Monday, June 13, 2016

Dazed and Confused

Director Richard Linklater (right) on the set of the film

DAZED AND CONFUSED             B+              
USA  (103 mi)  1993  d:  Richard Linklater

You know, the ‘68 Democratic convention was probably the most bitchin’ time I ever had in my life.  Hey guys, one more thing:  This summer, when you’re being inundated by all the American bicentennial Fourth of July brouhaha, don’t forget what you’re celebrating, and that’s the fact that a bunch of slave-owning aristocratic white males didn’t want to pay their taxes. 
—Ms. Stroud, teacher (Kim Krizan)

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)

Linklater’s first successful film SLACKER (1991), an unconventional narrative made on a budget of just $23,000, along with Soderbergh’s earlier SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE (1989), made for just over $1 million dollars, helped usher in a new era of low budget, independent filmmaking of the 1990’s, opening the doors for other newcomers like Kevin Smith who was able to make CLERKS (1994) for $230,000, but also Quintin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) or Larry Clark’s KIDS (1995), altering the concept of what it costs to make good films.  A decade later Soderbergh had a similar effect by going digital, redefining the filmmaking process by significantly lowering the expenses, in effect, permanently altering the look of films today.  Much like his predecessor, DAZED AND CONFUSED represents another near plotless film that takes place in less than 24 hours on what is essentially the last day of high school on May 26, 1976, using a slew of undiscovered or non-professional actors on a free-wheeling, multi-layered expedition throughout the day and night looking for something to do.  Reflective of small town values in the heartland of Texas, kids will go to any extremes to avoid boredom, the common denominator in just about every kid’s life at this age, turning it into a hilarious road movie of sorts, using a potent, electrically charged rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack that to some may sound like heavy metal shitkicker music, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, etc, bands that shortly afterwards went into a sharp decline from their decadent, drug-tinged road activities, where the excess was a prelude to punk, though War and Dr. John are the only featured bands that are not all-white, as there’s an absence of R & B or soul music that otherwise dominated the times in urban cities, like Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind, & Fire, or Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.  But that’s a whole other story, as the only black kid featured in the cast is Melvin (Jason O. Smith), a guy seen playing craps in the hallways that also plays football and hangs with a white crowd.   
Shot in Austin, Texas, the film is one of the few that actually provides a window into the way its residents live, especially those living on the economic margins feeling an apathy or cultural disconnectedness from mainstream society.  With a rich mix of characters, and choice dialogue, the film takes a rather absurdist glimpse into the social rituals of high school, especially the existing power dynamic that pits upper class seniors against lowly freshmen, two groups that in many other parts of the country simply ignore one another, as freshmen would never be worth the time of day to many seniors.  But here, seniors get a chance to prey on a weaker species, using an age-old hazing tradition to pounce on young freshmen, chasing them down in cars, singling them out for sadistic thrashings, attacking in organized groups, using wooden paddles to whack their backsides, where freshmen are expected to take their medicine as a rite of passage.   While the freshmen view it as an idiotic ritual, the seniors feel as if it’s their just rewards for finishing high school, as they’re finally liberated from spending untold numbers of hours in wretchedly boring classes with teachers they simply had no interest in, where most of the time it felt like drudgery.  On this final day of school many seniors aren’t even in the classrooms, yet they’re wandering the halls at will discussing what they’re going to do this summer.  Free of the 50’s nostalgia of AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973), the film uses a similar structure, bringing together a large gathering of kids in search of a party, spending most of the time following groups in cars or walking down the street, meeting at local hang-outs, like burger joints, drive-ins, pool halls, bars and liquor stores, all the while listening to blaring music coming out of the car radios.  While it reverts back to simpler times, the film could almost be described as an anthem to drunk driving, as it shows little regard for the hazards of driving while stoned or intoxicated, where this kind of behavior is deemed as just another one of the male rite of passages.  Most of the time, however, nothing is happening, with no plots, or even subplots, as instead they drive around aimlessly and congregate in small groups waiting for something to happen, where they’ll drink beer, smoke a joint, and hope they run into someone who can tell them where a party is. 

Opening with a slow-motion shot of an orange muscle car pulling into a high school parking lot to the sounds of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” Aerosmith - Sweet Emotion - YouTube (4:40), the idea of cruising sets the film in motion, with Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” Alice Cooper - School's Out - YouTube (4:33) igniting a mad rush of freedom, leaving behind the empty hallways and lockers that are suddenly turned into dead zones.  With boy seniors spreading out in all directions searching for incoming freshmen to flog, we witness the particularly obnoxious and domineering behavior of the senior girls, none more authoritarian than Parker Posey as Darla, ordering the incoming freshmen girls to the ground in the school parking lot where they can be covered with ketchup, mustard, flour, and raw eggs, with some forced to propose to senior boys.  While it all unravels in a confusing and haphazard manner, with a host of characters continually entering and exiting the screen, two characters initially stand out, Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London), the star quarterback who will be back for another year, who basically plays football in order to get laid, ordered to sign a pledge prohibiting the use of alcohol or drugs over the summer, which all the other players apparently signed, but not Pink, so he continually gets berated by his football coach.  The other is a mirror version in the younger Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), an 8th grade star pitcher who wonders with his friends what high school life will be like, dreaming of high school girls “putting out,” where he is singled out by the seniors for paddling after his sister tells the boys to go easy on him, where the worst of the offenders is Ben Affleck as O’Bannion, a pathetic figure of a dimwitted senior that had to repeat his senior year.  After they lay in wait for Mitch after a game, running him through the ringer, Pink gives him a ride afterwards, feeling sympathetic, inviting him to a party afterwards where one of his friend’s parents are expected to leave for a vacation.  But when a beer keg arrives before they leave, his parents grow overly suspicious, changing their plans, which seemingly alters the plans of every kid in town, as the party will have to be relocated.  Kids just drive around, cruising aimlessly, until finding out the new destination.  Reportedly one-sixth of the film’s budget was spent on acquiring the rights to the array of 70’s musical songs, where the word “man” is said 203 times in the film, while the word “fuck” is used 59 times.

