Dazed and Confused: Criterion Collection
June 2, 2006
Starring: Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Sasha Jenson, Marissa Ribisi, Michelle Burke, Cole Hauser, Wiley Wiggins, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Matthew McConaughey, Nicky Katt, Milla Jovovich,
After the low budget success of the independent film Slacker (1990), Richard Linklater followed it up with Dazed and Confused (1993) and learned a harsh lesson about moving from the world of indie cinema to making a movie for a major Hollywood studio. All he wanted to do was make a teen comedy set in the late 1970s on the last day of school and found himself facing studio interference at every turn. For starters, executives encouraged him to cast Brendan Fraser whose film Encino Man (1992) was big at the time (he passed). Then, the studio refused to pony up for the rights to all of the music that Linklater wanted to use in his movie.
Even after dealing with all of these problems and making the film that he wanted to make, the studio screwed him over again by releasing Dazed and Confused on only 183 screens where it barely broke even. The studio refused to leave his film alone even after it developed cult following status on DVD making more than $30 million in sales and rentals. They released two bare bones editions and nixed a planned special edition by Linklater. Fortunately, patient fans of the movie have been rewarded with this new special edition from the fine folks at the Criterion Collection.
Dazed and Confused chronicles the last day of school in 1976 for a group of kids of various ages in three acts while applying the 24-hour time frame pastiche of characters from Slacker albeit with a more accessible spin. The film begins with the “hazing” section where the senior students in high school terrorize the incoming freshmen. Next is the “cruising” portion where the characters wander back and forth from a local burger joint and the pool hall. Finally, the film climaxes with “the beer bust” where all the various social groups gather for a party.
While the film follows several characters, a few are given more screen-time than others, chief among them Randall “Pink” Floyd (London), the star quarterback who is faced with the dilemma of having to sign a no-drugs contract that his coaches and some of his fellow players are pressuring him to do. There’s also Mitch (Wiggins), a freshman who lives in fear of and tries to evade the seniors intent on hazing him and his buddies. Pink ends up taking Mitch under his wing as he obviously sees some of himself at that age in the younger kid.
Dazed and Confused is filled with so many colourful characters that fit into the tried and true archetypes of the high school movie: the stoner, the asshole jock, the stuck-up popular girl, the car freak and so on, but the talented cast of then unknowns breath such memorable life into these characters. They make them uniquely their own and yet also instantly recognizable. For many of the cast members this was their breakout film: Jason London, Joey Lauren Adams, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Parker Posey to name a few. For some (London, McConaughey and Rory Cochrane) it still remains their best performance to date and their signature role. Working with inexperienced and non-actors on Slacker provided excellent experience for Linklater who gets wonderful performances out of his entire cast.
The attention to period detail – the clothes, the cars and the music – is dead-on without being too showy about it. Linklater has said that the film should feel like the camera was dropped into this place in 1976 and it certainly feels that way. This due in large part to the music because he understands how important it is to kids at that age. The music acts as a lubricant if you will; greasing the action of the movie and acting as a Greek chorus, commenting on what the characters are doing and setting the mood and atmosphere of a given scene. Every song on the soundtrack punctuates a scene and takes you back to that time.
Ultimately, Dazed and Confused celebrates youth and that time in your life when your biggest worry is trying to score some beer for the weekend or find the best party with all the cool people. Linklater’s film perfectly captures the kind of small-town where everyone lives for the high school football team, where there is nothing to do but hang out with your friends on the weekend and makes it universal enough for anybody to relate to but with the kind of personal details that you can relate to and make you think of your own experiences. Make no mistake; Linklater’s film is not some kind of nostalgic ode to simpler times, like George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973), but an accurate depiction of what it was like to be a kid back then. That’s not to say that Linklater is not looking back with fondness or doesn’t have affection for his characters because he does. It’s just that he isn’t clouded by the passage of time into forgetting both the good and bad moments from that period of his life.
The first disc features an audio commentary by writer/director Richard Linklater who is clearly still bitter about how the studio screwed him over and mentions it frequently. He views the events in the film as greatest hits of his freshman year in high school. Linklater says that he resisted the urge to make fun of the kitschy side of the ‘70s because that would have been too easy. He talks at length about which parts of the film are autobiographical in his usual, easygoing, genial way, delivering yet another top notch track filled with great anecdotes, smart observations and cautionary tales about the dangers of working with a Hollywood studio.
Also included are 17 deleted scenes, including footage of Pink and his friends stealing the statues that we see later on in the film painted as the band members from Kiss. There is also a scene where Benny and Pink argue about the outcome of the Vietnam War and a nice scene where Pink talks to Mitch about playing high school football.
There is also a theatrical trailer.
The second disc kicks off with an impressive, 50 minute retrospective documentary entitled “Making Dazed” that combines behind-the-scenes footage from 1992 with the ten-year cast and crew reunion with more recent interviews as well. This is a fascinating look at the challenges that Linklater faced on his first studio movie, in particular, the friction between the director and one of his producers, James Jacks, that still exists after all these years. The more poignant moments come later on when the doc shows how the careers of two of the film’s stars, Wiley Wiggins and Christin Hinojosa never took off as they had hoped. For all of the people who went on to mainstream success (Affleck, McConaughey, et. al) after this movie, not everyone made it big but it was an experience they still treasure and will never forget.
“Auditions” features footage of 12 cast members reading for the film. It is pretty easy to see why they were cast as they slip into character quite naturally – especially someone like Rory Cochrane who eerily becomes Slater or Nicky Katt who effortlessly embodies his redneck bully.
“Beer Bust at the Moon Tower” features cast members being interviewed in character during the first week of rehearsal in an effort to get them familiar with their roles. It becomes obvious that the actors immersed themselves in their roles as some of them get really into it while others still seem a little uncomfortable or unsure of themselves. Also included are cast interviews that look like they were done early on in production or during filming. Highlights include an amusing and candid clip of Wiggins and Christine Harnos before their kissing scene in the movie. There is also quite a bit of behind-the-scenes footage that was seen only briefly in “Making Dazed.” We get to see Ben Affleck learning how to drive a muscle car, on location interviews with cast members done between takes and the slumber party atmosphere of the four main actresses in their hotel room. It all conveys the fun time these actors must have had making Dazed.