Movies That Everyone Should See: “Dazed and Confused”

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“Dazed and Confused”

The last day of school.

The first party of the summer.

A sprawling cast of teen actors and a young director creating an epic, authentic, remarkable movie surrounding a youthful rite of passage.

The high school kegger.

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If there’s a “Through-story” to “Dazed”, it revolves around young Mitch Kramer, a Junior High School student when the movie begins, a High School student when the movie ends.

He’s introduced to us nervously looking out the window of his class window, frightened of the potential hazing awaiting him. We leave him happily passing out on his bed at night, after partying with the Seniors, getting wasted, and having his first make out session.

You could also make a case for a “plotline” revolving around Randy and his struggle against his coaches, but on the whole, “Dazed” is the story of a party, not a “plot”. It’s the portrait of a night, of a moment in time, of a stage of life… as opposed to being about any one, specific character. This isn’t the story of a person, or even a few people, this is the story of an entire town full of young people, of an entire school. Slater the Stoner. Don the Jock. Darla the Bitch. O’Bannion the Bully. Newhouse the Nerd. Sabrina the Cute Freshman. More, too, many more. The entire milieu of high school life portrayed by an enormous ensemble cast in a single movie.

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Coming off of the (relative) success of the independent film “Slacker”, director Richard Linklater pitched the idea as an “American Graffiti” for the 70s, and got the green light.

For a movie that comes across as naturalistic as it does, you’d almost expect that it was an “off the cuff” production. You know, the cast just got together and had a keg party and they shot it and edited it. But that’s not the case. The dialogue feels 90% ad libbed, but they worked five or six months on the script. There was an extensive, wide ranging, varied casting process that mixed traditional auditions and readings with handing out flyers at a local high school. Linklater sent out a letter to the cast laying out specific expectations for their performances. It may not have been the greatest directorial challenge ever to get teenagers from the 90s to portray teenagers from the 70s, but it can’t be taken for granted. Especially not when it comes out this good.

This movie was the first role for a virtual who’s who of actors of that age. In first or EARLY roles in their careers in this movie? Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Mila Jovavich, Joey Lauren Adams, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg… “Dazed” was practically a graduating class of teen actors and actresses, a couple of whom went on to be major stars, and a number of others who have been in a lot of projects.

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Are you cool, man?

And they all do a great, great job. There are some memorable characters here.

Has anyone ever been as laid back as Randall “Pink” Floyd? Or a bigger dick than O’Bannion? Well… I suppose Darla immediately comes to mind, so my apologies (“Air raid you little Freshman bitches!!”). That’s alright, there are plenty of cool people in the movie. Don’s a dickhead jock, but he seems cool to hang with. Jodi, too. And then of course there’s Slater. LOL. I watched a special feature on the making of “Dazed” that came with the Criterion Collection release… There was this little montage of all the actors describing their characters a little bit and all Cochran said was, “All he thinks about is Marijuana.”

And then there’s Wooderson.

Has anyone ever owned as hardcore as Wooderson does here? Cool as hell, funny as shit, confidence personified. Check out the lion prowl he does into the Emporium. The smooth delivery of the “Melba Toast” monologue. Or how about that giggle after, “Hey, hey, hey watch the leather man!” He radiates this supreme air, as if he were local royalty. He interacts easily with all of the groups in the film. He knows the cops, he knows the coaches. He knows the girls. He’s got the coolest lines in the film, and unquestionably the coolest moments.

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But of all the tools in the toolbox, the one “Dazed” utilizes better than perhaps any other movie ever is the use of licensed music.

The soundtrack.

Linklater wields music like a samurai sword here. He has the advantage of being able to mine material from one of the greatest periods in music history – mid to late 70s classic rock – but still, his choices are consistently perfect. They evoke the era and simultaneously support the film.

From opening with “Sweet Emotion” and timing the intro shot with the drum kick, to “School’s out for Summer” kicking in on the bell of the final class, to “Why Can’t We Be Friends” during the ketchup and mustard hazing, to closing with “Slow Ride”, the music seems to be perfectly integrated into the film. Has Dylan’s “The Hurricane” ever been as awesome as in the Emporium? “Low Rider” is the epitome of cool, but knowing that it heralds the appearance of Wooderson, doesn’t that make it cooler? “Paranoid” is a bad ass song, but doesn’t it sound an extra degree of bad ass here? Kiss, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Nugent, Alice Cooper, Skynyrd, Sabbath… classic band after classic band, all at just the right moment and with just the right tune.

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So many teenage rituals and truisms are present here. The house party, hazing, vandalism, cutting class, attending class, shop class, trying to buy booze underage, driving aimlessly, getting stoned, hooking up, fighting, the recent grad who still hangs out, partying in the woods, hanging out at the arcade, the kiss goodnight, getting hassled by the cops, sneaking in late, discussing life philosophically… It’s as if Linklater was able to compress the entire teenaged experience into a single movie.

But the major one, the one they do the do the fullest justice to, is the keg party.

The party scene that the film revolves around is an actual event that occurs millions of times a year in towns all over America (and I’m sure all over the world). The weed, the keg cups, the tunes… the dramas, the fistfight, the hookups… this scene was painstakingly assembled by following the “High School Kegger in the Woods” blueprint to the exact specifications. Announced by word of mouth, held at a parent-free location, fueled by alcohol, weed and hormones, lasting as long as the beer does.

I’m getting “misty” just thinking about it.

