The Holy Moment: Richard Linklater on Cinematic Time

SENIOR CAPSTONE PROJECT (Paper on the video essay)

Watch The Holy Moment


The concept of cinematic time has been profoundly analyzed and explored by American director Richard Linklater in his entire body of production. The goal of my research is to find the meaning of cinematic time in the experimental cinema of Linklater; ultimately, I aim at understanding how Linklater distinguishes himself as auteur thanks to his peculiar way of making movies. Technical and narrative techniques such as long takes and plot temporality are studied within the realm of the director’s experimental cinema in order to explore Linklater’s notion of ‘the holy moment’, the concept on which the auteur’s body of production is based.

Keywords: Richard Linklater, cinema, time, cinematic time, experimental cinema

My video-essay investigates the notion of cinematic time in Richard Linklater’s films that I analyzed both formally and narratively. I aimed at making my video-essay mimic the aesthetics of Linklater’s films so to express my argument through the same formal aspects proper of my research sample, which consists of Slacker (Linklater, 1991), Dazed and Confused (Linklater, 1993), Before Sunrise (Linklater, 1995), Before Sunset (Linklater, 2004), Before Midnight (Linklater, 2013), Waking Life (Linklater, 2001), and Boyhood (Linklater, 2014). I selected seven films from the body of production of Linklater for the sake of research narrowness and focus; my sample includes the seven movies which I considered to be the most relevant to the subject of my research, that is the concept of cinematic time applied to Richard Linklater’s cinema. Auteur cinema theory, and specifically André Bazin’s studies on auteurism (Bazin, 1957) represent my research foundations even though I did not explicitly address them, as in first place my argument took for granted the notion of the director as an ‘auteur’ who expresses his personal ideas and visions through the artistic medium of the film. My video-essay approaches the question of cinematic time by analyzing elements reoccurring through the seven movies which, altogether, seem to belong to a bigger film, like the moments in one’s life that altogether make up life itself. In this sense, I argued Linklater’s cinema is a cinema about ordinary life, more than a cinema based on the hero’s journey, the mainstream narrative structure working on turning points and resolution; on the other hand, Linklater’s films are based on the happenings between the beginning and the destination of the journey, where the ‘holy moments’ take place, and which, put together, ultimately shape the lifetime of the individual, the couple, or the boy to whom we relate and see growing up in Boyhood. I edited clips and soundtracks to express my argument along with the voiceover which clarifies furtherly my research questions, analysis, and findings.

Theoretical Framework and Literature Review

Based on André Bazin’s studies (1985), my theoretical framework is the film auteur theory; in fact, my research took the notion of film director as the bases to see in Linklater the figure of the auteur, an artist who conveys his personal ideas, beliefs, and perceptions through his films, as tools of artistic expression. Also, I referred to the theoretical analyses on the relation between cinema and time provided by French philosopher Bernard Stiegler (1994) in his book Technics and Time, 3: Cinematic Time and the Question of Malaise major framework for my research.

To acquire a wide view on the literature about cinematic time and Richard Linklater’s movies, I investigated both academic fields. Carruthers defines cinematic time as a concept that “can be conceived as a dynamic exchange between film and viewer” (Carruthers, 1 March 2011). While considering recent works on cinema and time written by Philip Rosen, Mary Ann Doane, and Laura Mulvey, Carruthers points out how in fact the earliest work of André Bazin is still valid in the analysis of cinematic time as a notion of filmic ambiguity aimed at highlighting the questions of viewer’s temporal experience and interpretive possibilities (Carruthers, 1 March 2011). Carruthers reclaims timeliness of cinematic time as a concept about the viewers’ experience of filmic temporality which, in turn, gets meaningful and pleasant through the audience’s active interpretive process (Carruthers, 1 March 2001). Although she reviews, interprets, and comments past literature on cinematic time, Carruthers lacks a fresh contextualization of her arguments in recent cinema. Indeed, by supporting Bazin’s concepts of cinema and discarding more contemporary approaches, she unavoidably ends up mentioning only great directors of the past (Rossellini, Welles, Tati, Renoir, and Wyler), dealing with them in academic and artistic terms, without though considering the newest generation of directors, such as Richard Linklater, who, although in such different ways, is constantly dealing with cinematic time as much as all those great masters. However, it is interesting to emphasize the very analysis Carruthers offers about the viewer’s experience of cinematic time and apply that to Richard Linklater’s movies as well, so to retrieve not only Linklater’s view on cinematic time, but also that conveyed for the viewers’ perception.

