Behind the scenes of Boyhood

At the New York première with Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Richard Linklater and Joel Grey.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Patricia Arquette with Ethan Hawke and Ellar Coltrane:
Patricia Arquette with Ethan Hawke and Ellar Coltrane: "you lose contact with those people and then you can never find them again." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Richard Linklater's 12-years-in the making opus Boyhood had a New York première at the Museum of Modern Art with its stars Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter, attending. Boyhood producers Cathleen Sutherland, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss, filmmakers Alex Gibney, Joe Berlinger with current and former New York Film Festival Directors of Programming and Selection Committee Chairs Kent Jones and Richard Peña celebrated the IFC Films release. Joel Grey, although not in the film, shared with me a very early boyhood memory. I brought up to Linklater, Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom as filmic references and the director was surprised and amused.

Ethan Hawke with Lorelei Linklater:
Ethan Hawke with Lorelei Linklater: "You always start to remember the picture more than you remember the event." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

No short-term torturing with long-term effect in this case as in Peeping Tom. Marco Perella plays, one could argue, Boyhood's primary villain, Professor Bill Welbrock, Mason's frightening alcoholic stepfather. In one of the most telling lines of the film, teenage Mason (Ellar Coltrane) answers a girl's question about what his mother (Patricia Arquette) was teaching. "Psychology, I think", he says. Growing up in this family, it doesn't seem a good idea for the children to admit they know what is going on. In another instance, his college aged sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) says her boyfriend studies "History? And Italian?" with questioning inflection, as though she wasn't certain. How do you put the dawn of disenchantment in one sentence? Mason wonders if there really is no magic in this world. He needs his father (Ethan Hawke) to tell him the truth: "Right this second, there's like no elves in the world?"

We watch the passing of time. A boy becomes a man. A mother becomes her own woman.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Would you say Boyhood is a film about memory?

Ethan Hawke: It's not about memory for people who are 18.

AKT: Really? I think 18-year-olds are very concerned with memory.

EH: Sure they are. I think the movie feels nostalgic for people like us because we remember being a kid. If you're a kid in the first person, I don't think it's about memory.

Joel Grey's first boyhood memory:
Joel Grey's first boyhood memory: "In life? Good question. I think my birth." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Where do you see the difference between something that is recorded and something that exists merely in your head?

EH: You always start to remember the picture more than you remember the event. If I see a picture, I just remember the photo.

AKT: I just asked Joel Grey and the star of the film, Ellar Coltrane, about their first memories. Any early memories of yours that you know were not captured in a picture?

EH: Falling down the stairs. That's one of my first memories. I had a fireman's hat on. I fell down the stairs and cut my head open.

Anne-Katrin Titze: What's your first memory?

Joel Grey: My first memory?

AKT: In life.

JG: In life? Good question. I think my birth.

AKT: You remember your birth?

JG: I do. It was very, very intense.

The autobiographical links lay elsewhere for Boyhood director Richard Linklater
The autobiographical links lay elsewhere for Boyhood director Richard Linklater Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: For your mother, I suppose.

JG: And me. It was a long stretch. Then the doctor came and asked my dad and my grandmother who should they save, the child or the mother. Of course, they said, the mother. When I heard that story later, I sort of wondered.

AKT: What about you?

JG: They wanted me dead.

AKT: Both survived?

JG: We're all here. Well, she's not here anymore.

AKT: Do you think it influenced your choice of profession? You are making sure that people know you made it, no?

JG: I lived.

Ellar Coltrane gave me a very La Jetée response.

Richard Linklater with Ethan Hawke at the Boyhood after party in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden
Richard Linklater with Ethan Hawke at the Boyhood after party in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: What is your first memory that is not on film, or screen, or a story told to you but something that you know you remember?

Ellar Coltrane: My first memory? I remember walking around the backyard of a house that I moved into when I was four in San Marcos, Texas. I found this spot in the backyard and I told my mom, "I remember when you died here."

Anne-Katrin Titze: When you watched Boyhood, are there things in it that surprise you now?

Patricia Arquette: Yes, because there wasn't a full script to begin with. He [Linklater] told us the changes but I didn't see the scenes of Ethan with the kids. The father son thing and how beautiful that was. You get to see who he was. So when I watched it, my character was also watching all the scenes I wasn't in. I never had a full script. There are plenty of scenes with my kids where I wasn't around on the set and I thought "wait a minute, I don't like that friend of yours!"

On the red carpet, Arquette spoke about how it was for her to see the characters age on film over 12 years.

