Judge Brendan Babish got a contact high just from watching this film about errant youth in the 1970s.
Our reviews of Dazed and Confused (Blu-ray) (published August 1st, 2011), Dazed and Confused (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection (published October 25th, 2011), and Ultimate Party Collection: Dazed And Confused / Fast Times At Ridgemont High (published December 7th, 2004) are also available.
See it with a bud.
All right, all right, all right…this is the much-anticipated Criterion release of the teen classic Dazed and Confused. Certainly many fans of the film have purchased both previous DVD incarnations. So does Criterion's presentation justify a triple dip?
Facts of the Case
School's out…forever! It's May 28, 1976, the last day of school for the local middle and high schools in Austin, Texas. In Austin, the last day of school doesn't just mean freedom, but also initiation for the next year's incoming high school freshmen. This entails a vicious paddling for the boys and public ketchup and mustard shower for the girls. Of course, for the upperclassmen of Lee High, after emasculating and humiliating their underlings it's party time.
Dazed and Confused follows 24 students—ranging from incoming freshmen to a long-graduated hanger-on—as they all cruise and meander around town in search of drinks, drugs, and other assorted cheap thrills. Over the course of the evening little of consequence occurs, but there's plenty of snogging, fisticuffs, and foosball to help pass the time. Ah, the joy of youth.
In 1993, when Dazed and Confused was released, I was still in high school, at a smallish school in upstate New York. One afternoon during the semester the film was released my theater teacher went around the room polling each student on their favorite film. In a class of 16 students, four picked Dazed and Confused as the best they had ever seen (the only other film receiving multiple votes was Dirty Dancing). When my teacher pressed students to explain their appreciation for the movie, invariably all would say that the film seemed real and genuine, and closely mirrored their own high school experience.
The strangest part of this is not that 25% of my class claimed this respected but rather unheralded film as their favorite. It's that students attending a suburban New York high school in 1993 related so strongly with high school students in Austin, Texas in 1976. Nobody in my school got paddled. None of the girls were sprayed with condiments. Nobody played foosball. But we did drink. On occasion weed would be present at our gatherings. We didn't trust authority. Oh, and, like the students in Dazed and Confused, and like students everywhere, we were bored.
These are the common denominators of most high schools across America. However, it seems most teen films, which are produced by individuals long removed from their own high school experience, lack an authenticity in portraying the reality of teenage existence. In reality nerds rarely score with the head cheerleader. Teenagers don't have sex with pies. And screaming loudly doesn't make glass break (that scene with Emilio Estevez single-handedly ruined The Breakfast Club for me).
Dazed and Confused gets nearly everything right. Not just the obvious facts of youth: old kids bully younger ones; teenagers resent authority; alcohol is a necessity for all gatherings. This is the easy stuff. But Dazed and Confused nails the minutiae of teenage ennui. After a Little League baseball game the teams are forced to line up, slap the other team's hands, and mutter, "Good game" (remember that?); on the way to the parking lot everyone yells "Shotgun!" at the same time; at night everyone drives around town looking for fun, and nothing much happens.
It is not just the universality of Dazed and Confused that has caused its renown to grow over the past decade. This is a funny movie. It is also, with the exception of The Big Lebowski, the most quotable film of the past twenty years: "It'd be a lot cooler if you did," "Chasing the muff around," "It's money in my pocket," "Check ya later!" and so on. This movie also contains the line that ensures Matthew McConaughey's immortality: "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age."
That said, Dazed and Confused is not a flawless film. The performances of some novice actors—okay, okay, Wily Wiggins (who plays the perpetually flummoxed Mitch)—cannot measure up to others in the exceptional cast. Melvin Spivey (Jason O. Smith) is the only black character in the film, and he is also strikingly underdeveloped. He doesn't get any action, he doesn't get any good lines, and he disappears halfway through the film. Melvin is the most nondescript black character in an otherwise white cast since the creation of Franklin in the Peanuts comic strip.
Still, these are minor flaws and cannot detract from what is a nostalgic and entertaining trip. But most anyone who's considering purchasing the Criterion release already knows this. So the question is: if you already own one of the previous DVD incarnations of Dazed and Confused, is this one worth the upgrade? The answer, of course, depends on your appreciation of the film. If you think the movie's just all right, then you'll do fine with your bare-bones edition. But if you're a fan of the movie, you're going to want to check out all the bells and whistles in this double-disc set.
It's not the new, high-definition transfer that's going to justify the upgrade. While the picture is sharp and the sound is an aural extravaganza, these are not noticeable upgrades from the previous Party Pack DVD. This set also provides 18 deleted scenes. Some of these were also provided on the Party Pack DVD, but here director Richard Linklater seems to pretty much clear out his vaults of extra material. Unfortunately, most of the scenes are grainy, and few are worthy of inclusion in the film, but die-hard fans are going to appreciate the added context. Linklater also provides a commentary that was recorded for this release. Linklater's films have always exhibited a relaxed coolness, and he exhibits that in his commentary, praising his actors and crediting various members of the production staff for their contributions to the film. Still, it would have been a bit better if he had provided some anecdotes involving cast members (he implies there were hook-ups off camera, but doesn't name names). At the end of the film he mentions that several then-unknown actors auditioned for the movie but weren't cast, yet only mentions one, Vince Vaughn (who lost out to Cole Hauser—go figure).
Disc Two provides "Making Dazed," a 50-minute documentary that covers the making of the film and features snippets from the 10th-anniversary reunion of most of the cast. Although the documentary feels a bit compressed, it is great to see where many of the more obscure cast members ended up. For me, the highlight of the second disc was the audition footage. This includes audition tapes for the majority of the film's featured roles. It's interesting to see young Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Adam Goldberg, and others give such underdeveloped yet promising performances of characters that would later become iconic portrayals of disaffected youth.
Lastly, the set comes with a 72-page booklet that includes comments from cast and filmmakers, essays, and plenty of pictures. One of the essays is provided by talented music writer Chuck Klosterman, who contributes a hilarious piece praising the film.
All in all, there is nothing essential in the Criterion set, but there are so many worthwhile bonuses in these DVDs that I don't imagine any Dazed and Confused fans could be disappointed with this purchase.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In "Making Dazed" Richard Linklater notes that, due to the temporary dearth of teen stars at the time the film was made, the studio allowed him to cast young unknowns in all the film's featured roles. He said that if he were making the film today he would be probably be forced to showcase WB actors. Imagining James Van Der Beek as Wooderson should make every fan of this movie shudder.
Linklater said with Dazed and Confused he was looking to make the American Graffiti of the '70s. I think in about ten years another young director making a period teen comedy is going to say he wants to make the Dazed and Confused for the '90s.
Not guilty. That's what I'm talking about.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Richard Linklater
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