A deeper analysis on the concept of cinematic time is provided in the first chapter of Technics and Time, 3: Cinematic Time and the Question of Malaise by Bernard Stiegler (Stiegler, 1994). Starting with a philosophical approach towards the practice of cinema and television narrative in the realm of 21st century’s audience’s boredom and reception, the author then deals with the two fundamental principles of cinema as a both photographic and phonographic medium; those two aspects serve cinema in temporal terms (Stiegler, 1994). Temporality, indeed, is the peculiar characteristic that shapes cinema itself: the very principle of cinema is to connect disparate elements together into a single temporal flux (Stiegler, 1994). The author deals with a variety of time-related concepts including the notion of cinematic now, before, after, past, memory and forgetting, and further ideas which allow for a deeper understanding and analysis of the time in Linklater’s movies. Other than only a general review of the literature on cinematic time, it is also important to consider what has been said specifically about Linklater’s cinema. In this regard, the introductory chapter of Rob Stone’s book The Cinema of Richard Linklater directly addresses the “importance of time, talk, and the spaces in between that convey thought and communicate experience” (Stone, 2013). The author analyzes and exemplifies the attitude of Linklater of making a cinema about the unique instants occurring between the beginning and the destination of a journey, the mundane dialogues of ordinary people, more than a cinema about the running to an ending point with a resolution (Stone, 2013). Interestingly, Stone focuses on the cinematic technical traits of Linklater’s movies, such as the long takes, camera movements, peculiar dialogues and characters; this way, the author links the technical aspects of the movies to the general meanings that one would get from the overall body of production of the director and his almost obsessive will to deal with time in any possible cinematic way (Stone, 2013). Similarly to Rob Stone, Mary Harrod, in her article about Linklater’s use of pastiche, searches for meanings out of the pure visual aspects of the movies, which seem to all take inspiration from pre-existent movies (Harrod, Spring 2010). Harrod states Linklater’s will to make movies able to make the viewers have a sensorial experience which they will carry with them forever during their life (Harrod, Spring 2010). Since his movies are about a familiar and ordinary world, Linklater enables the viewers to re-experience scenes of their own life in the form of memories because the movies themselves are but a pastiche of previous cinematic and life experiences retrieved and reformulated (Harrod, Spring 2010). Harrod goes back and forth talking about the theme of the experience, both as central concept around which Linklater’s movies work, and as a gift Linklater offers to his audience (Harrod, Spring 2010). The relationship Linklater builds with his audience through the peculiar management of cinematic time reached with the help of technical and narrative tools makes him a sophisticated director; yet, he borrows a lot from mainstream Hollywood cinema, which is, in fact, the field where he began his career. In this regard, the article by Lesley Speed closely examines the relationship between Richard Linklater’s cinema and Hollywood (Speed, 2007). As she points out, Linklater’s movies aim at entertaining and amusing the audience as much as Hollywood does, but his movies result to be more mentally stimulating productions which create a utopian search for alternatives to consumer benefits (Speed, 2007). As Linklater did produce mainstream movies too, Speed analyzes the syncretism lying at the basis of the director’s movies’ narratives and technical cues, as an existentialist aspect and utopian struggle typical of movies such as Dazed and Confused (Linklater, 1993) and Before Sunrise (Linklater, 1995). The author, moreover, notices the feature of fracturing time which fives importance to the individual’s experience of the instant as the basic element of the structure of the majority of movies by Linklater, or at least those less mainstream than The School of Rock (Speed, 2007). While both relating the director to and detaching him from Hollywood, Speed largely also gives an overview on the body of production of Linklater; she analyzed the more concrete and visual aspects of the movies in relation to the narrative features, as well as the deepest thoughts and intellectual conversations the characters bring about and ultimately shape the more interesting and challenging philosophical side of the movies (Speed, 2007).

