Dazed and Confused: Criterion Collection (1993)

Chris Barsanti

Criterion's DVD appreciates the film itself, without trying too hard to analyze or understand it, thank god.

Dazed and Confused: Criterion Collection

Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Matthew McConaughey, Wiley Wiggins, Michelle Burke, Parker Posey, Cole Hauser, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams
Distributor: Criterion Collection
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Universal
First date: 1993
US DVD Release Date: 2006-06-06
Let me tell you what Melba Toast is packin' here. All right, we've got 411 Positrac outback, 750 double pumper Edelbrock intakes, bored over 30, 11-to-1 pop-up pistons, turbo-jet 390 horsepower. We're talkin' some fuckin' muscle.

-- Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey), Dazed and Confused

All I'm saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.

-- Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London), Dazed and Confused

Universal Studios packaged the first Dazed and Confused DVD with its other righteously awesome classic high school flick, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The set was called The Ultimate Party Collection, suggesting that back in 1998, five years after Dazed was in theaters, the studio still saw it as a basic "teen comedy," source of a great soundtrack, endlessly quotable one-liners, regular rotation on cable channels, and maybe even a TV show. The reality, of course, is somewhat different.

Richard Linklater's sophomore film makes you nostalgic for a time you never experienced, and probably wouldn't have liked that much if you had. For those of us raised in the 1980s (the film's most vocal fans are slackers who were still in grade school during the '70s), Dazed and Confused came as a revelation, showing us gaudier, looser times. Set during a single day in 1976 in a small Texas town, Linklater's script follows a dozen or so major characters as they celebrate the last day of high school and the start of another summer.

A batch of juniors are getting ready for their senior years, a couple junior high students can't wait to become freshmen, and they've all got a massive year-end party to attend. With the possible exception of the ritual hazing of incoming freshmen (paddling for the boys, public humiliation for the girls), nothing much of import happens in the movie. Indeed, Linklater is quoted in the booklet that comes with Criterion's DVD as saying that he never understood why teen flicks of the John Hughes school had to be so "dramatic," since that wasn't at all how he remembered things.

The iconic opening shot of Dazed and Confused shows an orange GTO slowly cruising the high school parking lot, under Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion." It's taking its sweet time, just circling the lot, no hurry. The film's conclusion is similarly escapist, with a group driving off into the sunrise to get Aerosmith tickets, "the top priority of the summer."

The students comprise a cross-clique sampling of types -- brains, jocks, stoners, and cool girls. They're aware of social boundaries but don't enforce them so assiduously as teens do in the post-Heathers high school movie. The charismatic quarterback hero, Pink (Jason London), hangs with the jocks like Benny (Cole Hauser) and Don (Sasha Jenson), but also plays poker with the newspaper staff brains Mike (Anthony Rapp), Tony (Adam Goldberg), and Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi), and pals around with barely sentient stoners like Slater (Rory Cochrane) and Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey). They're a vibrant, fascinating group, even when they're doing nothing.

The bicentennial affords a visual motif: American flags are everywhere, especially prominent in the scene where lonely freshman Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) is about to be pounced on by a squad of upper classmen wielding wooden paddles; the flag flaps ironically in the night sky while he trudges off to his fate. But for the most part, the year seems incidental, reflecting Linklater's stated desire (also noted in the Criterion booklet) to drop into this moment, record it, and depart without judgment. And deliver an awesome soundtrack -- mostly crotch-rocker party anthems from Foghat and Aerosmith, but with less radio-friendly tunes like the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" and Dylan's "Hurricane" providing texture.

While it doesn't play up the film's party-hearty aspect as much as the Universal package, Criterion's Dazed and Confused also doesn't turn too scholarly. The DVD comes with the company's usual to-the-max packaging, with the booklet of essays (mostly chatty raves from fans like Chuck Klosterman), hours of extras (interviews, deleted scenes, auditions), even a small poster. The DVD appreciates the film itself, without trying too hard to analyze or understand it, thank god. The deleted scenes show how Linklater pared away the script's darker elements, especially one disturbing scene where Benny goes on a racist tirade. Seen here, it seems purposeless, its excision a wise choice. This is a pretty sunny film, all told, and doesn't need such shadows.

The Criterion edition presents Linklater and his cast at their shaggy, ragamuffin best, improvising their way through a script that he wanted to be just the "framework." As he says in the ebullient and inspiring notes handed out to the cast (included in the booklet), "If the final movie is 100% word-for-word what's in this script, it will be a massive underachievement." After seeing the preparation and input that Linklater demanded from his actors, it's clear they all took his words to heart.

It helps that Dazed and Confused is a film that practically demands repeat viewings. Like the similarly serious comedy Risky Business, Dazed can be viewed as either a perfectly serviceable party flick or a cinematic milestone.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.