Dazed And Confused Review
When was the last time you were blissfully happy? Maybe at a time when your children were playing outside and made you laugh uncontrollably? No children...possibly your wedding day or just the day on which you met your wife/husband/partner. It might even have been an early-autumn evening by a campfire on a beach with your friends as you watched the sun set? Regardless of your age, sex or the multitude of experiences you're likely to have lived through to get to where you are, it's highly likely that thinking back to the last day of a school year, of every school year, will bring back wonderful memories of being on the brink of the freedom that only two months of long summer days can offer.
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, which sees a group of teenagers leaving school and killing time until they get to a party that evening. The film stars Jason London as Randall 'Pink' Floyd, the popular quarterback of the school football team, who drifts through groups of his friends, otherwise pulled together as jocks, stoners and geeks. Unlike everyone else, Floyd manages to stay free of such tags but the team's coach is putting each player under pressure to sign a slip of paper to say that they neither have nor will use drugs, which is forcing Floyd to choose a side, something that he is unwilling to do. 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, drive their cars through town and initiate September's new entrants through violence or humiliation. Mostly, they simply try to do as much as they can before they break up for a few months, packing weeks of good times into single night - they try and they fail but before the morning breaks, will these kids stand a chance of creating memories that will stay with them into adulthood or will this just be one more night to match the previous 146 that year - promising but ultimately forgettable.
Completed before Dazed And Confused, Richard Linklater's Slacker, a rambling stroll through the lives of twenty-somethings in Austin in the late-eighties that appealed by having little structure but which brought the viewer into the film by the flood of theories, ideas and philosophies it contained. What was surprising about his follow-up was that Linklater turned his back on an environment that he was clearly knowledgeable of in favour of one that brought George Lucas' American Graffiti to mind, albeit set twenty years further on in time from Lucas' view of fifties California. Truth be told, American Graffiti was an idealised version of the fifties, actually set in 1962, then considered by Lucas to be a time when fifties culture was so widespread as to reach even the suburbs where he grew up but before the sixties really began.
Dazed And Confused was a similarly idealised view of high school life in the mid-seventies, directed by a man who was aged sixteen in 1976. Born in 1960, Linklater would have been just too young to have lived the life of Randall Floyd in 1976 so it's no surprise, therefore, that Linklater uses the younger character of Mitch Kramer as the effective narrator of the piece, watching the evening pass as Floyd's shadow and using the influence of the elder school kid to gain acceptance to the evening's events but breaking away as sunrise approaches. Whilst it is Floyd and the older teenagers in his year at school that provide the backbone of the story, the film ends with them effectively not moving on - you expect the next night of their lives will be much the same as the one shown here. It is, however, Kramer's life that changes most of all, from avoiding a hazing at the hands of his friend's mother as the film opens to making out with an older girl on a blanket on a hillside overlooking Austin as it closes. The sight of Kramer creeping into his house at sunrise and lying back on his bed listening to Slow Ride by Foghat on his headphones is the sight of a blissfully happy young kid 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. To be honest, though, the entire cast of Dazed And Confused is wonderful with good work from Parker Posey, Rory Cochrane as the school stoner and Jason London, who provides the film with a heart amid some of the bluster included elsewhere. The film also offered good parts to Ben Affleck playing to type as an idiot held back a year and who is obsessed with whacking younger kids with a cricket bat as well as Milla Jovovich and Sasha Jenson. The standout role has to be Matthew McConaughey's Wooderson, who is a loser in a fast car and a pair of pink jeans still hanging around with high school kids despite having left years before and all because, in his own words, "I keep getting older but the chicks stay the same age." Other than Affleck, the worst actor is Joey Lauren Adams, who offers another of her grating charactersthat have ruined other films, such as Chasing Amy, but who isn't (thankfully) onscreen long enough here to inflict any real damage.
It so happens that the lack of passage by Floyd and his friends is the most interesting aspect of Dazed And Confused, showing them having a good time despite a general sense that no matter how cool they appear to be, most of them feel that despite often being told that their school years are the best years of their lives, 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." It appears that they are trying but failing to bring a significance to their lives that their generation will fail to achieve. You sense that with the benefit of hindsight, Linklater is making a larger statement about the years prior to 1976 (psychedelia, free love, Vietnam) and those after (Reaganomics and the boom/bust of the eighties) with the kids here being unconvinced that their generation will compare favourably to those that passed before them. One prefers, however, to believe that Linklater has taken another view and simply nailed the lack of confidence suffered by every generation of teenagers who, by definition of being that age, tend to a pessimistic view of themselves and of the era in which they are living.
Then again, ignore the sociological commentary on teenage years and Dazed And Confused also works as just a cracking little film about growing up, filled with a cast of geeks, losers, high school stars and princesses but presented in such a way that Linklater's writing is very naturalistic. 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.
Dazed And Confused has been anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and looks terrific. Despite the lo-fi feel of Linklater's Slacker, Dazed And Confused was a stunningly filmed movie, using a deep focus and good use of the width of the image to capture the events of the last day of a school year in such a way that has never been bettered. There may be a more technical term to describe what happens but Linklater achieves the feeling that you're not simply watching the action on screen but are considerably closer than the distance afforded to the viewers by the storage and viewing media would suggest. Not only does the script pack a punch but Linklater's shooting of the film provides one of the more memorable motion pictures of the last ten years.
Dazed And Confused is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, which is good but largely indispensable given that much of the film is driven by dialogue delivered front and centre. The rear speakers offer a little in the way of ambient audio effects but nothing that could not have been achieved through Pro Logic encoding, with the one concession to the benefits of 5.1 digital sound being made during the slow-motion view of Mitch Kramer as he lines up to throw the ball during a school baseball game.
Otherwise, Dazed and Confused has the most wonderful soundtrack, reputedly taking up to one sixth of the film's $6m budget to get the rights. The songs celebrate a time when Frampton Comes Alive was North America's biggest seller and playing on 8-Track cartridges - that era's format of choice - across the US. Bands featured in the film include Kiss, Sweet, Foghat and Alice Cooper (School's Out, naturally) and the audio mix weights the dialogue and the music just right.
Dazed And Confused is almost a bare-bones release by Universal, containing only the following extra:
Theatrical Trailer (2m05s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This presents the film as being closer to American Graffiti than the main feature really suggests, including the shots of hot-rods driving down deserted streets. It's not bad but the grainy picture quality lets it down somewhat when compared to the quality of the actual film.
Strangely, I always thought Richard Linklater should have gone on to major mainstream success after this film. In as much as American Graffiti allowed George Lucas to go make Star Wars, Dazed And Confused - a film I prefer to American Graffiti - ought to have afforded Linklater the opportunity to step up to making major blockbusters. For whatever reason, it hasn't happened but this is still one of the very best high school movies with believable characters, a sense that the writer might actually have once been a teenager and a real empathy with not only the characters but also the era in which the film is set. It's often easy to say, "It's a good film but it's not for everyone." In this case, however, I'm not going to say such a thing - this is a great film, containing everything that being a teenager is all about, somewhere in its running length, which is short enough to ensure that Dazed And Confused doesn't outstay its welcome. It's a sharp, snappy and sassy movie and, despite the lack of extras, this is deserving of a place in anyone's collection - very highly recommended.