Cinema has the unique ability to create a sensory experience vivid enough to make the past suddenly present and alive. Richard Linklater’s cinematic flashback Dazed and Confused (1993) captures a rich pageant of high-school life, circa 1976, in a mere 100 minutes, leaning on nostalgia without wallowing in it.
Jason London is the center of the ensemble, an easy-going would-be rebel torn between living his life and submitting to a military-like football program, and the surrounding cast includes early turns by Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Cole Hauser, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, and Ben Affleck as a bone-head high school bully: brilliant casting.
Linklater’s knack for verisimilitude is astounding, his eye for defining detail (from fluff-dry hair to flaired jeans to Jason London’s puka shell necklace) perfect, his ear for the soundtrack of the time impeccable. American Graffiti captured baby boom nostalgia with the tagline “Where were you in ’62?” Dazed and Confused is a flashback to May 28, 1976, right in the midst of bicentennial celebrations. It gets the social culture, the music, and the fashions with a texture that feels astonishingly authentic, and it offers a cast of such diverse types you will probably identify with someone regardless of your age or high school experience.
Dazed and Confused explores both a specific culture and a timeless experience of growing up and becoming your own person. Everything is in flux at this time in life, everything moving simultaneously far too slow and much faster than you can comprehend, and Linklater expresses that quality beautifully in his myriad of stories. He doesn’t just remember what it’s like, he manages to capture the texture of the experience. That’s why I return to it again and again: It’s my personal way back machine. 1976, here I come.
Also on DVD and Blu-ray in standard and special editions and on SVOD through Amazon Video and other services. Availability may vary by service.
Dazed and Confused [DVD]
Dazed & Confused [Criterion Collection, DVD]
Dazed and Confused [Blu-ray]
Dazed and Confused [Criterion Collection, Blu-ray]
The Criterion edition is remastered in a director-approved HD version of the director’s cut and features commentary by Richard Linklater, the 50-minute documentary “Making Dazed,” archival on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, audition footage, deleted scenes, clips from the ten-year anniversary celebration and a booklet with essays.