Why I Love… #9: Dazed And Confused

Year: 1993

Director: Richard Linklater

Stars: Rory Cochrane (Slater), Jason London (Randall ‘Pink’ Floyd), Michelle Burke (Jodi Kramer), Wiley Wiggins (Mitch Kramer), Matthew McConaughey (Wooderson), Parker Posey (Darla), Adam Goldberg (Mike), Marissa Ribisi (Cynthia), Anthony Rapp (Tony), Milla Jovovich (Michelle), Joey Lauren Adams (Simone), Ben Affleck (O’Bannion)

Genre: Comedy / Drama

Nostalgia. It’s all about nostalgia with this one. That bittersweet sense of remembering. For director Richard Linklater, it’s about rekindling his adolescence of the 1970s with all the trappings; bell-bottom jeans, afros, initiation rituals, staying out too late, Pink Floyd records, keggers, the works. Dazed And Confused follows two-dozen or so teenagers from different grades as they kick back after school, ride around town, get drunk, party, mess around and maybe even try to get laid. All capped off with a glorious morning road trip to get some Aerosmith tickets. Linklater’s movie is about the awkwardness and the joy of being a teenager.

And it’s a nostalgia trip for me also. Not to the 1970s of course, I wasn’t there (more’s the pity), but for my own adolescence, and how I discovered films like Dazed And Confused. For me it’s not only about relating (despite the 20-year generation gap) to the nights of drifting and under-aged drinking, but also remembering being 12 years old and staying up to see what was on TV after midnight. Usually on the off-chance that there were boobs. One night Dazed And Confused was on.

I loved it the first time I saw it. Straight away I was struck by how truthful it felt. Here was a movie concerned with youth that didn’t play as a children’s film. It didn’t patronise its audience, neither did it present teenagers as easily defined stereotypes. Well… not all the time. No matter what you say or do, there will always be some people that just are stereotypes. So, sure you get stoners like Slater, assholes like O’Bannion (the young and oh-so-vile Ben Affleck) and pseudo-paedophiles like Wooderson, but there are also the likes of conflicted ‘jock’ Randall Floyd, shy-but-obliging Sabrina, and of course little Mitch Kramer – clearly Linklater’s own younger self. These characters, along with a majority of the rest, feel real. You knew people like them. You maybe were one or two of them.

The UK/America divide made no difference. Our culture is so Americanised anyway. Sure, at fifteen we weren’t all out driving around town and nobody played baseball, but we were hanging out for hanging out’s sake, drinking nasty cheap vodka and four packs of Fosters, getting sick or committing petty vandalism out of boredom. Linklater’s film is universal. It captures perfectly that buzzing feeling you used to get when school was out for the weekend, or even better, as here, for a whole summer. Friday night and time to go out, see friends, and play at being an adult whilst remaining resolutely childish.

I connected with this movie on a nearly profound level. My first attempt at writing a novel way-back-when in the mid nineties (whilst still at school) was a blatant copy of Dazed And Confused. I even had characters playing mailbox baseball. Even then I puzzled over quite how to explain this phenomenon taking place in a provincial English village. I got over 20 thousand words through that fucker. I wish I knew where it was now, if only to cringe at my own plagiarism. But the reason I attempted to transpose a movie I saw once on late-night TV into the written word was that I so enjoyed the feeling that it gave me. I wanted Dazed And Confused all the time.

Linklater’s style is relaxed, expanding on the free-flowing narrative style of his previous movie, Slacker. But Dazed And Confused is far more confident. Linklater is in command this film completely, juggling the multiple narratives with ease. Everything seems to flow naturally. Nothing feels forced. Whilst later on in his career he has made more overtly experimental films (Tape, Waking Life), it’s not hard to argue that Dazed And Confused remains his best work; simple, but always engaging. I’d even make a case for it being one of the best films of the nineties. On a par with the likes of Pulp Fiction. Seriously.*

Linklater’s dialogue always sparkles too. From Mike’s misanthropic diatribes to Slater’s baked theories about Martha Washington. But aside from these obvious signposts, its uncanny how even the more mundane chit-chats ring true. Linklater understands not only his audience but his characters. A knack for realism and nuance in the same league as David Simon’s. It doesn’t hurt that the film has a killer soundtrack too. From Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” to War’s “Low Rider”. Not many movies thoroughly deserve to have two soundtrack albums.

There are better movies (anything’s possible), but Dazed And Confused belongs in that rare bracket of films I could happily watch at any time, regardless of my mood. That’s a pretty short list actually. The Big Lebowski may be the only other. Maybe My Neighbour Totoro as well. But it’s up there. It also tainted my teenage years. So many nights out were not quite as good as Dazed And Confused. But then, this is all about nostalgia after all. About remembering things how you want to, not necessarily the way they were. The rose-tinted past. Few films feel like this one. The closest I can think of is The Virgin Suicides. A wonderful film from a wonderful book, but too concerned with ennui and estrangement. Dazed And Confused is all about feeling good. Or doing your best to feel good. And making the night last as long as it can. And whilst I’m not completely over the hill, I miss those days. I find them in re-watching Dazed And Confused.

* Actually, I’d go as far as to say Dazed And Confused is a better film than Pulp Fiction.

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