It’s what we love about these films, man. We get older and they just stay the same age. With 1993’s Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater delivered a shot of pure nostalgia in the arm of cinema goers, whether it be those who lived through the ’70s (fetishist of the decade Quentin Tarantino is supposedly a huge fan) and those who were going through their teens at time of release, he bottled something for viewers yearning for that time, regardless of experience. As it celebrates its 25th birthday this week, its place in the pantheon of high school coming-of-age movies has never been more assured as viewers keep returning to Austin, Texas to relive the last day of school at Lee.
Seen as an antidote to the melodramatic and overtly earnest films of John Hughes, Linklater wanted to present a snapshot of a more carefree and relaxed childhood with lower stakes and less dramatic consequences, one more akin to his own teenage years. When looking back at the twilight of youth, it’s these lackadaisical days of triviality where nothing much mattered that are missed, and the reason we keep coming back to films like Dazed and Confused.
This film is a lot of things; first off, the obvious, it’s a coming of age story though a little more relaxed on its morality signalling than other lesson-trading, trope-laden offerings in the genre. The characters here are shown just as they are, as the kids we all grew up with no bells and whistles, just true – warts and all. This sense of reality also skews the way we look at romance on film, here it’s visualised with all the awkwardness and ineptitude that transpires in with horny teens. Finally, on another level, it’s a chase movie having freshman kids on the run from the soon-to-be high school seniors stalking their prey, ready to impart the hazing process with a few licks of a cricket bat to a helpless 9th graders. Needless to say, it’s also a stoner classic, in much the same way as cities often become seen as characters themselves in film, weed is to Dazed and Confused how Tokyo is to Lost In Translation, the two are intrinsically linked.
Though on a surface level its name could suggest that this is strictly this, a stoner move, it’s actually meant to accompany the idea that, as Linklater explains “it takes a full decade to process your teenage years.” If that’s the deeper meaning behind the title, the credit itself need be left at the door of Led Zeppelin whose 1969 song of the same name encapsulated the film’s mood perfectly. However, somewhat ironically, the band declined on handing over a song of theirs for use in the film, something the director had been working on as to create a sense of time music was always seen as key piece in the movie – Linklater actually prepared a personalised mixtape for each of his young actors. Due to its collection of then-unknowns making up the cast, a reasonably unprecedented sixth of the $6.9 million budget was free to use on the film’s iconic soundtrack which features huge hits from the likes of Bob Dylan, Aerosmith and Alice Cooper.
With the bulk of the budget dedicated to hazy rock n roll singles of yesteryear, Dazed and Confused managed to assemble one of the most impressive cast of young actors seen in film during the nineties, providing a formative experience for now veteran character actors like Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg while giving a first look at soon to be headline stars such as action star Milla Jovovich, Renée Zellwegger, who’s onscreen in an uncredited capacity and Oscar-winning writer and director/Batman Ben Affleck, in the role of high school bully Fred O’Bannion that he beat one Vince Vaughn to. Sharing a casting director with Fast Times At Ridgemont High, a film which featured early-career appearances by Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, and Nicolas Cage, meant that every up and comer in LA was after an audition in front Don Phillips, with people like Claire Danes and Brendan Fraser missing out. Though it was the hottest gig in town, due to one chance encounter with Phillips (one which ended in the pair being thrown out of an Austin bar) a recent University of Texas graduate took the role of 20-something Wooderson and wrote his name down in American indie cinema folklore forever.
Despite now being the recipient of an Academy Award for Best Actor, Matthew McConnaughey had always planed to use his film degree to get into directing and had it not been for Dazed and Confused, who knows how career would look at this point. With a performance that exists as near-caricature in hindsight, McConnaughey is Wooderson, every quirk, every catchphrase, every alright, alright, alright seems to have stuck with him since 1993. As the film’s cult hero floats throughout the film nonchalantly, only giving the film his full attention at times, he proceeds to steal the camera’s gaze and with Chrevrolet full of repeatedly quotable lines, it’s often hard to remember Wooderson is far from a lead here. In a debut film role, one that still follows him to this day – Oscar and all, McConnaughey’s charismatic potential is palpable and this performance rightly put his career in motion.
Throughout his career Linklater has delivered projects awash with an air of wistfulness, resplendent with electric ensemble casts creating a technicolour tableau of teen Americana. This was also seen in this decade’s Everybody Wants Some!!, something of a Dazed and Confused companion piece, replacing hapless stoners with a bunch of testy college baseball players yet following much the same formula. Richard Linklater may not want to take another trip down memory lane, but as a master in the art of perfectly distilling a nostalgic snapshot of youth, it’d be a lot cooler if he did.