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I suppose you could pick out some themes if you really need to… Something revolving around Mitch’s one night journey into manhood, or Pink’s resistance to authority representing the desire to maintain the spirit of youth. There’s plenty of youthful philosophy being bandied about to say the movie has something to say about being young if you needed. But why even bother? Not every movie needs to be “deep” in order to be great. “Dazed and Confused” isn’t a movie so much with something to SAY as something to BE.

And that’s “Cool as Hell”.

“Dazed” is great because we knew these people. We had that day. We were there.

I partied at the moon tower, you bet your ass I did.

And in capturing that moment so perfectly, this movie will resonate with people who weren’t there. Who didn’t have those experiences. Because the authenticity will carry over. They’ll feel as if they were there. And then the magic will work on them, too.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See.”

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20 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Dazed and Confused”

  1. A personal note:

    This post was the first MTESS to use an original “Piece of Art” as the lead pic on the front page. I hope everyone’s been picking up on those, I’ve really been trying to lead with something worthy.

    The one here was a collaboration between myself and our friend “Digger”, Mark DiBella.

    He and I are working together to create others, and I’ll let you know any time the ones I lead with are ours. Any others are found from cyberspace…

    But I’d really like to thank Mark, I think that came out awesome. I’m really really, really happy with it, and I’m psyched to be adding our own stuff into the mix of all the other great pics.

    If you read this comment, be sure to give him a shout out of thanks, ok?? :D

  2. Fantastic writeup on a fantastic movie. Another winner. I can’t decide on what comment to leave… so I’ll leave them both.

    1) If I ever have to look back on the movies I’ve seen and think “This was the best movie I ever saw,” Then *I* am going to shoot myself.

    2) George Washington loved movies man? Are you kidding me, man? Absolutely George loved movies, man. He had filmrolls of that stuff, man. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Rolls! He was watchin’ ‘em all over the country, man. He had people filmin’ ‘em all over the country, you know. The whole country back then… was watchin’ movies. Lemme tell you, man. ‘Cause he knew. ‘Cause he was on to somethin’, man. He knew that it would be a good cash crop for the Western States, man. So he filmed rolls of it, man. But you know what? Behind every good man, there’s a woman. And that woman was Martha Washington, man. And every day, George would come home, she’d have a big, fat bowl of popcorn waiting for him, man, when he’d come in the door, man. She was a hip… a hip, hip lady, man.

    • This is the only thing I can say to that Spike is…

      Well, all I’m saying is that I want to look back and say that I did I the best I could while I was stuck on this blog. Had as much fun as I could while I was stuck on this blog. Wrote as hard as I could while I was stuck on this blog… Watched as many movies as I could while I was stuck on this blog!

  3. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, considering how psyched you were that I would be jazzed for it, but I’ve actually never seen this film. I think that I thought I’d seen it at some point, but if I did my recollection of it bears no resemblance to your description. For some reason I thought this was more like an American version of “8 Heads in a Duffel Bag”, and starred Jon Stewart.

    It is possible that I did see it, but was too… ‘enhanced’… to remember it. ;)

    Anyway, I’ll add it to my queue.

    • There you go Gelfster there you go. It’s a good one. Definitely a movie you’ll enjoy at the least… like I think your worst case scenario is you say “That was good, but I dont see what all the fuss was” a la KFP.

      And the upside is you’re meeting a classic for the first time. :)

      • Looking forward to it. Added to instant view list. Cant watch tonight, too busy watching my Jets get hammered by the hated Pats.

    • Yep, I’m in the same boat. I think this is the only one of your “Movies That Everyone Should See” that I haven’t actually seen yet. Now you’ve kicked my Completist Gland, so I’ll make sure I get around to it.

      Just never liked much of a high school comedy movies.

      • Well now I DEFINITELY want to hear what you think, cause my first instinct was to say, oh but it’s not a “High School Comedy”, but I guess technically it is…

        It’s just not the cookie cutter type of flick that a genre label like that brings to mind.

  4. Mr. Fogarty,

    First off, you never need to thank me for artwork. I enjoy doing it and anything I can to help make your blog better. Besides, we are boys and that’s what friends do. I must admit, this is probably one of the best written pieces I’ve read so far. Not just because I am a huge fan of the movie, but you hit it right on the head, all of us experienced this night before (well hopefully all of us did). Cruising through McD’s parking lot, finding out where the party was taking place, trying not to get caught by the man – it’s what high school was all about. And then there’s Wooderson. My lord what a character. And just like you Dan, I get misty when I think about those days. Young, stupid, carefree and lucky enough to never get caught. Love it. And as I unfortunately get older, I often think back the words of Wooderson: The older you get, the more rules they are going to try and get you to follow. You just gotta keep on livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N.

    Diggs

    • L-I-V-I-N.

      Well said. (And thanks on kind words on the writeup!)

      Hard not to reminisce when you watch this, but that’s all part of the genius of it. It’s so good at capturing that moment, it’s almost impossible not to feel like you’re reliving it.

      Meanwhile, you will get thanked and you will like it! Got it??

      LOL.

  5. “The older you get, the more rules they are going to try and get you to follow. You just gotta keep on livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N.”

    • I try to change the site’s tagline each week to a line from whatever that week’s “Movie that everyone should see” was….

      And that was the line I picked for the week when this post was running originally. :D Nice call!

  6. I – LOVE- DAZED AND CONFUSED! So much works about this film. There are some great characters. It’s the perfect “coming of age” story. It captures the period. And as you said, the soundtrack is phenomenal (in fact it recently topped my Phenomenal 5 list of movie soundtracks). It’s a movie that I can watch anytime.

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