This review was a monster to write. Dazed and Confused is a film that conjures up so many strong emotions in me, and getting those thoughts organized was proving hellish. I tried everything, from blaring the soundtrack through headphones whilst sitting at the keyboard, watching or recalling specific scenes from memory, or recalling past experiences with the film, usually involving illicit substances of the green, leaf-y variety. I’d tried everything shy of sparking one up and waiting for a sudden creative epiphany. Then it hit me. Dazed and Confused isn’t a film one can review in the traditional sense, it isn’t a film you need to be in a certain headspace to appreciate, it isn’t a plot heavy art film or a character study. Dazed and Confused just is. It exists. You either identify with the film, whether you came up in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s, or you don’t. There is no middle ground. You either experience Dazed and Confused, or you don’t. Its film at its simplest, it doesn’t tell us a tale of social or political importance, it doesn’t wow us with glossy non-linear trickery or gob-smacking visuals, it exists.
Richard Linklater takes us back to the last day of school, in 1976, where we meet a colorful cast of characters, high school soon-to-be seniors, and the latest crop of freshmen, who spend their time cruising, partying, dodging brutal hazing rituals (in the freshmen’s case) or generally doing nothing over the span of 24 hours. The cast are a colorful bunch of young faces who would go on to bigger things, and in some cases become household names, notably Parker Posey, Rory Cochrane, Joey Lauren Adams, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, and most notably, Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey. The majority of the performances are fantastic and full of youthful energy, Jason London and Rory Cochrane are really the lynchpins, but the strongest impression is really Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Dave Wooderson. Wooderson becomes the “Han Solo” of Dazed, he steals every scene he’s in, gets all the best lines, and provides sage advice for his teenage underlings as the 20-something hipster who just can’t let go of his high school life. A lot of attention was also payed to the soundtrack, featuring a full buffett table of classic 70's rock n roll. About the only two bands missing are Pink Floyd and Zeppelin (due to the crazy cost associated with liscencing either band's music). Linklater scores the film with this stuff, and it works brilliantly, from the opening strains of "Sweet Emotion" as Kevin's GTO saunters into the high school parking lot, to Wooderson, Pink, and Mitch's entry into the Emporium, in slow motion, like cowboys in from the desert, to the golden tones of Bob Dylan's "The Hurricane". Not a note is wasted.
There’s really nothing else to tell in the plot department, but to mistake lack of plot for lack of substance, particularly where this film is concerned, would be a mistake. This film is for a certain type of person, the type for whom the film is a typical Friday night. It’s for us small town or suburb teens with nothing better to do than hang out or cruise the streets in search of nothing in particular. The only thing that’s changed is the music and the cars, their Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin replaced by Pearl Jam and Nirvana (in my case), their El Caminos and Chevelle SS’s replaced by Reliant wagons and Ford Tempos. While the film recreates a picture perfect snapshot of the mid-70’s, it does so in a realistic manner without all the chintzy pastiche that came with films like American Graffiti, and it sure as hell isn’t mired in sentimentality, or wistful longing for a time gone by. The flick is definitely nostalgic, not for the 70’s, but for the carefree days when we “adults” were none to bothered with any day to day goings on of those people who inhabit the adult world. The film hits me like a freight train whenever I watch it, being a family man closing on 30, it makes me fondly recall those lazy summer days and nights which didn’t consist of much more than 10 dollars worth of gas, or maybe myself and the guys setting up shop on a tuft of fresh dry grass and just hanging out. I knew the people in this flick, be it the bullies, the stoners, the geeks, or the jocks, there were people everywhere in this film that I knew.
Grammercy pictures made the colossal blunder of marketing this one as a teen flick, and sure, it may well be a staple for teens (hell I was 16 or so the first time I saw it), but Dazed and Confused really works best for us late twenties to late thirties people, those of us who’ve been adults long enough to miss the carefree days of summer, but not so long that we’ve forgotten them. If it shows a few teens today how to party good and proper, well all the better! Sure cultural upheavals shaped each of the interceding decades between 1976 and 2006, trends come and go, but I can pretty much say, my world in 1996 was an awful lot like the world of 1976. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Universal has given Dazed and Confused very little love on DVD in the past. The original release was a bare bones disc with a horrid transfer. A special “flashback” edition followed, complete with a few deleted scenes and a remastered picture, but this is the version fans have been waiting for. Criterion has delivered an extensive 2-disc set with their typically excellent attention to detail. There’s a 50 minute documentary that covers every aspect of the film’s production and allows the cast to reflect on the making of the film, even modern day heavyweights like Affleck chime in. We also get audition footage, several deleted scenes, commentary tracks, the whole nine yards. Also included in the set is a great 72-page book which contains profiles on several of the characters plus several excellent essays. The film’s transfer is free of any dirt or print damage, there’s some film grain present, but it feels natural and authentic rather than sharpened to a digital edge. This is the best this film will ever look. The DTS soundtrack is an aural treat, never overdone, mixed perfectly, with a wonderful punch to the extensive soundtrack. It's just class act all around, as one would expect from Criterion.
Film: 5 (out of 5)
DVD: 4 (out of 5)