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‘Slacker’ Austin, Then and Now

Richard Linklater’s Slacker, a freewheeling, low-budget indie film that follows a cadre of unnamed dropouts and misfits through 1989 Austin, is an important film. Not only did it launch Linklater’s career, it cemented the idea that Austin is a mecca for the weird.

From the couple giving a panhandler a Diet Coke in front of the iconic “Hi, How Are You” mural on Guadalupe and 21st Street to the old anarchist and would-be robber discussing Nietzsche and Charles Whitman under the UT Tower, the film’s scenes and vignettes are a time capsule of Austin esoterica.

Brendan Gaughen, American Studies graduate student and contributor to the blog The End of Austindetails these changes in a shot-for-shot follow-up on the film’s locations, providing an incredible look at how the city has changed and still remains the same.

“Downtown is nearly unrecognizable today from how it was in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Gaughen says, “but Austin is a very self-aware city. It has an image of itself—the ‘keep Austin weird’ idea—that it tries to maintain even as it grows larger.”

The shot locations themselves were a bit of a challenge, as well. According to Gaughen, many locations in the film were easily identifiable, but others were harder to find.

“While I was watching [Slacker], I recognized some locations and thought, ‘Oh, I know where those are, I could photograph them in a day.’ Some of the shots I couldn’t find, though, or I couldn’t get a good photo of, so it isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good comparison.”

Below are are some of Gaughen’s photos, showing a still from the film next to a shot of the location today. The End of Austin is a self-described “digital humanities project” from the UT American Studies department that observes and comments on Austin’s shifting urban identity.

In  his post, Gaughen points out that Slacker was one of only a handful of films that had been shot in Austin in at that time. Even though the city would later be the backdrop of so many popular films—Dazed and Confused and Office Space among them—the movie is a rare glimpse at the way things used to be.

24th Street and Guadalupe

Second Street and Guadalupe

21st Street and Guadalupe

21st Street and Guadalupe

MLK and University Avenue

MLK and University Avenue

I-35 and 13th Street

I-35 and 13th Street

Mt. Bonnell

Mt. Bonnell

All film stills copyright 1990 Detour Productions, Inc. Photos courtesy of Brendan Gaughan.

 

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