Dazed and Confused. To anyone who grew up in the Seventies- myself not included- the words are guaranteed to strike a chord, not only of heavy metal guitar feedback, but of sweet nostalgia for those carefree days of innocence, exuberance, and wonder. Well, not really.
What that old Led Zeppelin number brings to mind, with its slow, grinding rhythm punctuated by head-banging howls of rage, is the darker side of adolescence; the boredom, the frustration, the zonked-out quest for meaning that marks our transformation into mature and responsible members of society. Time dulls the pain, or at least puts it into perspective, and it is only when you hear the right record, bump into the right schoolmate, or see the right movie, that it all comes flashing back. Dazed and Confused is the right movie. As for atmosphere, it is dead on. Dazed and Confused captures 1976 brilliantly, from the bell bottoms and feathered hair to the soundtrack of early hard rock classics to a pair of statues painted to look like members of KISS.
The drug and alcohol use is matter-of-fact. The production design had to be perfect, and it is. Anyone who can't quite recall a time when sex was safe and far fewer kids "just said no" should take a look just for the sake of historical accuracy.
It is directed by Richard Linklater and stars a cast of complete unknowns. This 1993 sleeper leads us through a day in the life of a loosely-aligned group of seniors and freshmen at a high school in suburban Texas. What happens? It's 1976, school's out for the summer, and kids in pickup trucks and convertibles are cruising the neon-lit streets, swigging beer, philosophizing, looking for a place to party. They pull up at a roadhouse, pig out on shakes and fries, flirt, fight, smash up a few random objects, and mull over the meaninglessness of their existence: "If I ever say these were the best years of my life," sighs the long-haired sloucher in the back-seat, "remind me to kill myself". To which Dawson replied "Well, all I'm saying is that I want to look back and say that I did it the best I could while I was stuck in this place. Had as much fun as I could while I was stuck in this place. Played as hard as I could while I was stuck in this place.
That cliche "These are the best years of your life", where exactly does that come from? We've all heard it. Our parents were forever telling us that when we were in high school. "Make the best of high school years, they are the best of your life." I beg to differ. High school kids are so mean to each other. If you don't fit a certain criterion, then you aren't accepted by everyone. It's ridiculous how judgmental young people can be towards each other. In another sense though, the friends you do make will be your friends forever. You may not keep in touch as much after high school, but they will be the friends that you never forget.
Dazed and Confused is a movie built on character rather than plot. When I watched it for the first time, captivated by its understated, perfectly-judged evocation of an era and an attitude, I kept wondering how long it would be before the cliches of the genre caught up with the material. Would there be a tragic car-crash during a pre-dawn drag race? Would there be a bloody-nosed fist-fight between a jock and a nerd over a girl? Would the skinny, beer-addled freshman plunge to his death as he climbed the last rung of the observation tower at the last-day-of-school party? No to all of the above.
Dazed and Confused is a real slice of real life, to the extent that it actually seems to raid your own memory banks for its inspiration. Remember that eagerly-anticipated house party that had to be canned at the last minute, when the guy's parents stumbled across an ahead-of-schedule beer delivery just as they were about to set off on holiday? Remember that frantic rush to hide the evidence and spray the air with freshener when your communal music-listening session was interrupted by an adult voice and an urgent knocking on the bedroom door? Remember that wild night when you drove around smashing mailboxes and hurling heavy objects through the windshields of cars parked in tranquil suburbia? Okay, so maybe we didn't all do these things, but even across oceans of time and space, I recognize myself and my friends in this picture somewhere. And even if it isn't always pleasant viewing - did they really wear mustard hipsters and purple shirts to school dances? - it never fails to leave me basking in a glow of personal connection. And that's the best kind of feeling you can hope to get from a movie.
This movie was an excellent portrayal of the seventies. Rolling Stone Magazine says that it was "Spectacularly funny." Entertainment Weekly says "Accompanied by the music of Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Foghat and more, a superb ensemble cast delivers the most slyly funny and dead on portrait of American teenage life ever made."