Dazed and Confused

Rory Cochrane, Jason London and Sasha Jenson


Dazed and Confused is Richard Linklater’s 1993 film doing for 1976 what George Lucas’s American Graffiti (1973) did for 1962. That is, it looks back fondly at a group of teenagers on the cusp of adult life on their last day/night of high school, while also observing how long ago it now all was, and in more than plain old years.

Like Lucas’s gang, Linklater’s crew are a mixed crowd of jocks and nerds, lookers and plain-Janes and Johns, sensitive souls and bozos, cool kids and the terminally awkward, kids whose best days are to come and those whose lives have already peaked.

The style builds on the loose, superficially disorganised approach of Slacker, Linklater’s film of three years earlier, which followed one person then another. Here it’s as if Slacker had watched Robert Altman and taken to heart that overlapping, collage, multi-stranded approach and then tried to go one better.

Linklater sets his film in 1976, the Last Year of Rock, before punk split the genre and rap arrived to announce a new era. Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Peter Frampton and Black Sabbath all feature on the wall-to-wall soundtrack, much as music of an earlier era had in American Graffiti. The world is still white and male, or it is on movie screens. 1976 is the Bicentenary of the USA and also the moment when the ever-increasing wealth of the average person, the post-War consensus, was about to stall, before going into reverse. From the vantage point of 1993, when Linklater made his film, very few people had realised that 1976 was probably Peak USA. As with Lucas’s 1962, the year before Kennedy was assassinated, this is a watershed.

“Driving around, mostly,” is how one of Linklater’s characters responds when asked what she’s been doing all night. And this is part of the genius of the film. It looks like it’s nothing more than excitable teenagers driving around, doing a lot of talking, getting involved in initiation rituals, making out, drinking, smoking weed, all that stuff. Nothing momentous happens. See Slacker, or Linklater’s debut feature, 1988’s It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, for where this was coming from.

The cast of unknowns alone make it worth a watch. Jason London is as close as you could come to the star of this film, as Pink (his surname is Floyd, so it figures), the cool, inclusive, socially adept, good looking dude, a football player who also likes to party. London is also such an easy and obviously charismatic presence that it’s a mystery why he didn’t become a star (though he’s never stopped working, at a prodigious level). Compare some of the other unknowns in the cast – Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck.

Jovovich is essentially the slightly drippy girlfriend who plays the guitar and doesn’t figure much, but the other three are more interesting. They’re as near as the film gets to proper villains – over-invested in the high school’s hazing rituals, nasty bullies for the most part. In McConaughey’s case, as Wooderson, he’s the older guy whose high school days were as good as it’s ever going to get.

Parker Posey
Parker Posey’s breakout role


The cast list insists Renée Zellweger is in it too, as Girl in Blue Truck. Further investigation required.

Linklater is a poet of the mundane. He weaves a spell with everyday ingredients, chat mostly. Think of his Before trilogy (Before Sunrise, Sunset and Midnight) – two people talking. Or his sci-fi film, A Scanner Darkly, which turned a story by Philip K Dick (source writer of Total Recall) into a series of scenes in which people either sat around talking or drove around talking.

Some things in Dazed and Confused now seem odd. Jason O Smith as the token black guy. When Linklater returned to this era and subject matter in his 2016 university movie Everybody Wants Some!!, J Quinton Johnson played the same function, so maybe a recreation of the movie ethos of the 1970s might be more Linklater’s interest than the period itself.

By the end, as it introduces its stars in a montage of end credits with photos, there’s the sudden realisation that we’ve got to know a lot of people, and really quite well. The scale of Linklater’s achievement is suddenly apparent. Beneath the surface, while his characters have been packing more weed into a bong or chasing down a brewski, Linklater has been incredibly busy. It’s all going on here at the same time as nothing appears to be going on.




Dazed and Confused – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021






Broken English

Parker Posey and Melvil Poupaud in Broken English

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

25 August

 

Paris liberated, 1944

On this day in 1944 the German garrison in Paris surrendered and Paris was liberated, after a battle lasting six days. It had started with an uprising by the French Resistance on 19 August, who were augmented by General de Gaulle’s Free French Army of Liberation and Third Army troops under General Patton. France had been occupied since June 1940, but the allies had considered it a low priority for liberation; the thrust was towards Berlin. However, the issue was forced by the outbreak of a general strike and the uprising of the Resistance, and compounded by General Leclerc of the Free French Army disobeying an order by his American superior and sending a vanguard of the 9th Armored Company into Paris. The 2nd French Armored Division and 4th US Infantry Division followed. The commander of the German garrison, Dietrich von Cholitz, disobeying an order from Hitler not to give up Paris until it lay in ruins, surrendered.

 

 

 

Broken English (2007, dir: Zoe Cassavetes)

Any film made by anyone called Cassavetes is always going to be judged against those made by John Cassavetes, indie pioneer, cinema verité exponent, improvisation champion. Which is why Nick, his son, gets a tough ride for making big romantic meringues such as The Notebook. So what of Zoe, the daughter? Well her debut feature frolics in the froth of emotion too, though this one is a car-crash romance that might just have made dad smile. It stars Parker Posey as Nora, a walking romantic disaster who wants nothing more than to be loved. Which is why, breaking her “don’t sleep with them on the first date” rule she does just that with a semi-famous actor (Justin Theroux) who comes into the hotel she’s working at. Later, when Nora is heartbroken after the guy turns up on a TV interview and gushes about his great girlfriend – and he isn’t talking about Nora – her gal pal Audrey (Drea De Matteo) advises her “not every guy you meet has to be a future husband.” But Nora’s DNA – and her ticking 30something ovaries – are advising her the opposite. Then Nora meets another guy, a Frenchman called Julien (Melvil Poupaud) at a party, and is again smitten. Julien is too, but after they have made the two backed beast he declares that he wants to be a free agent and in any case he lives in France and so… another disaster. Except that this time Nora decides not to take it lying down, so to speak, and persuades Audrey to go with her to Paris to hunt Julien down.
It’s at this point that the film becomes exceptionally double-headed. On the one hand it seems to be grounded in a reality that you don’t often get in films – for instance the fact that Nora regularly drinks too much but nobody says anything about it at all; it isn’t the harbinger of full-bore alcoholism. But on the other hand, in what version of reality does someone go off to Paris to find someone, without, for example, trying an exploratory email or Google search first?
You’ll just have to brush these concerns aside if you want to watch this film and enjoy it. Though it is worth watching, not least for Posey’s frazzled portrait of a woman so lacking in self-respect that she’s being tossed hither and yon by notions of idealised romance. You’re also going to have to avoid odd moments of psychological exposition delivered by random characters – a clichéd Frenchman Nora meets in a bar being a notable example, who opines that “first you must find love and ’appiness in yourself”. For god’s sake.
Does she find her Julien, find love? That would be telling. But it’s interesting to watch a gifted film-maker, which Zoe Cassavetes undoubtedly is, working in the field of the most reviled of genres, the romance. And it’s interesting to watch a gifted actress like Parker Posey playing a woman whose dizziness and silliness makes her the antithesis of screen portrayals of womanhood right now.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A great Parker Posey performance
  • The support cast included Geena Rowlands and Peter Bogdanovich
  • A fine debut by an interesting filmmaker
  • A strange romance

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Broken English – Watch it now at Amazon