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Richard Linklater suggests a list of books all filmmakers should read

Richard Linklater has never compromised on his artistic vision. From the heady nostalgia of Dazed and Confused to the experimental Boyhood, which grapples with the concept of time, he remains devoted to his realising his vision and will go to any length to make it happen. He pours his heart and soul into his kino, and this has given it a tangible essence and a universal appeal, regardless of how genre or time-specific each opus might be. 

For anyone wanting a real taste of his vision, the Before Trilogy is a must-watch and gives you a heady dose of the Romanticism and introspection that make up a significant chunk of his intent. Linklater has given us numerous classics over the years and will continue to be hailed as one of the best auteurs cinema has seen in recent times

In an interview, Linklater reflected: “The big difference is that back then, when I had a hit indie film, all the studios asked me ‘what do you want to do next?’ Now they wouldn’t. You have a hit at Sundance and they have a $200 million dollar film for you. They don’t want to make your film. That’s not their business. I didn’t make one of their films until way later. School of Rock was a movie the industry brought to me, and I saw something in it and risked that failure”.

This comment reflects the sentiment that drives Linklater’s work. He’s true to himself and is acutely self-aware, something that many other contemporary filmmakers could do with heeding, particularly in the age in which arthouse cinema is the supremacy, and studios such as A24 are all the rage when, in actuality, a lot is art for art’s sake.

Given that Linklater is such an unwavering force for good in the world of cinema, his fans have long wanted to get to know him better. Well, luckily for us, during a 2016 Q&A for the Toronto Internation Film Festival, Linklater was asked to name his favourite books on the craft of filmmaking, and he did. Mentioning some of the most influential auteurs of all time, Linklater offered fans an insight into his craft and where he finds inspiration.

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He said: “I think the three best books about cinema by filmmakers are Sculpting in Time by Andrei Tarkovsky, Notes on Cinematography by Robert Bresson and then, in a way, I would say Bergman wrote a couple of memoirs that are great but I read, not that long ago, Elia Kazan’s A Life… You could teach a year-long class on not only their films but everything they talk about and their ideas about cinema and what it is. Very different, all three, but very personal. Especially Tarkovsky and Bresson, very much like their films themselves.”

Of the 1984 work, Sculpting in Time by Andrei Tarkovsky, Linklater had some very kind words: “Flowing, poetic, lengthy, very beautiful, just about life and art and poetry and cinema.” It makes sense, as these are adjectives that can be used to describe Linklater’s own works. 

Showing that he takes his cues from the best, Linklater also had a lot to say about the ascetic master, Robert Bresson, and Notes on Cinematography. Bresson was once described by Jean-Luc Goddard, “He is the French cinema, as Dostoevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is German music.” This intellectual reverence was echoed by Linklater, who said of the book, “Very elliptical, aphoristic, just observations about what cinema can do.”

Linklater saved the best praise for 1988’s Elia Kazan: A Life, by celebrated director Elia Kazan. The monumental memoir traced Elia Kazan’s meandering life and career and discussed his working relationships with a host of iconic collaborators, including Tennessee Williams, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, James Dean and John Steinbeck. In addition to this, Kazan forensically explains his style, touching on position, movement, pace, rhythm and his own limitations. Linklater said: “I wish I would have read it 20 years before I did, I would have been a better director.” 

A stellar list and a must-have for any aspiring filmmaker, these works by some of the all-time greats are essential, and their pages are scattered with sage wisdom. We just hope that Linklater will write his own book on filmmaking one day, as it would be wonderful.

Richard Linklater’s filmmaking book suggestison:

  • Sculpting in Time by Andrei Tarkovsky
  • Notes on Cinematography by Robert Bresson
  • Elia Kazan: A Life by Elia Kazan

Watch Richard Linklater speak at the Toronto Q&A below.