Overview of the Final Project

My video-essay consists in an attentive arrangement of scenes and dialogues from the seven movies I picked from Linklater’s filmography, in order to make sense of the body of production as a whole in relation to the concept of cinematic time used and interpreted by the director. Indeed, I analyzed the movies from a formal point of view, showing how they all have in common the same visual elements, i.e. same kinds of long takes and medium shots, same scenarios of people’s ordinary life, and same mis-en-scène, which, altogether make the movies look like belonging to one big cinematic production. This way, I argued how every scene of every movie becomes a further piece to add to the greater ‘jigsaw’ puzzle of Linklater’s body of production, comparable to the moments of one’s lifetime. Also, I pointed out, both through the voiceover and visuals, how Linklater tends to work with the same actors in different movies, and in so doing, not only does he give his films a sense of continuity, but he also shows actors getting old. Thanks to his technical visual choices, Linklater relates to his audience for his movies being about ordinary people living in the real world. Also, for the movies narratives taking place almost in real time, I stated how we, as spectators, relate even more to the characters, with whom we live the so called ‘holy moments’, the special instants of ordinary life where the very act of sharing an idea or having a conversation becomes an epiphany. To make my video-essay mimic the aesthetics of the movies I analyzed, I generally used a slow narration along with an extremely soft and inspiring background music, that one I picked to remind my audience of the concept of time in cinema. Also, I went back and forth using almost the same clips (or at least very similar to one the other) so to visually point out how all Linklater’s films actually portray the same scenarios over and over, letting the spectators wonder they have already watched or even lived a particular scene. I approached my research from a technical and narrative perspective without though getting rid of the more philosophical realm in which the concepts of time and cinematic time have always been discussed the most. For this reason, I decided to start off my video essay with a quote by German philosopher Martin Heidegger from Being and Time (Heidegger, 1927) which I accompanied with a dramatic music as well, taken from the initial soundtrack of Before Sunrise (Linklater, 1995).

All the technical choices I made to edit my video-essay come from the general attitude I adopted of mimicking as much as possible the visual aspects of Linklater’s movies, including the fades and the focus on long takes and medium shots. I did not find particular technical issues while editing; in first place though, it was quite challenging to find the movies in high resolution. Sometimes I found myself in troubles when trying to match the voiceover and the visuals, especially when I dealt with more abstract concepts, such as the relation between spectators and cinematic experience of time. Overall, I reached my research goals and answered my questions on the relation between Linklater’s movies and cinematic time, by also providing my audience with a clear overview of my findings through the very technical traits of my editing structure as well. The potential audience for my video essay would be anyone with a passion for cinema and, of course, for Linklater’s movies; however, I made my video essay simple enough even to address a wider audience which not necessarily knows of cinema in technical terms.


The Holy Moment: Richard Linklater on Cinematic Time highlights the crucial points of Richard Linklater’s movies in the realm of cinematic time. I finally found the deep philosophical concept of ‘the holy moment’, brought about explicitly in Waking Life (Linklater, 2001), as the key to understand how the director deals with time in his experimental cinema, which reveals, in fact, the director’s sensibility to the ordinary life experiences and ordinary people’s thoughts, memories, and dreams. I also took advantage of the auteur theory and demonstrated it, for Linklater’s movies all outline the personal visions of the director, both about life and cinema itself, and both from the technical and narrative perspectives. To conclude, I retrieved the perfect quote by kogonada from his video essay Linklater on Cinema and Time (kogonada, 2013): if cinema is the art of time, Linklater is one of its most thoughtful and engaged directors. Linklater’s distinction is found in the DNA of his films, as ongoing conversations with cinema, which is to say, with time itself (kogonada, 2013).


Bazin, A. (April 1957). De la politique des auteurs. Cahiers du Cinema, 70. Paris: Phaidon Press.

Carruthers, L. (1 March 2011). M. Bazin et le temps: Reclaiming the timeliness of cinematic time. Screen, 52(1), 13-29. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from doi:10.1093/screen/hjq053

Harrod, M. (Spring 2010). The aesthetics of pastiche in the work of Richard Linklater. Screen, 51(1), 21-37. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from doi:10.1093/screen/hjp046

Heidegger, M. (1927). Being and Time. Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag Tübingen.

kogonada (2013). Linklater on Cinema and Time. USA: Sight & Sound & Criterion Collection.

Linklater, R. (5 July 1991). Slacker. USA: Detour Filmproduction.

Linklater, R. (24 September 1993). Dazed and Confused. USA: Detour Filmproduction.

Linklater, R. (24 January 1995). Before Sunrise. USA: Castle Rock Entertainment & Detour Filmproduction.

Linklater, R. (23 January 2001). Waking Life. USA: Independent Film Channel & Detour Filmproduction.

Linklater, R. (3 April 2004). Before Sunset. USA: Castle Rock Entertainment & Detour Filmproduction.

Linklater, R. (20 January 2013). Before Midnight. USA: Castle Rock Entertainment & Detour Filmproduction.

Linklater, R. (2014). Boyhood. USA: Independent Film Channel & Detour Filmproduction.

Speed, L. (2007). The possibilities of roads not taken: Intellect and utopia in the films of Richard Linklater. Journal of Popular Film & Television, 35(3), 98-106. Retrieved from

Stiegler, B (1994). Cinematic time. In Technics and time, 3: Cinematic time and the question of malaise. ed. Barker, S (2011). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. Retrieved from

Stone, R. (2013). Introduction: walk, don’t run: the cinema of Richard Linklater. In The cinema of Richard Linklater (pp. 1-6). New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved from

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