I almost didn’t ask Annemarie if she had seen Dazed and Confused. I thought EVERYONE has seen Dazed and Confused. As I have met Annemarie before, that was foolish. As we’re however many articles deep in this little watch project, that was foolish in the extreme. So, on a nice, toasty early summer day, we watched Richard Linklater’s classic day-in-the-life, nostalgia trip of a picture.
Annemarie, start us off with all of the classic questions: why did I make you watch this movie? What’s your reaction to it? Would you have ditched those losers in the car and driven to the party with Wooderson?
A: I, like Thomas, had this movie confused for another. While he thought we were watching Half Baked, I had Dazed and Confused, well, confused, with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. So it was a pleasant surprise to get to see Matthew McConaughey’s star turn instead of Sean Penn’s, but we’ll probably need to work Fast Times in at some point.
Anyway, once that was cleared up, I quite enjoyed myself. It was really fun to watch the 90s stars that I know and love from other projects look and act their 70s best, but can we please agree that Parker Posey is both the best and the worst? She’s played that mean-girl cheerleader many, many times in her career, but you can see her having the time of her life torturing the incoming freshmen.
Hazing today (or rather, hazing in the late 90s when I was a freshman) is clearly radically different than it was in the small-town 70s. The humiliation the girls endure is probably more psychologically scarring, but I’m not so sure. I think that having cars full of giant senior boys patrolling the town and then beating you as a tiny 8th grader would be more traumatic. Brooke, which would you rather endure? And what about D&C as a whole makes it a favorite that you just assumed (wrongly) I’d seen at some point?
B: I think I would rather go through the freshman girl hazing, I mean, at least they took them through the car wash. BUT, I would probably get kicked out for going Sweet/Vicious if I got any guy other than Tony to propose to. Thank goodness for that pasty woke nerd. I whole heartedly agree that Parker Posey is the absolute best in this movie. From the orders she barks in the parking lot to her absurd/wonderful dance moves at the Beer Bust, she is a kind of cool you and I never were.
But let’s get to your questions. I’m going to take your failure to acknowledge my Wooderson query as confirmation that you might have been tempted by him, as Cynthia was. And since you didn’t guess why I made you watch this movie, I will elaborate on its status as one of my favorite pictures of all time — number 7 on the list, if we’re being quite precise — and yes, as a movie I genuinely thought you would have seen.
There are a few reasons that this picture is one I can watch over and over and over again. First, it’s infinitely relatable. If you went to high school in America, you knew all of these kids, and you probably even were one of them. The last day of school, especially during those two all-important years is such a specific point in time, with such a specific emotion to it, that it’s kind of impossible not to have memories of those sun-drenched days crystallized in the mind. The last day of school is curious because it is the moment where the months ahead have infinite potential, but it is also one of the few moments (and one of the last if you’re about to be a Senior) where you have absolutely nothing to do. I remember what that felt like. And even though I wouldn’t even be a thought for 12 years after the events of this movie, it makes me ache for that time. Nostalgia gets a bad rap, but I think Dazed & Confused is nostalgia done right.
I admit, it was pretty foolish to assume that you would have seen Dazed & Confused, but I genuinely believed that people just didn’t make it through college without somehow encountering this movie. Then again, you managed to do that with Donnie Darko, so, you remain, my dear friend, an anomaly. Okay, talk to me about the soundtrack. For my money, it is arguably the greatest soundtrack of all time. It’s so perfectly paired with the film, and absurdly impactful. There are others in the conversation, to be sure, but man, this one is alright, alright, alright.
A: I forgot to talk more about Wooderson! I mean, it’s creepy that he’s 24 and still pursuing high school juniors. But he’s also got the sex appeal and charm because he’s Matthew McConaughey. The ick factor doesn’t go totally away, but I liked that our ginger gal got the attention that she deserved. Would I have been so susceptible? Not so much. Too many years of my logical parents in my ears. I’d never have been able to bring him home, and that was the key requirement when I was 16.
Nostalgia does indeed have a bad reputation because it’s done so poorly so often. I think it’s hard to talk about, never mind film a movie, about an exact moment in time that’s so personal. How can you ask someone to recreate something you only have a hazy memory of, even if (or especially because) it has so much emotion behind it? But perhaps there’s something about that 20-year-later mark that makes it clear the lessons we learned but also puts into focus the exact emotions and makes them relatable. I am thinking specifically of Almost Famous, which also focuses on the 1970s and is one of my faves (not in the Top 25 but it’s probably in the top 50). It also captures the time and the music and the emotions as perfectly (said by someone also not alive in the 70s) as Dazed.
