Filmmaking wunderkind and Texas native Richard Linklater has always applied an anthropological eye in the way he crafts his films; from his second film, the seminal coming of age flick Slackers to his Oscar winning 12-years-in-the-making masterpiece Boyhood, Linklater entrenches his films in their place on the cultural timeline and uses that context to paint a bigger picture.
In Dazed and Confused, Linklater juxtaposes a narrative playfulness with a reflective nature that have since become a staple of his work; tendencies that, in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, could have come off as ham fisted, instead unfold as astute observations on youth and what might come after.
You’d never expect a beer drenched wild card of a film like this to so effortlessly blend together the raucous with the reflective, and yet here we are, 24 years later, still celebrating this effortless marriage of content whose very existence is a miracle unto itself.
Originally conceived as a one shot experimental road trip film set to ZZ Top’s 1975 album Fandango!, Dazed opens on the last day of school as a group of Texan teens drink, drive, and discuss everything from the merits of high school hazing to the perceived monotony of Austin youth.
And boy do they discuss. If Tarantino’s dialogue heavy handedness took a lazy weekend road trip down to Austin, Texas and in a passionate, drunken stupor conceived an illegitimate love child with the literary and emotional dexterity of James Baldwin, Linklater’s films would surely be that child.
The dialogue, though scripted by Linklater, takes on a careless, improvisational tinge that suggests the camaraderie of the cast stemmed far beyond the script (fun fact: the entire cast was involved in a “near death” experience on a lightning plagued flight to Austin for rehearsals which many agreed was the seed that would later evolve into the seemingly effortless chemistry seen on screen).
“If I ever say these were the best years of my life,” Randall “Pink” Floyd, the closest thing the film has to a main character, laments, “remind me to kill myself.”
Floyd’s angst laden lamentation drives home both the zeitgeist of Linklater’s film and the overall teenage experience; the enduring question that infects the minds of every living, breathing, smoking, drinking, class cutting, skirt chasing teenager coasting on the cusp of adulthood that, in the hands of Linklater and Co., is whittled down to its most basic form: is this all there is?
It’s clear that Linklater remembers with great fondness the look and feel of what it was like to be at this sort of adolescent crossroads in 1976, but its in his exploration of these microscopic moments of contemplative confusion where he truly shines; it’s in the way he reminds us that we all look back on our youth through a filter of nostalgic wonder that, like the film’s marijuana historian/stoner god Slater would, inhales the good and exhales the bad.
Like revisiting a once beloved television show and realizing it’s not quite as great as you remember it being, Dazed reminds us all of those booze soaked, weed tinged nights with the people we thought we wouldn’t forget and relishes in the late night reflections that followed; the minutiae of those small, dazed and confused moments where all you can hope for is to do the best you can while you’re there, to have as much fun as you can while you’re there and to play as hard as you can while you’re there.
And after that? Just keep livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N.