Richard Linklater, cofounder and creative director of the Austin Film Society, will be at the AFS Cinema tonight to introduce a film he first decided to make back in 2012. Framed by a boy’s fantasy of being plucked off the kickball field by NASA to test drive a miniature version of the Apollo 11 lunar module, Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood is Linklater’s “free-flowing account of a big, rambunctious Houston family in the summer of 1969,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney. Linklater’s twenty-first feature views “frequent themes of time and memory through inarguably his most personal lens. For anyone in a similar age range to the director, the nonstop ping of pop-cultural references from the period will make this an especially sweet time capsule.” Following last week’s premiere at SXSW,Apollo 10½ will begin streaming on Netflix on April 1.
Jack Black narrates as Stanley, who looks back fifty years to his ten-year-old self, played by Milo Coy, who’s on the cover of this week’s Austin Chronicle. Inside, Richard Whittaker talks with Linklater about his decision to make Apollo 10½ an animated rather than live-action feature. First, recreating the Houston of 1969 on sets and soundstages would have cost $100 million, “and no one was going to give me $100 million to make this film,” says Linklater. But Apollo 10½ is also “such a weird fantasy-reality mash-up that the literalness of live action I don’t think helps it. It engages your rational brain, where you’d go, ‘Wait, are they saying this is real?’ Whereas this, it pulls you into a dream state, memory state in the construct part of your brain.”
Whittaker also talks with producers Mike Blizzard and Tommy Pallotta, who headed up the animation teams on Linklater’s Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006). Pallotta is also an executive producer on Undone, an animated series utilizing a blend of rotoscoping, 2D, and CG that Linklater realized would be ideal for animating and then incorporating clips from live coverage of the real moon landing, news footage from Vietnam, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). “Linklater’s idea was of a particular time, a specific moment, down to having the right commercials running during the right TV shows at historic moments,” notes Whittaker.
At the Playlist, Jason Bailey calls Apollo 10½ “a shambling hangout memory play, along the lines of Licorice Pizza,Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and, of course, [Linklater’s] own Dazed and Confused.” Paste’s Aurora Amidon finds that Sandra Adair’s editing “masterfully mimics the sensation of childhood memory; even the most random of details—watching Janis Joplin chain smoke on the Dick Cavett show, a particular roller coaster at AstroWorld—fit together like puzzle pieces. Everything feels equally important and even the scary stuff, like the imminent threat of chemical warfare, is painted in a sanguine varnish.”
For all its “whimsical, nostalgic details,” Apollo 10½ also reminds us, as John Fink points out at the Film Stage, “just how dangerous childhood can be between abusive coaches, parents that thought nothing of allowing the kids to ride in the back of a pick-up truck at seventy miles an hour, and playing with explosives.” At IndieWire, David Ehrlich observes that “Black’s narration, Stanley’s eventual trip to the moon, and the dreamlike animation that illustrates it in the same vivid style as real life are unified by an idea that Linklater has carried with him since he first picked up a movie camera: To remember the past is to reimagine it as well.”
AFS Cinema will screen Apollo 10½ through March 31, and Linklater will take part in a Q&A after Sunday’s show. In the meantime, not only is he spending the next two decades working on an adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim and George Furth musical Merrily We Roll Along, he also tells the Hollywood Reporter’s Mia Galuppo that he’s planning to shoot his next feature—possibly in just a few weeks’ time—in Houston. Set in the present, it’s “a very contemporary piece that leans true crime,” he says.
For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.