Throwback Thursday examines films from the past — “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important in some aspect.
I love this time of year. With the changing of the seasons we go from the chills of October to the warm fuzzy feelings (I hope) that November and Thanksgiving bring. Expanding on this theme, I’ll spend this month sharing my favorite feel-good movies. These are films that trigger nostalgia or just make me happy when I’m blue.
Dazed and Confused (1993, Richard Linklater, R)
A box office bomb when first released, Dazed and Confused went on to reach minor cult status. In part, this was because it introduced the world to a long list of actors that became major stars (Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey) or indie darlings (Parkey Posey and Wiley Wiggins) or reached in-between status (Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, and Anthony Rapp).
It also signaled that director Richard Linklater — who had shown promise a few years earlier with the indie film Slacker — officially had arrived. Dazed and Confused honed the ambling, almost ambivalent nature of Slacker into something more. While Dazed and Confused also ambles, it also creates characters that you care about and want to succeed.
It takes place on the last day of school for high school seniors in small town Texas in 1976. The film’s amazing opening sets the mood as the the guitar strains of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” accompany the Gramercy Pictures logo. The first scene kicks in with a car driving around a parking lot. As the song builds we’re immersed in a montage of scenes featuring different groups of high school students.
There’s no high drama or real plot to speak of. Sitting in the audience is about watching the characters interact and try to figure out what’s next. Linklater owes a debt to Robert Altman, a director who perfected the art of character-driven ensemble films. Some of Linklater’s best, subsequent films rely on this approach: Boyhood, Waking Life, the Before trilogy, and even — to an extent — A Scanner Darkly. He communicates that it’s not one pivotal moment that defines us: it’s all of our moments.
The music is an entity unto itself although it never overwhelms. It’s basically a soundtrack of the 70’s. It should come as no surprise that the producers spent the majority of the film’s budget on music rights. Featuring songs by Kiss, Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Foghat, and more, the music sets the tone for each scene. It almost feels as though separate music videos — featuring the same characters — joined together to form a movie.
The film is obviously nostalgic for Linklater who grew up in the Austin area in the 1970s. But I think he’s also trying to convey a political message. Where were we as a country during the bicentennial? Did the founding fathers’ grand experiment succeed or fail? Where did Vietnam and the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s leave the baby boomer generation?
I discovered Dazed and Confused in college. After being introduced to Slackers, I learned that Linklater’s next film had just been released on video. (I was “that” guy in college, the student who spent all his money on music and movies. I even had multiple Columbia house and BMG accounts. Kids, go ask your parents if you’re unfamiliar with this critical moment in history). I eagerly bought the movie sight unseen and instantly fell in love with it. I introduced my friends to it. Okay, I admit it: one semester I played it every day.
I could go ahead and describe every scene and explain the particular moment that I love. Instead, I’ll just wrap it up by saying that I want to hang with these people. I want to have a beer, drive around, and maybe even throw a bowling ball with them. Dazed and Confused brings to life characters who are as familiar as your high school classmates are without being stereotypes. They feel comfortable and inviting — like old friends.
What’s your comfort movie? Share in the comments below.
This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix rental and streaming right now, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful. If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.