1981-1990DramaRichard LinklaterUSA

Richard Linklater – It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988)

Synopsis (by David Gregory Lawson – filmcomment.com)
Richard Linklater’s first feature, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (88), is the travelogue of a young man, played by Linklater, riding the rails, hitching, and driving through the southwestern United States. The unnamed protagonist flounders about pleasantly in Austin, visits a friend in Missoula, and hoofs around San Francisco by his lonesome (chatting up strangers, though the conversations can’t be heard, covered by city noise, or waves crashing against rocks at a lighthouse by the bay). Then he returns to Austin, babysits his mother’s dog, and, finally, is given a cassette tape by Daniel Johnston, whom he does not know. During their spontaneous meeting Linklater reveals that the film’s title is written on one of the T-shirts he’s been wearing the whole time: “Old Russian proverb,” he says.Put another way: it’s impossible to learn to make films unless you just go and make some. A no-budget production shot on Super 8 entirely by Linklater, with the help of a friend recording sound, Learn to Plow is what the director, an autodidact and college dropout, has called his “graduate thesis.” Its loose story of a journey seems inspired by (and comes to close to sharing the philosophy of) Chantal Akerman’s Les Rendez-Vous d’Anna, with hints of Bernard Queysanne’s 1974 Georges Perec adaptation, Un homme qui dort. Linklater’s film has a similar feel for the sense of confinement in homes and public spaces alike, the driving boredom experienced at a street corner, or by an open window, as days pass with little to do.

But Linklater also celebrates the ease of rapport among friends, as well as the “why not?” of falling into new relationships, of circumstantial encounters with whoever, wherever.  It’s a hang-out movie that, depending on a viewer’s age and stomach for the poetry of wandering and the romanticism of youth, is either a very melancholy work or one invigorated by a decidedly American sense of freedom. It affirms the nature of a country born from restlessness and composed of landscapes that are themselves in flux, open to the interpretations of drifters in search of certainty, stability, meaning, and, from that meaning, a way to live.

Learn to Plow has two modes: the reassuring un-eventfulness of leisure time, and the steady stop-and-start of travel. A dozen or so near-characters dribble into and out of the film as Linklater moves from one place to the next. Little to nothing about their relationships, situations, or personal experiences is explained. The elliptical narrative sends these abstracted people through arrangements of starkly discrete spaces—a hallmark of Southwest sprawl—with only the suggestion of significant events happening off screen and with a general but shaky sense of how much time has passed between scenes (most of which are covered in a single shot). Linklater lets the locations drive his compositions, as with the stairwell that obscures Linklater’s wanderer as he parts with a recent fling, only his hands visible as he touches her shirt in farewell. He focuses attention on his character’s surroundings, and how they affect the placement of their bodies in relation to each other, downplaying their already subdued interactions and non-expressive reactions.

Learn to Plow has less dialogue than any given two minutes of a later Linklater film, but it already shows his confidence and precision in compressing a remarkable depth of social observation and feeling into gestures, body language, the gaps between what is said and what is withheld or can’t be articulated. In one such scene, while waiting for yet another train, Linklater sits next to a young woman smoking a cigarette outside the station. He glances at her, she glances at him, she offers him a drag, he declines, and after an awkward pause they briefly lock eyes. The next shot (which echoes the previous one) shows the young woman and Linklater sitting next to each other now inside the station; she’s asleep in a chair, he writes her a letter we never get to read and leaves it on her bags before walking away. It’s two minutes of on-screen time, total, but in this unexpected encounter, there’s a sense of the swirl of connections and possibilities untold buzzing around us at any given moment—the ineffable loveliness of being a person among people, and having the ability to be present beside them and nowhere, too.

Many of the film’s most compelling relationships are developed through variations from one shot to the next. Where characters stand or move in one shot may be mirrored by the movement in the shot that follows: during the Missoula chapter Linklater brushes his teeth at the top left of frame, the rocky hill beneath him sloping down toward the bottom right. The next shot shows Linklater and a friend crossing from left to right, dipping slightly downward in the middle before settling in the far right corner to observe a distant mountain range. Negative space and traversed areas are given equal consideration to the actions exhibited in those spaces. The slope of the hill in the first shot is echoed by the actors’ trajectory in the second and, combined together, the two shots unify and pronounce the expansiveness of these locations. The flow of the narrative therefore becomes clear in the compositions themselves. It’s a strong, early example of Linklater’s career-long use of structuring principles as the fulcrum of his aesthetic.

These rhyming or contrasting spatial arrangements in Learn to Plow have a conceptual, self-conscious, almost mathematical simplicity. But there’s always an implied acknowledgement of the malaise experienced by people living at a comfortable distance from conventional lifestyles. They’re mostly young men in the process of articulating their wants and needs to themselves—a normal stage of youth told with the weightiness and displeasure of those in the thick of living it.

It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books .mkv

Container:  	Matroska
Runtime: 	1h 26mn
Size: 	2.58 GiB
Codec: 	x264
Resolution: 	956x720 
Aspect ratio:  	4:3
Frame rate: 	23.976 fps
Bit rate: 	3 900 Kbps
BPP: 	0.236
#1:  	English AC-3 @ 192 Kbps
#2:  	English AC-3 @ 192 Kbps (Commentary)



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button