Dazed and Confused (Criterion Collection) Review
This is an edited version of a review that appeared following the first Region 2 release of this film. That old review is still online here at DVD Times but this version has been slightly rewritten and updated with an image comparison and a look at the extras on this Criterion edition.
Dazed And Confused is a freewheeling story that loosely follows a bunch of upperclassmen and future freshmen at a high school in Austin, Texas on 28 May 1976 - the last day of term before the summer break. Killing time, partying and driving through Austin to the sound of heavy rock, Dazed And Confused wanders lazily through the summer evening, picking out Randall 'Pink' Floyd (Jason London), who's neither a jock, a stoner and or a geek. Unlike most others, Floyd manages to stay free of such tags but the coach of the school's football team asks each player to sign a drugs-free pledge. Floyd isn't sure and takes the slip of paper out with him that night. The coach gives him a deadline of the next morning, leaving Floyd but the one night to make up his mind about his life.
As the sun sets and the party kicks off in the hills above Austin, Floyd's friends smoke dope, drink beer and drive their cars through town. Mostly, they simply try to do as much as they can before they break up for a couple of months, packing weeks of good times into single night. In that, they succeed and they fail but before the sun rises, they have the opportunity to create memories that will last them a lifetime. If they don't, that final night of the school year will be just one more, much like the previous 146 that year. But for a few kids, 'Pink' Floyd included, 28 May will be unforgettable.
Completed before Dazed And Confused, Richard Linklater's Slacker was a rambling stroll through the lives of twentysomethings in Austin in the late-eighties. A film with little structure but which, like the novels of Douglas Coupland, mixed social critique with theories, ideas and philosophies, Slacker and Generation X were the first and clearest voices in something that, were it not for its own inaction, might have been described as a movement. Following it up, Richard Linklater turned his back on the contemporary era of Slacker in favour of one that was much-derided - the mid-seventies.
At first glance - indeed, I compared the two in my first review of Dazed And Confused - Linklater's film feels like American Graffiti in presenting an idealised view of its era, Lucas' of the fifties - 1962, actually - and Linklater's of the seventies. Both films are set far from the fashionable cities of the time - Lucas' in the suburbs of California and Linklater's in the Texan city of Austin, the latter near a world away from the pre-punk sound that was then blooming in New York.
But there the similarities end. Lucas was aiming for history in his film, having his characters amass a lifetime of memories in a single night. Linklater's characters, while not adverse to one such night, find that fate avoids them and so they drive aimlessly about town listening to hard rock and hoping that they arrive somewhere memorable. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't and the night of the 28 May looks to be no more remarkable than any other day of that year, with Linklater directing the aimless events of that night in the manner of a man too was aged only sixteen in 1976, too young to remember the details of such a night of his own youth, only vague feelings and emotions. Born in 1960, Linklater would also have been just too young to have lived the life of Randall Floyd in 1976 so it's not surprising that Linklater uses the younger character of Mitch Kramer as the effective narrator of the piece. Kramer watches the evening pass in Floyd's shadow, using the influence of the elder kid to gain acceptance to the evening's events but, importantly, making his own way as sunrise approaches. Whilst it is Floyd and his peers that provide the backbone of the story, the film ends with Karmer's life having been altered. Having avoided a hazing and made out with an older girl on a hillside overlooking Austin, Kramer creeps back into bed at sunrise blissfully happy. Lying back on his bed listening to Slow Ride by Foghat on his headphones, Kramer smiles as one who's aged more than the sixteen hours represented by the film.
It's the portrayal of Kramer by Wiley Wiggins that is one of the more affecting pieces of acting in the film, with Wiggins being a slightly odd-looking kid who carries the film with a gentle and unassuming view on events. However, the entire cast of Dazed And Confused is wonderful with good work from Parker Posey, school stoner Rory Cochrane and Jason London, who provides the film with a heart amid some of the bluster included elsewhere. And it so happens that the lack of passage by London in his playing of Floyd is probably the finest theme that Linklater brings to his film. What Floyd and his friends ask is that in spite of being told that their school years will be amongst the best of their lives, they can't help but feel that things have simply got to get better. Indeed, at one point late in the film, Floyd states that, "If I ever say these were the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself." Trying but failing to bring a significance to their lives, you sense that, with the benefit of hindsight, Linklater is making a larger statement about the years prior to 1976 and those after. Floyd is unconvinced that his generation will compare favourably to those that passed before.
