Dazed and Confused
For most of us those teen years are the most bittersweet of our lives, a time of growth and discovery mixed with the transition to adulthood. Now there have been a lot of movies that dealt with this time but few do it the style and strange sense as Dazed and Confused. One reason is this is not so much a film with a storyline and plot, like the times and teenagers it depicts, it just happens. It also takes its characters not from the standard catalog of film stereotypical high school students but from real life. Most of us grew up with these people, we were these people. Now I went to an all male high school so some of this was a lot different from my personal experiences but still I could related to these people. This film is just short of an anthropological look at these times. Why it works may be difficult to pin down why this works, it just does.
Dazed takes place on May 28th, 1976, the last day of school for a group of young people living in a small town in Texas. This was not the easiest time, especially for teenagers. They had to face a world that was in as much change and disruption as they innately were going through. Some characters where looking at what life would be after high school, college for some, the drudge of the workforce for many others. Other characters are about to enter high school and experience what growing up really means. Randy "Pink" Floyd (Jason London) is the successful school jock. He is at the verge of his senior season, his one bid for glory and some lasting recollection. The school administration now requires a pledge to abstain from drugs and alcohol, after seeing what these kids consume in the course of the film you will understand why. As with any kid that age such a dilemma is earthshaking. As adults we may have lost sight of the impact of such things but it’s not lost in this film. Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi) is the somewhat nerdy girl insecure with the fact that she is smart but may not be considered as pretty as her peers. O'Bannon (Ben Affleck) is the sadistic senior that waited years to haze the incoming freshman, a ritual that involves spanking with a wooden paddle. There is a particularly sadistic glee to his infliction of each hit he delivers. On the female side of hazing is Darla (Parker Posey) in charge of the more formal introduction of the junior high girls to their new school, some of the stunts that she comes up with border on torture.
This was a watershed film of the young cast. While some never quite caught on Dazed launched more than its share of careers. Besides some of the actors above there is a priceless role portrayed by Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson, that guy that graduates from high school but just can’t let go of that part of his life. His motto is although he gets older the high school girls never do. Since he is of age to buy beer he is king of the hill. Joey Lauren Adams plays a role she was almost type cast in, at least until Chasing Amy hit the screen. She is the sexy girlfriend, little more than an accessory for her boy friend. The same goes for Milla Jovovich in her presentation of the artistic stoner chick. This cast works exceptionally well with each other, you believe the way they interact, its as if they really did grow up together.
Richard Linklater is one of the new breed of writer/directors that stuck out in a different direction form the traditional. He was 16 and living in Texas on the day that he depicts here, this work came from within, he lived it. He was also largely self taught and here that worked in his favor, freeing him from what Hollywood expected. After his low budget success of Slackers the studios gave him a few million dollars and Dazed was born. Linklater doesn’t so much work within confined story arcs or entwined plot points; he gives his cast the freedom to let the stories tell them selves. This film has an organic feel to it, a natural quality that almost every other teen coming of age tale completely lacks. Linklater provides the atmosphere, places the characters in some situations and sat back and let it happen. Having lived it he completely captures 1976. This was a few years after my time but I remember the bell bottoms, the music and the feeling of being lost, adrift. Because of the personal nature of this film the female characters are somewhat left behind. This is basically a male oriented film but that’s fine that is how a high school boy would see life. While Linklater never really had a blockbuster hit he created films that help something special for his audience, a voice from the past. This past was not the idealized time of innocence, it was dazed and confused.
Universal did this film up right with this release. As with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the companion film in their ‘flashback’ release set, the DVD provides a choice between Dolby 5.1 and DTS for the sound track. I preferred the DTS option personally. I found it more robust than the Dolby version. There was better back fill here; the soundtrack fills the room sounding you. The video is anamorphic and completely without flaw or defect. The extras where extremely imaginative, there is a set of public service spots that although where made to be serious are funny from out current perspective. There is also a film clip on the dangers of partying, just image the cast watching this in class completely stoned. Nine previously unseen deleted scenes are also part of the mix. If you are ever in the position to visit with old high school friends this film is a must. Actually, this film can be enjoyed by almost every age group. If you watch this with your own teen age kids parents will lecture them about how horrible the behavior is while turning and giving each other a little smile.