For a school nerd like me, the last day of school was bittersweet. I was a relatively normal child, so after 8-9 months of intense schooling, I was ready for a break, but I also knew I’d miss my teachers and classmates. I’d still see my close friends, but I went to big schools in which there were people I wouldn’t hang out with all summer. There’s these intense feelings of signing everyone’s yearbooks, cleaning out your locker, watching the crowds dissipate. It’s sad and happy and lonely and exciting at the same time, and I absolutely agree that Dazed captures that moment. More specifically, Dazed hones in on the exact feeling of being not an 8th grader anymore — but not quite a freshmen. The juniors are also dealing with growing up, but they are relishing their chance to playfully torture the incoming gang just like they were. There’s a sense that this is the way it’s always been, you take your lumps, then you pass them along to the next group.
I felt like the soundtrack was both perfectly appropriate but also a bit too on the nose. I mean, “School’s Out” as everyone is leaving for the day? It’s a great rock song, but it’s what you’d expect to hear. Maybe I’m jaded, but I want to hear some other examples, Brooke, as to why the soundtrack makes the movie for you. Also, tell me who’s your most relatable character, since we’ve established neither of us is Parker Posey.
B: I agree about “School’s Out,” it’s probably the weakest selection here. But from the fade in on “Sweet Emotion” to the raw glory of “Cherry Bomb” at the lake party to “Tush” during the “throw the bowling ball” sequence to “Summer Breeze” as Mitch greets the sunrise with his older love interest, this soundtrack has the feeling of music and moments that eventually become inextricably linked in the mind. Memories are a funny thing that way, and I think that’s why this soundtrack works so well. Also the songs are still pretty red hot. This movie sounds like summer. And though the 70s were not the time of my adolescence, I get the sense that for Pink and company, these tracks will evoke the same kinds of memories that more regrettable tunes like “My Humps” callback for me.
I’m willing to give you less than one guess on my most relatable character. But since I know you’ll get it right, I’ll just go ahead and say what we all already know. Cynthia — aka the redhead who kicks it with the nerds that discuss McCarthyism. She’s able to connect with virtually every character, but she spends all her time with a couple of intellectual dudes who give her endless shit for allowing Wooderson to turn her head. She’s the wheels and the brains, and she has the good sense to lament the fact that we as humans tend to treat today “as some minor preamble to the future.”
Let’s hear your most relatable character. Your favorite scene. And your favorite quote.
A: Most relatable character? Jodi, for the big sister angle. She’s the cheerleader I hope I would have been, kind and benevolent, but still willing to have some fun. Doesn’t she make a move on Pink? Maybe I’d have done that too. Who knows?
Most entertaining character? Slater. Stoner musings always make me chuckle, and the actor who played him is also my favorite character in Empire Records.
Favorite scene contains my favorite quote from Ms. Stroud as the kids are packing up to leave on their last day of school:
Okay guys, one more thing, this summer when you’re being inundated with all this 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!
Favorite quote, Brooke, as well as fave scene to wrap us up!
B: I mean, my favorite quote pretty much has to go to, “Now fry like bacon you little freshman piggies! Fry! Fry!” And more or less everything Darla says, including: “What are you looking at? Wipe that face off your head, bitch.” It’s tough to nail down a favorite scene. One of the great strengths of this movie is that it flows so well from one moment to the next, so that there are large swaths of time that one might consider a single scene, though it’s actually many, many scenes. But, I think one of my favorite scenes/sequences is when we follow a number of our subjects cruising around in their different vehicles. All of this is set to Low Rider and interspersed with other shots of familiar faces. But in the main, you have Tony and Cynthia and Mike getting deep while talking about the future. Then there’s Darla and Simone and Shavonne dishing on what other girls say about them. And Wooderson with Pink and Mitch in tow, trying to score some weed off the wee freshman. An effort that results in a wrap-up via the iconic line “It’d be a lot cooler if you did.”
I’m not sure any single scene could capture the aura of Dazed and Confused entirely, but that one comes pretty damn close.
Next time, we’re sticking with the ’90s, and with drugs, but this time, it’ll be actually set in the ’90s! Too many to guess, but see if you can.