Video Vault: Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused
1993: Richard Linklater
Rated R – 103 minutes
Vault Rating: 8

“Dazed and Confused” is to the last day of school as “Christmas Story” is to Christmas. Both movies feel true, and even if you don’t know any of the characters parading across the screen, chances are you do know the type.

Chances are you were at that party. If not, chances are the film set you to reminiscing about that place in time, that right of passage.

Richard Linklater is that rare indie filmmaker who has officially made it. He came out of Texas on a shoestring in the late ’80s and helped define the culture of the ’90s with his critically acclaimed “Slackers.” Since then, his budgets have increased and his credits include 2001’s audaciously animated “Waking Life,” the 2003 Jack Black vehicle, “The School of Rock,” and most recently, “Fast Food Nation” and “A Scanner Darkly.”

Today’s film is a warm look at graduation day at a Texas high school in 1976. Rising juniors are busy putting the finishing touches on paddles they plan to use on the rising freshmen boys, who are to be mercilessly hunted down and summarily spanked. A-list chicks are likewise torturing the new freshman girls.

Linklater leavens this particular type of cruelty with the passing of the torch of acceptance as the fresh-faced Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) and Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa), operating in these gender-specific worlds, are ushered into their proper places in the high school universe. And as night falls, the party circuit heats up as kids find their rides (girls in the punchbug, boys in the muscle car) and, more importantly, where they’re heading for the night.

The fashion sense of the movie is dead-on and reminds us that some ’70s fashion trends actually worked. The sound of the film is bursting with the stadium rock of the time, reminding us that the ’70s got a really bad rap for music. And the partying as it is portrayed reminds us of a kind of illicit innocence in the shadow of the ’60s. In retrospect, the film plays very honest, taking a more earnest path to the better side of Jeff Spicoli.

Now, at the local video stop in Philipsburg, this movie rents a lot, placing in the top 10 rentals in the store all time. I mean, this movie doesn’t sit still long. I would like to think this is because of the DVD re-issue, but mostly it is because the stoners like it a lot. Excellent party movie, dude.

But you know what? I suspect “Dazed and Confused” will work across different cultural divides, plying humor and compassion, and ushering everyone back into the pathways of their own memories. Hey, man; I personally knew a real-life equivalent of just about every character in the film. Spiff Robinson was our platinum-haired lady-killer and Frog Moore had this very tough tricked-out Super-Bee. Mitch weirdly reminded me of a cross-hatching of the Spingola brothers, Stephen and Robbie. I could cast the whole movie from my own experience.

Which brings me to an ensemble cast, richly deserving of special note. Including youngsters Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Renee Zellweger and Milla Jovovich and many others, this cast is very nuanced, very charming.

If you haven’t seen “Dazed and Confused” yet, do yourself the favor. You may find yourself thinking back to a place you once were, with a lot of old friends.

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