Ellar Coltrane with Patricia Arquette:
Ellar Coltrane with Patricia Arquette: "I remember walking around the backyard of a house" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

PA: I wanted to see that. I knew that was a part of it. I didn't want to Hollywood it up. I wanted to see how it really would be. It still is a little strange. I have really for a long time been challenging the status quo of what I am supposed to be in Hollywood. We're not robots. I want to break it. I don't agree with this. I never signed up for that. I want to be an actress. I don't want to be a model. I never dreamed to be a model. If it were about my life, it would have been a really weird movie. I think it would have been way more complicated. I grew up in a hippie commune, we moved a lot.

At the screening Rajendra Roy, the Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film at the Museum of Modern Art, introduced Richard Linklater whose film Slacker was first presented at MoMA in 1991 in the New Directors/New Films program. Linklater introduced the cast.

Ethan Hawke had a few choice, imprecise words about the location of the screening.

Hawke: There's no better place in the world, that I'd like to show this movie than at the Metropolitan Museum of Art…. There's something about a story that took 12 years to tell. The first day of shooting it was the most absurd idea I ever heard. It's so weird. How did I do so far [to his director]?

Boyhood Party Ticket
Boyhood Party Ticket Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Linklater slyly suggested "a little editing".

In MoMA's beautiful Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at the after party, Linklater told me that Boyhood is more about mother and son than father and daughter, which might explain some of the sense of freedom his daughter Lorelei conveys in her strong performance. He thought Antonioni in Zabriskie Point, didn't have to go that far and that he knew the last shot of Boyhood which also leads us into the rocky desert of the American West, long before shooting it. The big difference between the father filming his frightened waking boy in the middle of the night in Peeping Tom and his own approach in Boyhood lay in the level of fiction. Professor Welbrock couldn't be any more different in real life, Linklater added. The autobiographical links for himself lay elsewhere. His own mother teaches and had some experience with men who had "drinking problems."

Peggy Siegal then formally introduced Patricia Arquette to me and we chatted some more under the starry, starry July night sky.

Richard Linklater's Boyhood premiere at MoMA with Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater:
Richard Linklater's Boyhood premiere at MoMA with Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater: "more about mother and son than father and daughter" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: You are the heart of the movie for me. Your director just told me that the alternative title could have been mother and son. Let's talk heads first. Did he control your haircuts?

Patricia Arquette: No. But if I hadn't cut my hair for twelve years it would be dragging on the ground. My hair grows fast and it's hot in Austin in the summer. And sometimes you just need to cut your hair short. One way my character is similar to me is that I grow my hair out, then I get sick of it. Then I have to cut it short and then I want to grow it.

AKT: Sounds like real life. I liked the omissions in the movie. What we don't see and really would like to know. These horrible husbands of yours. Everybody was so glad to see you reunited with the actress (Jamie Howard) who plays your stepdaughter (Mindy) at the party tonight. The audience is very worried about her. Speaking of reality and fiction...

PA: I know! I was so happy about that. I felt so relieved. I was trying to get Rick to let her be in the graduation scene, her and the little boy, the son. But he was like 'no, you know, you lose contact with those people and then you can never find them again.' That's part of what's painful in life.

AKT: For your character there is the guilt lingering for leaving the children there [with their dangerous father].

PA: Of course. But it's part of the structure of the law. It's not necessarily a perfect law. You can't steal somebody else's children. There is this whole bureaucracy that doesn't necessarily protect the children. And then you have your own children. There's some situations you get in in life where you're fucked no matter what you do. And you're trying to limit how many people you can prop along the way.

AKT: You were making a strong point earlier about Hollywood pressure on women aging.

PA: Yes. It's also, what is this dumb concept of beauty? I decided when I was a kid and my parents said "you want to straighten your teeth?" I didn't want to be a beautiful blonde girl. The perfect blonde girl - I found it boring. I also didn't feel that it was my job to be this beauty. I wanted to be human. It's a little bit of my mission in life. Why are we forever apologising for who we are? Why isn't it enough who we are?

As we are walking out, Arquette sees the catalogue for the Alibis: Sigmar Polke exhibition. It is too late at night, to get it. She sighs and tells me that I absolutely have to come back and see the exhibition. I like Polke and promise her I will.

PA: You have to see it. The whole second floor. It's beautiful, beautiful.

Sibling competition in Boyhood over bowling and golf mix with the celebration of iconic family Americana, such as baseball games and a male bonding camping trip that contains the perfectly roasted marshmallow and peeing out the campfire for good karma. The boy and the audience are seized by many moments - from haircut drama to a personalised Bible and shotgun combo gift from the new step-grandparents, to the betrayal of not receiving a promised old car. Harry Potter books mark the time in more ways than one.

Boyhood opens in the US and the UK on July 11.

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