But ignore the social commentary and Dazed And Confused is just a great little film about growing up and the lack of confidence suffered by every generation of teenagers. Linklater manages to capture the look and feel of the period in a such a way that is funny, tense and remarkably free of pop-culture references beyond the songs used liberally on the soundtrack. The manner in which he brings the whole story together at the keg-party outside of town, freely using party cliches, such as a fight, a bit of drunken fumbling and a hippy chick strumming an acoustic guitar to lyrics about starlight and flowers, to enhance the feeling that these kids are simply having a very good time - wasted, daft and untogether they may be but it's their last day of school and who cares come the morning.
In all respects, this is a stunning transfer of an already beautiful film. Criterion have cleaned up the print, darkened it slightly, enriched the colours and made it sharper, such that Dazed And Confused now looks in pristine condition. These screen shots below confirm how good this film now looks in comparison to the old Region 2 release:
Existing Region 2 Release (Below)
This Criterion Collection Release (Below)
Existing Region 2 Release (Below)
This Criterion Collection Release (Below)
Richard Linklater has also supervised a remixing of the film's original stereo soundtrack into Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, both of which sound as good as the film looks. That the old Region 2 release was also remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1, albeit an unimpressive one, should not influence this one as it's considerably more impressive, using the rear speakers for ambience, the rock soundtrack and in the few scenes of action, with a clarity that's quite superb.
Previous releases of Dazed And Confused have always been fairly ordinary in terms of bonus features but this Criterion release makes up for all those less-than-impressive sets that came out
Commentary: Exclusive to this Criterion Edition and recorded early this year, Richard Linklater's commentary is a very decent one. Still sounding sore at Universal's failure to promote his film and openly insulting extras who don't play foosball in the correct manner, Linklater goes for nostalgia, explaining which moments in the night were drawn from his own experiences, as well as the facts of casting, his writing of the movie and its production. Always finding some angle on the material, Linklater keeps talking throughout and pitches the track somewhere between entertaining and interesting, never quite being completely one or the other.
Deleted Scenes (25m30s): With no obvious reason these were cut other than running time, these scenes cut a couple of subplots out of the film, some background action and a small amount of character development. It also answers the question of what happened to O'Bannion after being covered in paint as he's now seen talking at the Moon Tower party despite only being glimpsed in the original cut.
Finally, there is a Trailer (1m58s), which is different to the one that was featured on the old Region 2.
Making Dazed (45m33s): Produced by Kahane Corn at the time and then assembled for a showing on television on the American Movie Classics channel during 2005, this is a superb documentary on the making of the film and its release into theatres. Using the ten-year reunion as a means to bring the cast and crew back together and to bring some focus to the retrospective aspect of the documentary, this takes the viewer from Richard Linklater's pitching of his story to its production and how, despite the backing of a major studio, it failed at the box office by being sneaked out into only a few theatres. Honest about the problems behind the scenes - the participants in the argument over whether 'cocksucker' is more offensive than 'motherfucker' have, you suspect, only recently calmed down over it - but with a clear love of the material, this is a wonderful piece. That it ends at the Moon Tower during the ten-year reunion celebrations alongside the Dazed And Confused cast, crew and fans is only one more great touch in a documentary full of them.
Auditions (23m00s): Looking to have been included here more for completeness than for enjoyment that one might get out of it, this features the screen tests for twelve of the actors in the film. All of these were shot on videotape and are presented as is.
Beer Bust at the Moon Tower: This is something of a catch-all for any material that doesn't fit in anywhere else. It opens with the choice of being watched in a random order or going forward to an index, which presents Character Interviews (40m10s), Cast and Director Interviews (47m20s) and Behind the Scenes Footage (30m16s). The first of these are obviously some part of a dress rehearsal as an offscreen interviewer asks the actors about their characters, which they have to respond to in that role, testing the essence of Linklater's, "Being...instead of seeming." The Cast and Director Interviews catch Richard Linklater and his actors at various milestones in the production, such as the day before principal photography begins, Nicky Katt (Clint) and Adam Goldberg (Mike) twenty minutes after their fight scene and Wiley Wiggins and Catherine Morris minutes before filming their onscreen kiss. The last section is mostly bits and pieces from rehearsals and production but ends with clips from the ten-year reunion, with the cast watching behind-the-scenes footage of themselves from this DVD. How post-modern is that?
Finally, there is a reproduction of the original poster, promotional insert for The Criterion Collection and a 72-page booklet with interviews with the cast and crew and Linklater's Dazed Notes from 1993.
Still one of the major injustices of cinema, Dazed And Confused bombed at the box office but Richard Linklater shrugged and moved on, occasionally flitting in and out of the majors but with a solidly independent vision. Criterion have more than lived up to their remit in producing this release of his film with a great set of extras, a stunning transfer of the film and a hugely entertaining movie. This release of Dazed And Confused is the release that most fans have been crying out for and could only have been bettered had it come with the two soundtrack albums. As it is, this is still a very impressive of a modern classic.