Most Likely to Endure
'Dazed and Confused,' a decade later
Last week, Entertainment Weekly put out a special collectors issue ranking cinema's top 50 cult classics. Texas made a more than respectable showing, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (No. 6) and Rushmore (No. 42) making a list that was capped by an entire feature on the enduring appeal of Mike Judge's Office Space. Dazed and Confused made the cut, too: It's perched at No. 17, trailing Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! but just edging out Hard-Boiled. Odd company to keep -- who woulda thunk the tenderhearted Dazed would have anything in common with Russ Meyer's sexploitation or John Woo's Hong Kong grit? -- but they all made the list for one reason: staying power.
As Dazed and Confused celebrates its 10-year anniversary this weekend, validation, however superficial -- it is, after all, only a list -- has to feel good. Not just validation: vindication. Richard Linklater's film by no means tanked at the box office in 1993 -- it made back its cost with a couple million in spare change left over -- but it was Linklater's first film after the sleeper hit Slacker, and his first big budget. There were expectations. There were also painful, protracted battles with the studio -- over budget, over music, over marketing -- detailed in a diary Linklater published in the Chronicle in September of 1993. It's a fascinating, sometimes tragic, always all-balls-out piece. One choice bit: "I thought I was giving them what could be a commercial film on a very frugal budget, especially considering it's a period piece. The lines are clearly drawn: All they care about is money and all I care about is wresting my movie from the jaws of their compromised, mediocrity machine."
Wrest it he did, to create an indelible portrait of youth on the brink of adulthood. The film takes place on the last day of school in 1976. Students skip class and smoke pot. The rising seniors haze the incoming freshmen (memorably led by the deliciously snide Parker Posey: "C'mon, you little freshman bitches! Air raid!"). They cruise around town, getting burgers at Top Notch and looking for something -- anything -- to do. A party gets busted by parents and shifts to the Moon Tower, where teenagers hook up and fights break out. In the end, as the sun rises on the day after the last day of school, four of them hit the road, on their way to Houston to buy Aerosmith tickets. Curtain down.
Got plot? Not much, but that's really rather the point: the plotlessness of adolescence. These kids wander from class to class, from one party to the next, from one girlfriend to another, just as easily gotten. They talk a lot of shit and smoke each other's dope and rock out to the supreme gods of Floyd and Dylan and Zeppelin (scratch that last one: Linklater couldn't get the rights, despite having sent a videotaped plea to Robert Plant and Jimmy Page). With the exception of the era-specific music, what the kids like in Dazed and Confused is pretty much the same thing kids like now, which goes a long way in explaining why, 10 years later, the video's a staple in college dorms, owned by kids who weren't conceived yet in the Seventies and couldn't buy a ticket to the R-rated movie when it came out in the Nineties. Weed, it seems, never goes out of style, and any film so easily manipulated into a drinking game will always go over big with a crowd. (Try this one: Take a swig every time first-time actor Wiley Wiggins, as freshman runt Mitch, touches his nose self-consciously. Then pass out.)
OK, Dazed and Confused isn't all about getting buzzed -- not, ahem, that there's anything wrong with that. But the film is also funny and wistful and goofy and good-humored, sincerely celebrating the small but worthy rebellions of youth. And then, the moments of transcendence: A guy walks into a bar, but that guy is the then-unknown Matthew McConaughey. In tight pink pants, pack of smokes rolled up in his left sleeve, he saunters into the Emporium in slo-mo, to the jukebox sound of Dylan's "Hurricane." The moment is sublime.
Near the end of Linklater's diary, he finds some peace after so much struggle and heartbreak. "I find some Zen moment in here somewhere -- there will be the rather lame marketing and then there will be the film for all time -- ready to reach whatever audience feels disposed to find it." They did find it, eventually. They still do. And they can probably quote every line.