Appearing atop more best of the year lists (including the president of the United States) than any other film, 2014 really was the year of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.
Given that its twelve year making-of process was more extraordinary than the purposely ordinary life unfolding on screen, and that awareness and contemplation of that process are natural extensions of our deeper emotional involvement while watching the finished film, this beautiful coffee table book of over two hundred impromptu portrait booth shots and behind the scenes stills taken by photographer Matt Lankes, is an essential and transcendent document of a landmark achievement in narrative filmmaking.
If Linklater’s latest is essentially about all of us and the everyday experiences we all go through, then somehow the book feels even more personal than the film itself—not a collage of selective memories specifically invented by its creators, but a poignantly captured series of real life moments suspended in time. In much of the writing about Boyhood, critics can’t help but project themselves onto the film, which is testament to its unassuming, yet ever observant-power. But it’s through the lens of a 3×5 camera that Lankes’ intimate and honest portraits (shot in pores n’ all black and white), reveal just how much the film means to the key creatives—undoubtedly more affected by it than any audience member.
Just as revealing are their accompanying personal recollections, written just months after the shoot warped, in which they’re still clearly struggling to wrap their heads around a closed chapter they never wanted to end. There’s a collective melancholy for all involved, an acknowledgement that they grew with the film and now the film will grow apart from them in the future. Patricia Arquette’s dedication of the Mom character to her own mother is one of the mostly eloquently expressed and moving tributes you’ll read all year, and for fans still waiting on Ethan Hawke’s third novel, his own tribute to his director’s effortless, yet meticulous brilliance has something of the Tolstoy novel the two of them first envisioned putting on film.
Like many other critics, I’m not exempt from seeing myself in Boyhood, but away from the casual flow of narrative, these portraits cause an even more conscious form of reflection, acting like a mirror in which you might see your own face reflected as you flick through the pages of a person’s face aging year one to twelve.
Long before that twelve year span, I came of age with Linklater’s films, and as for their protagonists, these narratives have served as markers in time of my own physical and emotional space, even fortifying the fabric of some of my most important friendships. Actors like Ethan Hawke feel like friends, who through countless re-watches, have attached themselves to the narrative of my life in a significant way. So it makes a strange sort of sense that looking across a two-page spread of Hawke going from a young and confused guy driving a GTO to a humbled man in a tatty suit driving a mini-van would make me feel old. We grew up together. There’s a tinge of undeniable nostalgia, not unlike looking at old family photos—though we can only wish our own family photos distilled the fog of time with such sharp-sighted, artful resonance.
Family is very much the operative word for what is as much a photo album as it is a book, its concluding pages dedicated to the supporting cast and crew who formed such an unwaveringly dedicated unit, and to whose efforts we’re all indebted for making a film that feels so much like life itself.
At almost three hours long, Boyhood might not have the re-watch value of other Linklater films, but Matt Lankes’ arresting enlargements make it easy for us to visit Mason, Samantha, Mom and Dad any time we want.
First published by Vérité Film Magazine on December 30, 2014