Only once during her tenure as a Dallas Observer columnist did Laura Miller ever ask if she could go to an early screening of a movie, and it was, of all things, Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused. As I recall it now, some 11 years later, Laura had heard that the movie was about a bunch of high school seniors during their last day of class in 1976, and since that's when she graduated from high school, well, she thought it would be a rare movie to which she could totally relate. So former Observer music editor Gilbert Garcia and I escorted her to a press screening at the AMC Glen Lakes, and it took all of three minutes for Laura to realize that, well, uh, guys, ah, this was nothing like her high school experience
Maybe it was Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" blasting out of Pickford's GTO and all over the opening credits that changed her mind, or the shot of bleary-eyed Slater passing a joint to his stoner homies, or the shots of bad-ass Benny drilling holes into the paddle he and his jock pals would use to swat the asses of incoming freshmen, or the scene of Afro'd Mel and the brothers shooting dice behind the school, or the phrase "Eat More Possum" spray-painted on a wooden shed in the parking lot. Laura, who'd gone to private school back East, couldn't relate to the dope-and-grope shenanigans of public-school Texans. She probably still thinks Alice Cooper's a girl who goes to Hockaday with her daughters.
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.
Dazed and Confused: Flashback Edition is available on DVD November 2.
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.