After years of analyzing camera angles and editing technique as a respected contributor to Sight & Sound and Cinema Scope and as a cinema studies professor, Gabe Klinger reached a point while shooting his directorial debut, a documentary about the friendship between filmmakers James Benning and Richard Linklater, where all that knowledge might not matter.
“There’s this one lunch scene where they’re just sitting down at Rick’s ranch in Bastrop,” Klinger recalls. “We had two cameras on them and [the conversation] went on for about an hour and ten minutes. It was completely absorbing and engaging and I remember at a certain point thinking, wow, this one shot could be my entire movie.”
Alas, there won’t be any Benning-esque unbroken scene in the final cut of “Cinéma, de notre temps: James Benning & Richard Linklater,” even after the experimental filmmaker suggested the film be comprised of that lunch and bookend shots of he and Linklater playing baseball, another shared passion of the two. But while most cinephiles are currently anticipating one romantic Richard Linklater film which involves two people engaged in deep conversation, it’s the one currently raising funds on Kickstarter that they’re bound to fall hard for.
Taking its name from the French television series that documented the zeitgeist of film culture and even employing one of its co-creators as a producer (André S. Labarthe), Klinger’s feature profiles the two uniquely American auteurs who first became friends when Linklater started up the Austin Film Society and invited the experimental filmmaker Benning to be their first guest of honor during the 1980s. Just as Linklater extended an invitation to Benning nearly 30 years ago, Klinger did the same earlier this year, hoping to make a film not only about two artists he admired, but also about “what American cinema could be, out of time and out of the commercial imperative” where he feels both men may not have received their proper due.
“There was a moment where we were on a break on location and I was with my crew and we were talking about ‘Dazed & Confused’ and everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s a really cool movie,’ says Klinger. “We all kind of grew up on it and I said, no, no, that movie’s a masterpiece. And everybody was kind of…oh, yes? Really?”
Ironically, Klinger says the film is driven in large part by Benning’s belief that Linklater hasn’t yet made his defining work just yet, often insisting “I don’t think Rick has made his masterpiece yet. I think he still has his masterpiece inside of him and I want to challenge him to make that masterpiece.” That masterpiece could very well be “Boyhood,” the film Linklater has worked on for the past 12 years with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, which Klinger and crew were invited into the edit bay to observe as Benning and Linklater talked shop in between trips up to Mount Bonnell in Austin where the final shot of “Slacker” was filmed and out to the baseball diamond on Linklater’s ranch.
Although Klinger has amassed an incredible collection of footage from his time with the two college ballplayers-turned-filmmakers, captured by no less a cinematographer than “A Single Man” DP Eduard Grau, the film has run into considerable post-production costs such as sound mixing and color correction that require immediate attention, especially since the film is aiming for a debut on the fall festival circuit. Yet after being skeptical about so many things before getting behind the camera for the first time, Klinger has witnessed firsthand the kind of alchemy that his subjects have experienced on their films and believes it’ll radiate off the screen.
“I just struck while the iron was hot and hoped for the best and everything came out beautifully,” says Klinger. “The weather could’ve been bad, we could’ve had people from our crew drop out of the project, and when you hear people talking about movie magic, you don’t really believe in it because you have so much on the line – money and resources and people — and you realize, oh shit, is this going to work? You’re so nervous and then you get your first good shot and then you get your second good shot, then your third and your fourth and you realize we already have a movie.”
From the sound of it, it’s quite an incredible one. Now, he only needs a little help from the crowd before a June 8th deadline to bring it to audiences everywhere.