Monday, September 22, 2014
REARVIEW: DAZED AND CONFUSED
In a recent interview with Sight and Sound, the topic of Dazed and Confused's reputation as a nostalgic film came up. "I had really mixed feelings about those years of my life," says Richard Linklater. "I tried to recreate it, but I didn't even know how I felt about it. I wasn't saying the 1970s were great. It was more like, 'Yeah, those years were kinda shitty actually!' I was revisiting a lot of not-so-great stuff."
Reviewing the movie in 1993, Roger Ebert, who liked Dazed a lot, picked up on Linklater's ambivalence, but acknowledged the sheen hard times acquires with distance. "The years between 13 and 18," he wrote, "are amongst the most agonizing in a lifetime, yet we remember them with a nostalgia that blocks out much of the pain."
Finally, let's get nerdy and consider what we're talking about when we're talking nostalgia. "The Greek word for 'return,'" Milan Kundera reminds us in his novel Ignorance, "is nostos. Algos means 'suffering.' So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return."
After a brief, pathetic run in theatres, Dazed and Confused began to build an inimitable cult following. It's now known and loved for its soundtrack, its last-day-of-school feeling, its unchecked, unpunished drug use, its unchecked, unpunished McConaughey. Fans who saw the movie as teenagers or thereabouts have warm feelings about the way it fits into their own experiences and maturations.
Linklater's currently being lauded out the wazoo for capturing formative years in Boyhood, and much of Dazed's lasting power has to do with its similar success in showing major pivots of youth. And so it's hard not to experience waves of nostalgia, not specifically for the 70s, or for bush parties, or for Aerosmith, but for those stages of our own lives. Dazed indeed doesn't declare the 70s to be awesome, and it doesn't claim being between 13 and 18 is awesome, but it does capture the importance of that spate, no matter how weighty the circumstances. If we feel good about any of that, it's on account of it being over.
But is Dazed an inherently nostalgic movie? Or is it us who truck in our own nostalgia, our own sentimentality for pubertal awkwardness and classic rock?
Consider that the movie takes place during America's bicentennial, a period of national nostalgia. Consider, too, that the Vietnam War, so divisive and destructive for the country had "ended" only a year earlier. Three years earlier, men in the position of the seniors would have had the pall of the draft lottery looming over of them.
Considering nostalgia literally, the movie's anything but. There is no yearn to return. If anything, Dazed is about the desire to leave the past behind. Mitch sees to opportunity to ditch his dink pals, and he jumps at it. Pink struggles with his own trajectory, whether or not football, and a certain braided loyalty to his friends, is what his future will be. Ranking the decades, Cynthia declares that the 70s suck, and "maybe the 80s will be, like, radical or something." (In some ways, it's an inside joke, because--those of us who lived through the 80s, as children or adults, know they were terrible.) And maybe the most iconic statement out of Dazed--aside from "Alright, alright, alright"--is Pink's declaration: "If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself."
Still and all, few movies get off on as cool a note as the opening talk boxing of "Sweet Emotion." It's not that the 70s were the coolest time to be alive, but for two hours it does sort of feel like it.