Among the many making-of tales of woe included on the glorious new two-disc DVD release of Dazed And Confused, writer-director Richard Linklater talks about a typical conflict with his tightfisted producer. While filming the end of a Little League baseball game, Linklater insisted on shooting the dreary sporting ritual that requires the opposing teams to smack gloves while mumbling "good game" to each other. His producer, fretting about time management, wanted him to skip this little detail because it didn't move the story along. Linklater, a bright yet unseasoned filmmaker making his first studio movie, won that battle and appeared against the odds to win many more, because the film is about those throwaway moments: It orbits around a story that ends in nothing more consequential than some friends heading off for Aerosmith tickets. Dazed And Confused's enduring cult-classic status speaks to how simply and perfectly it evokes the last day of school in small-town Texas in 1976, not how it appeases the narrative gods.
Universal may have been hoping for a lowbrow stoner comedy; while to some degree, that's what it got, the studio still abused the film from the start, following a turbulent production with a clueless theatrical release and a pair of half-assed DVDs to cash in cheaply on its wave of supporters. The Criterion edition finally offers some perspective on Linklater's accomplishment—courtesy of terrific liner-note essays by Kent Jones, Jim DeRogatis, and Chuck Klosterman, among others—and enough supplemental bric-a-brac to keep fans busy for hours. Like many of the film's champions, Klosterman admits he was stoned 64 of the 65 times he's seen it (the first time, he was drunk), but even for the sober, it's a contact high, because it offers a world that's easy and pleasant to inhabit without the taxing goal of, say, making it to White Castle.
Linklater has always insisted that Dazed And Confused is about painful memories, which is visible in the characters' interactions with authority figures, the cruel hazing rituals forced on incoming freshman, and the general uncertainty of growing up. Everyone in the film—from the quarterback (Jason London) forced to conform to others' expectations to a timid 8th grader (Wiley Wiggins) facing a scary transition to a fun-loving deadbeat (Matthew McConaughey) still chasing high-school tail—has reason to despair. It's a tribute to Linklater's generous spirit that he can still laugh about it.
Key features: Linklater's commentary, a making-of documentary, deleted scenes, auditions, and more.