|Dazed and Confused (1993)
Starring: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Cole Hauser, Parker Posey, Joey Lauren Adams, Rory Cochran, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Marissia Ribisi, Milla Jovovich
Director: Richard Linklater
If you could pick just one film that best defined the ‘70s, what would it be? Color me crazy, but Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” is not only a prime candidate, but it’s also incredibly deserving of the title; even if the film wasn’t actually made during the decade in question. As an amusing commentary on life in high school, “Dazed” nails almost every aspect of teenage culture without even breaking a sweat. And while it may seem like there’s not much going on in the story, isn’t that the point? The film is actually like high school, and not a movie about high school. There’s a big difference, and that’s why the film has quickly become one of the biggest cult classics of the last twenty years.
Juggling more than a dozen characters throughout, the film never officially designates a main protagonist, but perhaps the two most relevant characters are Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London), senior and star quarterback who enters summer break with a very important decision to make (sign an anti-drug commitment or suffer the consequences), and Mitch Krammer (Wiley Wiggins), an incoming freshman who, after receiving his complimentary hazing from the seniors, embraces the high school culture of beer, weed, and women. Then there’s Mike, Tony and Cynthia (Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp and Marissa Ribisi, respectively), a trio of philosophical nerds eager to have a good time, senior jocks O’Bannion and Benny (Ben Affleck and Cole Hauser, respectively), resident stoner Slater (Rory Cochran), Queen bees Darla and Simone (Parker Posey and Joey Lauren Adams, respectively), and Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson, that guy who never left high school even though he graduated years ago.
And that’s only half of the cast, though most of the remaining characters (including Milla Jovovich, who only has three lines throughout the entire film) can’t exactly be considered major players. The main core of actors, though, all do a great job with their respective roles, but none are as finely tuned as Affleck’s paddle-happy jock, O’Bannion. Playing the quintessential asshole flawlessly, this is easily Affleck’s best role to date, and one that would give him plenty of experience playing similar characters (see “Mallrats” and “Boiler Room”) later down the road. In fact, Linklater’s film is packed with familiar stereotypes (Affleck, the asshole; Posey, the bitch; Goldberg, the spineless brain; and Nicky Katt as the town bully), but what makes the characters so fundamentally different from every other teen comedy is that they’re not molded from the idea of people you knew in high school, but rather are people you knew in high school.
That would explain why watching the coming-of-age tale feels a lot like hanging out with your friends, and even more so why “Dazed” is one of the best films made about the ‘70s. It doesn’t exactly capture the essence of the decade with any specific flair, but it seamlessly portrays what it was like to be a teenager in 1976. The rock ‘n roll soundtrack comprised of such legendary musical acts like Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, ZZ Top, KISS and Lynyrd Skynyrd only help to validate the time period, and while “Dazed and Confused” may never be considered a great film, it’s fanatical cult status will undoubtedly continue to grow with each passing year.
The Criterion Collection has never been one to disappoint with their premium DVD release of classic films, and they’re not about to start now. Appearing on a two-disc set and featuring an all-new digital video transfer, “Dazed and Confused” comes loaded with hours of bonus material, a copy of the original movie poster, and a 74-page booklet that includes character profiles, cast memoirs, and three excellent critical essays.
The first disc of the set features the new transfer of the film (looking better than ever), a full-length audio commentary with writer/director Richard Linklater (recorded Jan 20th, 2006), and seventeen deleted scenes that were obviously cut for time. Unfortunately, this resulted in the loss of a hilarious little scene between Parker Posey and Joey Lauren Adams, but I can understand why it was removed – it doesn’t serve the story in any way.
Disc two contains a bulk of the bonus material, including the excellent 50-minute documentary, “Making ‘Dazed’,” featuring footage from the 1992 production of the film and the 2003 cast/crew reunion. Also included are character interviews (which Linklater made all of the principal actors participate in to better understand their roles), cast/crew interviews, and tons of behind-the-scenes footage spanning a decade.