The relationship between movies and time is integral to the medium’s essence: film itself is a succession of still images moving so quickly that we feel they are existing in front of us like our experience of the world and of time itself. In fact, the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky used the description of “Sculpting in Time” to distill the nature of what filmmaking was to him.
This month, Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking movie Boyhood, starring Ellar Coltrane, is released in theaters. In this film, director Linklater has taken a bold approach in the depiction of a boy growing to manhood: He recorded the feature over a number of years as Ellar Coltrane ages from 6 to 18 over the course of the story. There have been movies that deal in a variety of ways with aging characters, such as the Up documentary series by director Michael Apted, or fiction series such as François Truffaut’s Antoine Doisnel movies or Linklater’s own Before… movies with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, but none have adapted as determined, lengthy, and particular approach to periodically filming the development of a young person and crafting it into a fictional world.
This article in the New York Times features a slide show titled “12 Years a Boy” in which one can view the physical transformations of actor Ellar Coltrane over the years during which this movie was made. This article and topics discussed in Moving Images related to time and the relationships of reality to fiction in chapters 5 and 6 can be useful starting points in examining this movie. Boyhood‘s content, moviemaking techniques, and media literacy-related discussion points can be a natural topical fit for students who are at the edge of adulthood, like the main character of Boyhood at the end of the movie (while it is important to note that this movie is rated R for language and teen alcohol and drug use).
As a final point, I find particular delight in one detail to this story: one of the links between father and son in the movie Boyhood concerns the ties that can be shared through music and time, and this manifests itself in the compilation of a Black Album of the Beatles (related to their “White Album” of 1968, actually titled simply The Beatles) made up of songs from after the group’s breakup and created by the father of the movie for his son (Ethan Hawke plays the father to Ellar Coltrane’s Mason). The father writes, “Mason, I wanted to give you something for your birthday that money couldn’t buy, something that only a father could give a son, like a family heirloom. This is the best I could do. Apologies in advance. I present to you: THE BEATLES’ BLACK ALBUM.” Linklater and Hawke shared the 3-CD track list that they came up with (and which had originated as a real gift from Hawke to his oldest daughter). Since every time my family and I get in the car my kids ask to put a Beatles CD on (and I can’t believe that I’m the one saying “could we try something else for a change”), I think it’s time that I made up our own family version of The Black Album, and I think I’ll have to make it a 4-CD package.