Judge Gordon Sullivan has been dazed and confused for decades now.
Our reviews of Dazed and Confused (Blu-ray) (published August 1st, 2011), Dazed And Confused: Criterion Collection (published May 29th, 2006), and Ultimate Party Collection: Dazed And Confused / Fast Times At Ridgemont High (published December 7th, 2004) are also available.
See it with a bud…
Cinema as a medium is completely entwined with the idea of time. For the cinematic effect of motion to occur, time must be an element. Consequently, masters of cinema are often masters of time. Richard Linklater didn't seem like he was going to embrace the cinematic medium for his talk-heavy, slow-moving debut Slacker, but the opening shot of his second film—Dazed and Confused—cemented his status as cinematic auteur. When that perfectly orange GTO swoops into a parking lot in slo-mo, with Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" rising from the soundtrack, it's easy to see that Linklater had found his voice. The combination of the colors, the soundtrack, and that achingly perfect slow-motion clearly signaled the film's period trappings while also standing in as something timeless, a distillation of so much of the adolescent high school experience. Criterion saw fit to give the film a lovely double-disc set way back in 2006. Now they're releasing Dazed and Confused (Blu-ray), and the results are fantastic, combining a fantastic audiovisual transfer with all the extras of the old release.
Facts of the Case
Dazed and Confused doesn't have much of a plot—and doesn't need one—but it centers on a group of Texas high schoolers on the last day of school in 1976. The main "story" is that of Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London, The Man in the Moon), a football hero who is reluctant to take a loyalty pledge to continue playing in the next season. He's reluctant because he doesn't mind a bit of partying, and the plot of the film revolves around the attempts to find that elusive state of fun by a group of high school students.
The 1990s were a home to a number of day-in-the-life-of films, with varying degrees of success. I don't know if there was something in the water, but more often than not they turned out well, with films like Clerks, Empire Records, and Can't Hardly Wait earning cult (or larger) status. However, a couple of significant things set Dazed and Confused apart:
• It's a period film. Unlike something like Clerks, Dazed and Confused takes place in the not-so-distant past of 1976. The distance allows for some comedy, and the attempt to evoke another era keeps the film timeless in a way that other products of the '90s don't share.
• It's not nostalgic. Lots of films that try to evoke a particular period—especially the period the writer and/or director grew up in—end up being steeped in nostalgia, like this era isn't as good as the one that's passed. That's not quite true with Linklater's film. It seems like he chose 1976 because it was the year he could best evoke, the year he could best talk about from personal experience. Already thirty-three when the film was made, Linklater could easily have sounded like a fraud writing contemporary teenagers. Sticking to the past lets Linklater keep a consistent voice, which helps the film feel even more timeless.
• The film has a double structure. Well, maybe not a double structure, but I like that it interweaves the stories of older, more experienced students with the incoming freshmen. Most day-in-the-life stories focus on a small, core group that are of similar age. Giving the perspective of older and younger characters gives Slacker a little extra depth that other films in the genre lack. Similarly, the film does trade a bit on stereotypes—the stoners, the football jocks—but these characters are fleshed out in interesting ways, given a texture that other films don't usually achieve.
• The casting is spot-on. Other ensemble casts in the 1990s were good, and some even arguably contained better actors, but no other film of younger actors in the 1990s had this many perfect actors married to the exact right role. From the angry Ben Affleck to the laidback Matthew McConaughey, everyone is exactly right for their role.
Respecting all these differences, Criterion has given Dazed and Confused the deluxe treatment on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 AVC-encoded transfer is amazing. The film has a slightly oversaturated '70s look that feels true to the period without aping the older stocks. That color is perfectly preserved on this transfer, as is the slightly soft cinematography. Detail is as strong as its supposed to be (razor sharpness would detract from the period style), and blacks are nice and deep. There are no authoring issues or compression artefacts to speak of. The soundtrack gets a DTS-HD upgrade, and what's most noticeable is the clarity of the film's music. All the vintage tracks come out with full force and clarity, and they're balanced well with the film's dialogue.
Extras are extensive, and start with a Linklater commentary that provides an in-depth discussion of the film's genesis, production, and reception. He's candid and well-informed, and speaks pretty steadily for the whole running time of the film. Next up is a documentary on the film's production that combines on-set footage with newer interviews to give a complete picture of what it was like to make the film. If that wasn't enough, we get another peek behind the scenes with a collection of on-set footage and interviews of the actors talking in-character. Then there are seventeen deleted scenes, and twelve ets of audition tapes. Finally, there's some footage from the film's tenth anniversary party and the theatrical trailer. The usual Criterion booklet includes some good essays on the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film doesn't have much narrative drive. If you're looking for an action-packed look at high school life, then this is not the film for you. This is more of an ensemble piece, and if you fall in love with one of the characters, you might be disappointed that they don't get all the screen time.
Dazed and Confused is a classic film about growing up and the high school experience. It's got a solid cast, an amazing soundtrack, and a timeless feel. Criterion has outdone their already stellar DVD set with this hi-def upgrade. Although individual upgrade decisions will vary, there's no doubt that this is the perfect way to own the film.
It may be Dazed and Confused, but it's not guilty.
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