The notable pothead is Rory Cochrane as Ron Slater, an easygoing, likable guy who is lit up throughout the film, who is willing to do just about anything so long as weed is present, who goes on a few crazed philosophical tangents, while a Woodward and Bernstein duo of intellectuals, Adam Goldberg as Mike and Anthony Rapp as Tony, over-analyze just about everything, usually accompanied by the redhead Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi, married a decade later to American musician Beck), who inquisitively asks, “Which one of you had the theory about how president Ford’s old football head injuries is affecting the economy?”  After deciding on the need for more alcohol, while swigging beer in the backseat, Mike decides he doesn’t want to go to law school anymore, coming up with one of the memorable lines of the film when he confesses abruptly, “I wanna dance!”  Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson is the older master of ceremonies, the ultimate party animal who coined the phrase “all right, all right, all right” in this film, a phrase he has used throughout his career, even at the Academy Awards, making it sound downright sleazy, a guy who trolls high school years after he’s done with it still searching for young girls, “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man.  I get older, they stay the same age.”  Standing in front of the Emporium, a local pool hall and arcade for teenagers that is a central meeting point, kids simply coalesce while drinking beer and listening to music, including Mitch, who is welcomed by an older crowd, drinking beer and smoking marijuana for the first time, where they go on a drunken neighborhood spree destroying mailboxes.  To the sounds of Nazareth - Love Hurts - YouTube (3:36), there are also inevitable boy/girl link-ups, where Mitch gravitates to a sophomore girl Julie (Catherine Morris), Tony becomes linked with an attractive incoming freshman girl Sabrina  (Christin Hinojosa), seen earlier getting humiliated by Darla, while Wooderson has a thing for redheads, exchanging phone numbers with none other than Cynthia, much to the surprise of Woodward and Bernstein, as she’s the smartest and most literate girl around.  Running into his middle school friends at the Emporium afterwards, they come up with a plan to get revenge on O’Bannion, subjecting him to his own paint smear, dumping a can of paint all over him, leaving him not only surprised, but embarrassed and utterly humiliated.  It’s the type of prank that perfectly mirrors the same type of adolescent humor found in AMERICAN GRAFITTI. 

Once the Emporium closes, the mythical keg party finally materializes on the outskirts of town outdoors in a park area under a Moon Tower, which, of course, kids climb up for a sense of daring adventure.  With a feeling of reckless abandon, heightened by a clever musical soundtrack that includes the funky swamp music of Dr. John, Dr. John - Right Place Wrong Time - YouTube (2:54), kids finally have something to celebrate with an anything goes kind of beer bust, where drugs of all nature instantly appear, as kids literally spill onto the screen into a stream-of-conscious mosaic of drug chatter and drunken machismo, where sloppy drunks inadvertently fall to the ground in hysterics and psychedelic flower children sing spacey songs, like Milla Jovovich as Michelle plunking her acoustic guitar while gazing at the stars singing “The Alien Song,” MILLA JOVOVICH-"The Alien Song (For Those Who Listen)" LIVE ... YouTube (4:27).  While the party sequence is broken down into several haphazard moments, Cynthia spouts philosophic about her every other decade theory, “The fifties were boring.  The sixties rocked.  And the seventies—oh my God, they obviously suck.  Come on!  Maybe the eighties will be radical,” Mitch Kramer is seen wandering aimlessly through the crowd, eventually hooking up with Julie, before being called a little Casanova by the seniors, actually a bit envious at the little man’s smooth prowess with the ladies.  The two are seen making out under the stars later that night, while Mike (“I feel like I’m being stalked by a Nazi.”) goes all ape-shit over an obnoxious taunt, deciding he’s Mike Tyson for an instant, getting in a single punch before being pummeled by a drunken redneck.  Once the beer runs out, Tony drives Sabrina home, giving her a sweet kiss good night, while Pink and the football gang decides to relive old times smoking a joint on the 50-yard line.  Of course, they are interrupted by security, handed over to the coach, who berates Pink for hanging out with a bunch of losers, reminding him of his priorities to the team.  Pink gracefully exits back to his comrades in crime, crumples up the pledge and tells the coach he might play football next year, but his top priority of the summer is actually getting Aerosmith tickets with his loser friends.  With the dawn already upon them, Mitch returns home only to find his mother still waiting up for him, but despite the smell of alcohol she decides to be lenient this time as he falls into his bed, with thoughts of everything that happened still swirling around his head, putting on headphones playing Slow Ride- Foghat (Full Version) - YouTube (8:16), while the football gang of stoners decide to head up the road and buy the Aerosmith tickets while they can, where their future is an open book of blank as yet unwritten pages. 

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