Dazed remains, by far, Linklater's best movie--his warmest, wisest and easily the funniest, a far cry from the Rube Goldberg doings of Slacker (just out as a Criterion Collection DVD set) and the deep-think ditherings of Waking Life and Before Sunrise. It's nostalgic but never damp about its backward-glancing, a fond farewell to a period when the only thing a kid had to worry about was escaping the bullying blow of seniors and the knowing noses of parents who could smell beer on your breath from 100 yards away. It's a shame three of Linklater's old classmates--Richard "Pink" Floyd, Andy Slater and Bobby Wooderson--now feel the need to sue the writer-director for having "embarrassed and ridiculed" them by using their names in the movie; their suit, brought two weeks ago in a New Mexico court, suggests they're the only ones without warm feelings for the movie.
With its classic-rock soundtrack and classic-schlock wardrobes, Dazed pegged not only high school in 1976, but also the years just following; I entered Thomas Jefferson High School in 1982, and it looked no different, down to the Adidas tees and ironed hair and decked-out GMs in the parking lot. We were all Mitch Kramers hiding from the vicious Fred O'Bannions and giggling at the long-graduated David Woodersons still cruising the hallways looking for affection and affirmation from fresh meat.
This week, Universal Home Video releases the "Flashback Edition" of Dazed on DVD, with some nine deleted scenes that suggest Dazed was going to be a much darker film. Most disturbing is a sequence in which Cole Hauser's Benny spots two Vietnamese girls and says to Jason London's Randy and Sasha Jenson's Donny, "Second group of them slant-eyed gooks I seen today...Why don't they go back to where the fuck they came from?" Randy's appalled: "Maybe it's because our country had something to do with fucking up where they came from," he shoots back, "and the least we can do is help the ones that got away." For a few moments their Vietnam War argument sounds at once archaic and prophetic; this could be you and a buddy arguing Iraq over a joint and a sixer. Also included are scenes in which Ben Affleck's bully returns to the party after his humiliation, and other talky sequences in which characters who were likable turn a little more sour, notably Shawn Andrews' Dr. Feelgood dope dealer Pickford. They're enough to make you wonder if the movie would have been as beloved had they been included; certainly, it would have tasted bittersweet. Now you can decide, then switch back to the theatrical version, spark up the bong, crank up Foghat and thank God it's only 1976 on your TV screen.