A Gen-X touchstone comes to Brattleboro

Epsilon Spires to screen 'Slacker'; Putney resident reflects on his role in the film

BRATTLEBORO — Epsilon Spires, the downtown Brattleboro arts organization housed in a repurposed Baptist church, is screening the 1991 film, Slacker, directed by Richard Linklater, on Friday, July 21, as part of its summertime Backlot Cinema series.

Slacker, set and filmed in Austin, Texas, in the late 1980s, has no plot, no narrative arc, no antagonist-protagonist tension, no main character, definitely no hero, and there is no feel-good ending. Instead, the camera roams through the neighborhood, connecting character to character, most of whom have marginal jobs, no money, no spouses or children, and no place in the yuppie hustle.

One memorable character - played by the late Teresa Taylor (also known as Teresa Nervosa), who was also one of the drummers of the Austin band, Butthole Surfers - does have a hustle: she was trying to sell Madonna's pap smear.

Although they existed on the margins, what the characters in Slacker did have is each other: a community of creative weirdos living in cheap apartments, spontaneously meeting up in cafes and on the street, forming bands, and trading conspiracy theories to try to make sense of a confusing, alienating, dog-eat-dog world that offered them no satisfying future.

Putney resident Keith Fletcher worked on the film running errands and making food, and on three of Linklater's subsequent films as costume designer, location scout, and associate producer. "There was no costuming on Slacker," explained Fletcher's wife, Melanie. "It was 'come as you are.'"

Keith Fletcher also played a very brief, non-speaking role as "Card Player #1," in the cafe scene where one of the characters tells his friend that Smurfs are part of a conspiracy to get children accustomed to "blue people."

In Fletcher's scene, Bruce Hughes of the bands Poi Dog Pondering and The Resentments played the "card-playing waiter." "He was our waiter, and he actually had a hand going in the card game," said Fletcher. Eric Buehlman, part of Poi Dog's road crew, was "Card Player #2."

"Most people working on the movie were in the movie. That's the culture of a low-budget movie," said Fletcher. Melanie, whom Fletcher met after Slacker, but before the couple began working on Linklater's next film, Dazed and Confused, explained her husband's appeal: "Keith had a great look at the time. He looked like a slacker."

Fletcher described the scene in Austin, which, while technically a city, had a small-town feel in the neighborhood where and when Slacker took place.

"Les Amis was the cafe where the card-playing scene took place," he said. "It was on 24th and Nueces. That cafe was unlike any other I'd ever been to. It was outdoors, there was no A/C, there was music, and art being made at the tables."

He explained that Les Amis was in an area technically on the University of Texas campus, but it was not really a part of college life. "The cafe was near a record store, the bike shop... Anyone who was there in Austin in the 1970s, '80s, or '90s..." Fletcher then paused into a long sigh filled with sadness and loss, before he resumed speaking, lamenting the commercialization and homogenization of Austin as a whole, and especially in that neighborhood.

As is often the case with cultural-watershed artifacts, when Slacker was released, it was not a box-office smash. The critics loved it, though, and it became a cult classic, inspiring other filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, who credits Slacker with inspiring his 1994 movie, Clerks. In addition, Slacker was seen as a major benchmark in the development of the ethos of Generation X: the 90s kids who were born between the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations.

While for some, it seemed like Slacker was inventing a genre - a movie about nothing, featuring characters who seemed to care little about working for wages and a lot about hanging out - the film exists on a continuum of collective, anti-capitalist movements and creative projects.

One could start with the Diggers and Levellers of the mid-1600s, reacting against taking agricultural lands out of common-use for the profit of a few. In the late 19th-Century: the Oneida free love Community, the Paris Commune, the Situationist International movement, and the flâneurs and flâneuses who strolled through cities and towns with no destination or intention other than to interact with the people they meet.

In the 20th century, think of the 1960s hippies in rural communes. Or 1970s freaks, such as The Cockettes, living in San Francisco communes. The Black Panthers' free breakfast program. The films of Jim Jarmusch, which sometimes have no plot and follow disparate characters from one mini-story to the next. The Seinfeld television episodes "about nothing."

Slacker follows Keith Fletcher's continuum, too, all the way from Austin to Putney. "I get a check for $9 every once in a while in residuals," he said. "For playing cards."

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