Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Film Appreciation - You Just Gotta Keep Livin'

Cody Hamman shows Film Appreciation for one of the most important movies in his life: Richard Linklater's 1993 love letter to the '70s, Dazed and Confused.

One day in early 1994, my mom came home from the video store with a VHS copy of a new release called Dazed and Confused. If this VHS release had occurred five years later, I would have known right away that the movie had taken its title from an awesome Led Zeppelin song, but I didn't know my Zeppelin trivia at that point in my life, so I didn't know there was any sort of meaning beyond the suggestion that the characters in the film would be dazed and confused. I also didn't know the impact this movie was going to have on my life.

That day, Dazed and Confused became an instant favorite, a favorite that has been in my regular viewing rotation for over twenty years now. I had always been interested in the decades that came before my birth in the early '80s, I love music from the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Dazed and Confused privides a snapshot of a day in the life of some Texas teenagers in 1976, and this glimpse of what things were like less than ten years before I was born (as recreated in the early '90s) completely blew me away. The music, the cars, the fun the characters were having... I wanted to live in this era, in this world, in this movie. To this day, I will still say that if I could live inside of any movie, my choice would be Dazed and Confused. And I don't even partake in alcohol and marijuana like the characters do. I just love the world they're living in.

That world is presented as being Austin, Texas on May 28, 1976. The last day of school. Dazed and Confused has a large ensemble of characters, but the two at the center of it all are Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London) and Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins). The most monumental event that occurs in the film is really just the simple fact that Pink and Mitch have finished up another year of school and, after summer break, will be taking major steps forward in their scholastic careers: Pink will be heading into his senior year of high school, while Mitch will be moving on up into high school as a freshman.

We get to know both Pink and Mitch's circles of friends, and the paths of these two groups cross because there's a tradition of high school initiation rituals in this town at this time: the soon-to-be-senior boys fashion wooden paddles in shop class (where some of them also make bongs) and then proceed to seek out and paddle the soon-to-be-freshmen boys. The girls also have an initiation, less painful but quite humiliating - at first the senior girls gather the freshmen girls in a parking lot, bark orders at them, make them do embarrassing things, and pour various condiments over them, and then senior girls can continue bossing around the freshmen girls throughout the summer.

Mitch gets his initiation paddling after he finishes pitching in a baseball game. Pink comes along after his friends have beat the hell out of Mitch and ends up taking the kid under his wing - and I can't help but think that part of the reason why Pink is so nice to Mitch is because he likes Mitch's sister Jodi (Michelle Burke), who is also becoming a senior. Pink will pursue Jodi a bit over the course of the night, despite the fact that he already has a girlfriend, Joey Lauren Adams as Simone.

The major thing going on with Mitch is that he gets his first taste of high school life while hanging out with Pink and his buddies at the local rec center, and then following them to a countryside "beer bust". Pink does have that love triangle thing going on, but that's very minor. His main concern is whether or not he'll be playing football in the fall, because he has taken offense to a pledge the coaches want the team to sign: "I voluntarily agree not to indulge in any alcohol, drugs or engage in any other illegal activity that could in any way jeopardize the years of hard work we as a team have committed to a championship season in '76." His pals have signed it without a second thought, fully intending to engage in whatever they want to engage in, but Pink takes it personally.

While we watch Pink and Mitch make their way through the night, there are a lot of other characters who make a huge impression, many of them played by future stars. Cole Hauser, Sasha Jenson, and Jason O. Smith stand out as Pink's football buddies. Pink is also friends with a trio of geeks - Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, and Marissa Ribisi as Mike, Tony, and Cynthia, respectively - and Mike is having a memorable existential crisis. Mike's crisis comes to a head when he decides to stand up to bullying greaser Clint (Nicky Katt), who is only out to "kick some ass and drink some beer". Milla Jovovich is hanging around as a stoner girl who paints a couple dummies to look like KISS band members. Parker Posey plays Darla, a bitchy senior who gets way too into messing with the freshmen girls. Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa) is a freshman, like Mitch, who is brought into the senior world, and Tony takes a liking to her. Esteban Powell, Mark Vandermeulen, and Jeremy Fox are freshmen who get on the bad side of temperamental two-time senior O'Bannion (Ben Affleck), and then give him his comeuppance.

One of my favorite characters is the perpetually stoned Slater, endearingly played by Rory Cochrane. Slater is always good for a laugh. The greatest character of all, though, may be Wooderson, a man who left school behind long ago but still likes to hang out with the high school guys and check out the high school girls. This is a character who could come off as a disgusting creep, if it weren't for the fact that he's brought to life through a brilliant performance delivered by Matthew McConaughey. It's no wonder McConaughey became a star, because he really steals the scenes in this film. Wooderson also takes great pride in his car Melba Toast, and over the years and dozens of viewings I have memorized his description of what Melba Toast is packing: "We got 4:11 posi trac outback, 750 double pumper, Edelbrock intakes, bored over 30, 11 to 1 pop-up pistons, turbo-jet 390 horsepower. We're talkin' some f---in' muscle." I don't even know what the hell that means, but I can say it along with him.

A fun game you can play while watching this movie: try to spot Renee Zellweger. She's there, she's around, but you have to be paying attention.

If you need movies to be eventful, Dazed and Confused may not do it for you. This one is all about just spending time with the characters as they waste away a night doing things many viewers can probably relate to, things most of us did during our teenage years. They wander around aimlessly, seek out mind-altering substances, and have a lot of fun. This movie provides a lot of fun for me.

Writer/director Richard Linklater wrote a wonderful screenplay packed with great characters and great dialogue, and brought it to life on the screen, with the help of an amazing cast, in a way that is incredibly appealing to me. Dazed and Confused is one of the most entertaining movies ever made as far as I'm concerned, and also has possibly the greatest soundtrack that has ever been assembled. There are so many fantastic songs that they were able to release two separate soundtrack albums, and those still didn't contain every song that's in the film. Not only have I watched the movie again and again, I have also given both soundtrack releases a lot of play.

Unfortunately, there's no Led Zeppelin on the soundtrack because Zeppelin wasn't licensing their songs at that time. Now you'll hear Zeppelin in a lot of movies and commercials, but it was rare not too long ago.

Dazed and Confused is a simple movie, but it's a movie that changed me. As of the day mom came home with that VHS copy, my mind was altered. It refined my taste in music and cars, it made me wish I lived in the '70s (or this version of the '70s, which I'm told is rather accurate), and it gave me a new movie to add to the list of my all-time favorites. As long as I'm around to get some fun out of life, Dazed and Confused is a movie I'm going to be watching.

This movie is the reason why I drive around listening to classic rock and pretending I'm forty years in the past.

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