of a boy in Texas, through childhood to adolescence. From when Ellar Coltrane (who plays the main character Mason) was six-years-old, the cast filmed once a year, every year, up until 2013. Thus, half of the joy of this film was tracing the changing hair cuts and body types of the characters; something that has never really been done before – in a narrative form of film anyway.
My favourite part of watching the three hour ‘time capsule’, was its historical context (if you can call it that). Mason is the same age as me and so his growing up through the late 90s into the naughties was particularly relatable. Richard Linklater (the director) takes you through the Harry Potter craze of the early 2000s, incorporates the ’20 Questions’ game, Motorola razor flip phones, ripstick skateboards, the introduction of Facebook, Coldplay, Lady Gaga, Bright Eyes and Britney Spears all during their primes, online porn and Dragon Ball Z. This film is pretty much as real as it gets…without becoming a documentary (although it does have a certain neo-realism feel). Sitting in the cinema I was rather surprised when Mason gets drunk and baked on the eve of his 15th birthday. For any film, but particularly by American standards, that is an incredibly young age to start getting involved with illegal substances. However, I quickly realised that it was around that 14 mark when all of my friends started doing the same things… it’s just how life actually is and this film isn’t afraid to show it.
This concept for a film is something that I think every aspiring filmmaker has thought about in their lives – what if you could actually get the same actors to play their younger selves? But for me, I always come back to the same problem – technology. What if camera qualities and film techniques and methodologies progress too far over the years of shooting? Wouldn’t it cause a weird discontinuity throughout the piece? This complication is what I was most interested in seeing Linklater tackle. I assume they used all the same cameras throughout the film as there was no change in quality (in regards to its visual ‘crispness’); but there was definitely a development in the cinematography and editing. The first hour or so is filled with unfocused shots; and I’m not talking nice shallow depth of field compositions, but that frustrating kind of ‘blurry edges’ look, where it feels like you’re wearing glasses of the wrong prescription. Nevertheless, it dramatically improved towards the end, specifically the last scene out at ‘Big Ben’ which has been carefully filmed for aesthetic effect. Similarly the editing is rhythmic and flowing in Mason’s later years, but at the beginning it seems too calculated and jumpy – when a character’s speaking the camera would be on them, no one else, so we weren’t receiving those critical reaction shots.
Overall, it was an incredible film… even just for the sheer amount of dedication the whole cast and crew have shown to finish it off. It’s long, but it seems to just wash over you and somehow gratify those inner-most voyeuristic tendencies we all have.