Why "Dazed and Confused" Transcends The Stoner Stereotype

The Sundance Film Festival is exhibiting a lot of great stuff this year - but the most exciting event is a look back at a stone-cold classic. The venerable festival is showing Dazed and Confused with live commentary from director Richard Linklater and fellow writer/director Jason Reitman.

Dazed occupies a unique place in the stoner movie pantheon. So many of these movies emphasize the stoner part; they're best enjoyed through a screen of blunt smoke, as they're designed to be accessories to the high, much like roach clips and Domino's pizza.

But Dazed and Confused is a film first, and a damn good one at that: It's the only canonical stoner movie in the Criterion Collection, and Quentin Tarantino named it as one of his top twelve films in a Sight and Sound poll. So why does Dazed and Confused endure as other films of its ilk fade?

The Filmmaking

Fun fact: Richard Linklater founded the Austin Film Society in 1985, screening movies from auteurs like Kubrick, Pasolini and Godard that wouldn't have otherwise played in the Texas capital. He and his team plastered the city with amazing flyers like this. Linklater's deep love of film permeates every frame of Dazed and Confused. The opening scene, for example, is a small masterpiece of editing, giving the audiences a brief glimpse of the main characters and social groups before the school day begins.

By the time the bell rings, the viewer has been transported back to 1976 - the clothes, the cars, and the music are all just right. Speaking of which…

The Music

Dazed and Confused has, arguably, the greatest soundtrack of all time. It's wall-to-wall 70s rock hits - everything from Aerosmith to ZZ Top. On the strength of this movie alone, an argument could be made for Foghat's "Slow Ride" being the greatest song of all time.

The Dialogue

Dazed is the kind of movie where everyone has their favorite line. Often these lines belong to Matthew McConaughey (because of course they do), but personally, I'm a fan of ur-stoner Slater's pronunciation of "okay".

The Nostalgia

I don't mean the nostalgia of reboots and re-imaginings and comic book adaptations, the kind that impels you to pour more money into a thing you enjoyed when you were a kid. This is something far more special, and difficult to achieve. It's the reason why I relate so much to the movie, even though it takes place twelve years before I was born. Linklater himself explains this factor best. At a 20th anniversary celebration of the film, he said:

The drama is so low-key in Dazed. I don't remember teenage being that dramatic. I remember just trying to go with the flow, socialize, fit in and be cool. The stakes were really low. To get Aerosmith tickets or not? That's a big thing. It was really rare when the star-crossed lovers from the opposite side of the tracks and the girl gets pregnant and there's a car crash and somebody dies. That didn't really happen much. But riding around and trying to look for something to do with the music cranked up, now that happened a lot!

Exactly. Linklater and his cast tap into a universal feeling of youth, of being suddenly aware of the amazing possibilities and unexpected routes your life can take, even though you don't know quite how to get there. So you find things - rock and roll, weed, making out, hanging out with your nerdy friends - that make the mundane feel epic. It's a feeling, I would argue, that never really goes away. As long as people are dazed and confused by life, the film endures.

Or, to paraphrase Wooderson: We keep getting older, Dazed and Confused stays the same age. All right, all right, all right.

PS: Linklater is finishing up a "spiritual sequel" to Dazed called Everybody Wants Some. It's set to be released on April 16, 2016.

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