The Linklater Project 4: Dazed and Confused (1993)

One of our favorite filmmakers, Richard Linklater, is releasing a new film this summer. So, we figured we’d watch all of the other movies he has made before we see it… just, you know, for context. (While applying a totally made up rating system, of course). Follow along with us.

Linklater’s follow-up to Slacker was the ageless classic Dazed and Confused, a time capsule of high school life in small town Texas in the mid-70’s. Though immediately beloved by critics and a career-defining moment for many in the cast, Dazed and Confused was a box office bust at the time. Linklater and the studio were apparently at odds about all sorts of stuff, though my theory is that the stoner comedy marketing campaign is to blame for the lackluster dollars. (Like, WTF is up with that poster – with the tie dye and the wazzy facial expressions and “see it with a bud.” Blech.) 

Good thing that the movie is so incredible, none of that matters in the slightest.

Who is the protagonist? Who is the film about?

The most obvious protagonist is Randy “Pink” Floyd, the now-senior quarterback (of the football team, but also – kind of – the school). Throughout the last day of his junior year, Pink floats from class to hazing freshmen to lazy hangouts to partying while he ponders whether or not to sign the anti-fun pledge sheet his coach has made mandatory.

Pink’s version of the day is one of many though, and Linklater lets you in on the hangouts of lots of groups at different times, creating a palpable hum of teenage boredom and drama in this specific Texas town on this summer day in 1976.

Who/what is the antagonist – or propels the action?

It’s not exactly adults and it’s not exactly institutions, though schools and sports teams and the like do play a role. The dynamic tension between freedom and responsibility, between youth and maturity, between new experiences and good behavior keeps things moving throughout Dazed. One character who represents the establishment well – and who does very tangibly propel the narrative action of most of the film – is Pickford’s Dad, who busts Pickford planning a party and decides to stay home for the weekend, kicking all the kids in town out of the house to wander around for the night.

Midnight Cinematic Index (MCI) Rating

Characters: 5

Linklater’s superpower for creating specific, idiosyncratic, authentic characters is fully bloomed. Rumor has it that this tapestry is based very blatantly on the student body of Linklater’s high school – so much so that a few former classmates tried to cause a legal kerfuffle about it. Maybe it’s his special reverence for place that gives his characters such a shine; somehow he continues to find the sweet spot where hyper-individual and familiar meet. It’s easy to find yourself, your friends, your teachers, your frenemies, etc. in this movie – even if, in my case, high school was more than 20 years after it was set and more than 5 years after it was released. Still – we’re all here.

Style: 4.5

1970’s rock music plays a major role. Legend has it that Linklater spent a whopping 1/6 of the entire film’s ~$7M budget on securing the rights to specific songs – and that he made a tape for each of the main characters that he asked them to listen to exclusively while filming. Visually, it’s fresh and clear-eyed, with a few well chosen showoff moments that elevate the film from fun and insightful to transcendent.

Structure: 4

If Slacker was a wandering movie, Dazed is a wandering movie with a familiar structure (last day of school) in a much smaller place, which gives us the chance to see how the characters weave in and out of each other’s experiences in various settings throughout the day.

Ideas: 4

Authentic stories of young people – and of being young – are riveting. There is something true and universal about the experience of figuring out who you are as a teenager that I will always have a special place for in my heart, where this movie and lots of others live. In order for it to work, it makes sense that the context should be specific to the creators and their experience – in this case, Linklater’s experience of being white, growing up in an overwhelmingly white town in Texas. It isn’t the fault of the film that its story is the dominant story in the landscape of popular American cinema, though it isn’t a coincidence either – Linklater’s own identity played a role in the opportunities he had in his life, as each of our identities do. For me, this was a helpful reminder to wake up again to the role our American caste system plays in all things, and to remember that this story isn’t the only one that matters. So do these stories , and these, and all of these. And these! And so many more.

Midnight Rating: 5

I love it a little bit more every time.

Linklaterism Bonus: 84%

For staring out the window of cars; talking about dreams; aimlessly walking around; armchair philosophizing; conspiracy theories (“There’s some spooky stuff goin’ on on a dollar bill, man.”); mini-sports (bottlecaps); mildly threatening hyper-masculinity (O’Bannion is the quintessential); Texas; a mysterious, unpredictable, effortlessly alluring lady; wasted or stoned conversing; playing parlour games (pool!); time as a structural element

Overall: 8.28

Dazed and Confused is rentable (Vudu, Google Play, iTunes) – it is just as fresh and lucid now as it was in 1993, in fact, I think it has gotten only better with age. Strongly recommended!

In the same movie family as…

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