From its first shot of an orange GTO gracefully pulling into a high school in slow motion, perfectly timed to Aerosmith's 'Sweet Emotion', Dazed and Confused generates a quantifiable and expressive look back at suburban life in a small Texas town in 1976. Focusing on the last day of school, the film follows a group of teenagers, frustrated by the limitations and boredom of their lives, defined by decisions that will one day seem unimportant.
I first saw Dazed and Confused as a seven-year old with my two older siblings who had heard of a cool film about school and partying. It was the first time that I had seen illicit substances, sex and Gilligan's Island displayed prominently and, frankly, most of it went over my head at the time. Nevertheless, I was enamoured with the film.
While subsequent viewings have given me further understanding of the humour and more spot-the-celebrity moments (Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich, and Joey Lauren Adams all star here), it is its authenticity – or what seems authentic for a period I was not part of – that makes Dazed and Confused a film that has followed me through many stages of my life.
The framework of the film bears obvious similarities to George Lucas' American Graffitti (1973) and would spawn further author-character associations like Swingers (1996) and Superbad (2007). Nevertheless, Linklater's best efforts – including Before Sunrise (1995), Waking Life (2001) and Before Sunset (2003) – all contain the severely limited time frame, allowing him to cultivate a portrait of people's lives of a particular age, a particular social standing, and a particular moment in time.
Linklater has always excelled in getting the little things right, combining them to gradually escalate into something complete and organic. In Dazed and Confused, it's found in the marriage of movement and sound. The right car, the right song, the perfect swerve into a billiard's parking lot – it is a creation of the cruise, aided by the car's suspension and the characters' mannerisms. The actors truly become their character types: McConaughey's womaniser to Adam Goldberg's socially-inept intellectual to Ben Affleck's raging and incomprehensible punisher.
Yet their social positions are constantly changing, bookended by Jason London's Randall Floyd – the football star – and incoming freshman Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), both considered the director's alter ego. And this is why Dazed and Confused is the constant in my life: every individual in the film provides characterisations of both author and viewer at different points of their maturation.
While many of us were never the football star, we have been the wide-eyed newcomer with a unique gesture, just like Mitch's grabbing the bridge of his nose. We have been confronted with a difficult choice; we have argued and laughed with friends; and we have all cared too much or too little about how we appear to others.
This is why Dazed and Confused is so important: through a day in the life of teenagers who ride in cars, take part in abstract conversations, and drink to their heart's content, the viewer is not presented with just individuals from another era, but a gesture of reflection and solidarity where liberation is more important than the responsibility of perceived identity. Indeed, while the first time gave me “check ya later”, subsequent viewings have revealed the importance of L-I-V-I-N.
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Dazed and Confused
Sunday 1 December, 10:30PM on SBS VICELAND
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Wiley Wiggins, Adam Goldberg, Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt, Renee Zellweger
What's it about?
This critically acclaimed cult favourite, written and directed by Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Before Sunrise), explores the last day of school - and one wild night - in the lives of high school students in 1976. Complete with bongs and bell bottoms, macrame and mood rings, and featuring a classic rock soundtrack by Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and KISS.