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Shelf Life: Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused”

Matthew McConaughey in "Dazed and Confused"

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Today, Richard Linklater’s latest film “Bernie” arrives in theaters. It’s the director’s fifteenth feature film – at least since “Slackers” made a national splash in 1991 – and he, like a number of other filmmakers who emerged in the early ‘90s, has enjoyed more of a flirtation with mainstream moviemaking than a full-fledged relationship. But Linklater’s sophomore effort “Dazed and Confused” was as good a second date as anyone’s likely to have if they want to break into Hollywood proper, at least in terms of highlighting the filmmaker’s ability to manage a large ensemble, much less shepherd a film onto the screen that feels at once purposeful and effortless.

But with 20 years of filmmaking between the release of that film and “Bernie,” it’s interesting to see how much he’s grown, or perhaps regressed, and more to the point, whether that film continues to leave as strong and clear an impression as it did in 1993.


The Facts

Released September 24, 1993, “Dazed and Confused” was an immediate critical darling, but distributor Gramercy Pictures was unable to translate that into commercial success. Earning just shy of $8 million during its theatrical run, the film was hardly a hit, but it became a touchstone for the generation of moviegoers who were within the age range of the characters depicted in it. It currently lingers at 98 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and Quentin Tarantino put it on his list of the ten greatest films of all time in a 2002 article for Sight and Sound magazine.


What Still Works

Structurally, what works best about the film is that there’s not one single development or storyline that feels forced. Even with a group of characters carefully orchestrated to be representative of two generations of students, passing the torch from one to another, and the narrative throughlines that make the film’s time frame a coming-of-age experience even for the ones who feel like they’re running things, there’s nothing hurried or calculated about the structure of the film. Each new scene flows smoothly from the previous one, and each character’s behavior feels authentic and lived-in, whether they’re meant to be a hero (Mitch Kramer), villain (O’Bannion), or something in between (Wooderson).

The opening sequence, set to the beautiful strains of Aerosmith’s simmering classic “Sweet Emotion,” perfectly introduces all of the characters and defines in some way what their journey will be. For Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London), he has to decide whether or not he’ll sign a piece of paper committing himself to another year playing football, with the added proviso that he won’t partake in drugs or alcohol while doing so. For most of his teammates, they want to see him sign it – even just to get the grown-ups off their backs – so they can go through their senior year as kings of the school. For Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), he’s got to first survive the tanning of a lifetime from seniors who want to haze him as he enters high school, and then he’s got to assimilate himself into a more grown-up world, which includes drugs, girls and a social hierarchy in which he’s positioned to be Floyd’s heir.

This particular thread is handled beautifully: he’s a star pitcher in junior high, and when Floyd takes him under his wing, he tells Kramer that he got hazed “right after baseball practice,” hinting at the trajectory that Mitch might take as he enters high school. Known and liked by classmates from all different social castes – just like Floyd – Mitch is appropriately awkward while still being the sort of kid to whom things ultimately come easily, making him the sort of versatile leader that Floyd became during his tenure in high school.

But Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa) is effectively Mitch’s female counterpart, recruited by Mitch’s older sister Jodi (Michelle Burke) to join in the victimhood en route to becoming a power player of sorts as they enter high school. Her interest in Tony (Anthony Rapp) speaks both to her ambition to be older and more grown up, and also her very real substance and intelligence, which connects more tangibly with a “nerdier” guy than someone Parker Posey’s character Darla might like.

Meanwhile, the film’s general attitude of acceptance of all of this behavior – good and bad – gives it an even-handed portrait of adolescence is typically portrayed either purely nostalgically or from a deeply pessimistic and critical point of view. For every terrible thing that Don (Sasha Jenson) says about or to a girl, for example, there’s almost always someone there to acknowledge how degrading, reprehensible or just stupid it is. Tony, Cynthia (Marisa Ribisi) and Mike (Adam Goldberg) openly comment upon the way that the entire community has accepted the ritualistic hazing of incoming high schoolers, and while that doesn’t necessarily suggest that the film accepts that behavior as tacitly, it observes that for better or for worse, this is a part of growing up that was, is and can be formative to many teenagers, even if it’s awful, painful or traumatic.

But thankfully, the film also recognizes that as bad as some of it is in the moment, it’s also a part of growing up that everyone will or perhaps should experience, because it’s a trial to examine what sort of person you might become. (That Tony and Sabrina have a specific conversation about the formation of personalities only punctuates this idea in the film.)

Cinematically, it exudes a visual and cultural authenticity in that it doesn’t paint the entire film with the broad brush of “‘70s style was horrendous,” but it keenly observes the variety of people and personalities and how they all chose to express or define themselves through their clothing and appearance. While I certainly wasn’t around (I was about six months old) at the time in which the film takes place, it has a sort of glossy, vivid look – thanks to ace cinematographer Lee Daniels – that’s at once nostalgic and real, and the characters don’t feel anachronistic or deliberately reflective of attitudes that benefit from the perspective of hindsight, even if there are several jokes in the film that hint at their naivete that this can only get better, and/ or what they’re dealing with at the time sucks.


What Doesn’t Work

While I think Jason O. Smith gives a wildly uneven and mostly terrible performance as Melvin – an opinion which appears to be reinforced in the fact he never worked as an actor again – I don’t think there are any parts of the movie that “don’t work.” Even when he’s being sort of awkward and actorly in delivering lines at key times in a sequence of events, however, they are less jarring than conspicuously structured, and the rest of the performances are so naturalistic, lived-in and believable, his is ultimately of negligible impact to the rest of the film.


The Verdict

“Dazed and Confused” may or may not be on of the ten greatest movies ever made, according to Tarantino, but it’s a masterpiece, now or at any other time. Artistically it has an honesty and a purity without being needlessly highfalutin, intellectual or disconnected from simply being hugely entertaining. And ultimately the reason for its timelessness and longevity is that what the film has to say is that that time in every person’s life is essentially the same, no matter what generation you’re a part of – which is to say that it’s awful, fantastic, the best things will ever be, as well as the worst, and probably most importantly, having those feelings as if no one ever before or ever again had them. The perspective that the specificity of teenagers’ experience makes their set of circumstances totally unique to all other moments in the history of teenagers – and that, oddly, that specificity only reinforces the universality of all teenagers’ experiences at that time — and the endless relatability of the film to audiences as a result.

Leave your own thoughts on “Dazed and Confused” in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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