Film Reviews

Boyhood (2014) – 4K UHD Review

Boyhood remains a singular filmgoing experience (at least to date). Released in 2014, Richard Linklater, director of the Before Trilogy, had been working on it – more accurately, actually filming it – since 2002. He sought to tell the story of a young boy’s childhood from the age of around six, until he is about to leave for college at eighteen, without the need for recasting and long time jumps. Engaging a cast including Ethan Hawke (who as the non-resident parent, Mason Sr., was not required for every year’s filming), Patricia Arquette as Olivia (mother to our lead), Ellar Coltrane as Mason, who’s boyhood we are watching, and Linklater’s own daughter Lorelai, as Samantha, Mason’s older sister.

The plan was to have the outline of a story in place, and then to tweak each year’s scenes based on the previous year’s work, and upon what had happened in everyone’s lives in the interim. The risks were obvious; young children can go off the rails as they age, or simply decide acting is not for them (as nearly happened with Lorelai). In over a decade, a cast member or the director could develop illness or encounter any number of accidents. Additionally, of course, what a pitch to have to make to a studio: ‘I need $4 million now, and I anticipate you getting a healthy return on this investment – if nothing untoward happens to any of us – in about twelve years!’

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In the event everything worked out, IFC funded the film and got distribution through Universal Pictures for an experimental work that would run to nearly three hours. Everyone stayed healthy and committed, and the end product worked, as we saw Mason go from cute child, through awkward tween, to slightly offbeat teenager. We saw his mother go through college, move to a new city (a couple of times), develop a career, start a relationship, and see that develop through attraction, to love, to alcohol dependence on her husband’s part, to violence, to refuge.

We see Mason Sr. go from irresponsible and absent, to engaged, fun, but immature, to finally developing into the man that would have made a wonderful husband and father all those years earlier. It is very much in-line with Linklater’s career interests in the passage of time, and how our development can sometimes be out of sync with someone we care about, meaning that at a different time we may have had a different result. As we see our cast age and change, we feel the sadness of opportunities lost, but joy and hope at life continuing to give them fresh opportunities, even if it represents a change from the lives they originally planned for themselves.

At the centre of this, Ellar is an observer. We are watching from his perspective, like Willard in Apocalypse Now – a still presence at the centre, often, of chaos. It really is a terrific piece of work, given that in the hands of a more pretentious director (Darren Aronofsky springs to mind), it could have been insufferably self-important, rather than the warm embrace it ends up being, Linklater understands relationships and, despite this being innovative, he is not trying to convince us of some genius innovation, this is simply the best way to present this story to us. He was also wise enough to film everything 35mm, so that there is consistency across the sections of the film (which all flow into one, with no fanfare that we are moving forward a year each time). The pitfalls of going on a journey with ever changing digital technology across the years should be obvious. As such, we get a good-looking film, with a decent DTS sound mix (though only English sound and subtitles, sadly).

Extras kick-off with ‘Without Ambition One Starts Nothing’, as film critic Dan Chiasson and his young adult son Louis discuss the film in a feature shot at their home last year. Louis has the perspective of the film being something he saw so young, so it is formative for him. Dan’s experience is with his whole career and the fact that Linklater gave to him the experience of film taking part in a single day, or take, so, he sees this filmmaker as being all about playing with time. He was also raised by a single parent, and so has a good deal of investment in Mason’s journey. Louis knows all the films, they discuss Dazed and Confused, and many other entries from the Linklater canon. There is a lot of warmth and respect here, though it outstays its welcome a little at 46 minutes.

‘In Search of Lost Time’ is a visual essay from film maker Scout Tafoya for Arrow Video and runs to a little under 24 minutes. Starting with a shot from the 2013 film Double Play, there is a focus on the role of trains in his films. It starts out rather  pretentious but gets better as its focus is on his whole career and is simply using trains as the framing device. There’s conversation about memory and how what we miss what is not there anymore. It is one man talking to himself, almost as an interview (we think). It is an interesting experiment and is very balanced on the film – critical but noting the achievement. It does a decent job of invoking nostalgia both for the films and our own lives and how they denote ageing. A strangely affecting, slightly messy feature. Oddly peaceful.

‘Before and After Boyhood’ is a two-part interview with Linklater by Rob Stone author of Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater. At around 24 minutes, it is split between 2009 and 2015. Both sections are audio only, and in 2009 he does not yet have a title for the film. It is Stone interviewing for the book. It is interesting on how in flux everything always is and how changeable plans are. The second half is May 2015 and for the book’s second edition. This is reflecting back. He always wanted to talk more about the film than he could without feeling he was tempting fate. More of the images playing over this section are from the movie’s press tour. He reflects on it being so low budget yet the scale making it feel epic. He is full of gratitude at this point.

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‘Richard Linklater at the BFI’ is a 2014 interview about this film and his career. At 52 minutes this is the strongest of the bonus features. It is a one-on-one stage-based interview. They do not introduce the female Australian interviewer, which is not great, but the interview is outstanding, if typical of this type. It is great to hear him talking about that passage of time as a career theme. In this film he feels accumulation of time with our characters and the passing of the years themselves cause attachment, such as would happen in our lives. He speaks well on his process of workshopping, and improvising, but not on camera. There are clips introduced, one from Before Sunrise, where Celine and Jesse discuss getting off the train together. Another from Waking Life. One from Bernie. He is great company, and very warm. We finish on South by Southwest and the Austin Film Society and forego the audience questions of the night. Finally, we get a theatrical trailer and an image gallery. The gallery a mixture of promotional and set photos, running to c. 55 photos.

This is a fine set, with the in-depth interview somewhat making up for the lack of a commentary. That commentary may have made this an outstanding offer. As it is this, this remains a unique piece of work, though Linklater (currently in his early-60s) is working on a film that will be released in his eighties, so it will not be singular forever. For anyone interested in how we change with time, how relationships develop, grow, and even die, then the work of Richard Linklater is one of the best canons through which to explore these matters and, just behind the Before Trilogy, Boyhood sits near its apex.

Boyhood is out on Blu-ray and 4K UHD on 27th March from Arrow Video.

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