Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
-Peter De Vries
The screencaps are crummy in this review because the library sent me the Full Screen version instead of the Criterion Collection version. I had to grab screencaps from elsewhere. Dazed and Confused is a movie a bit like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in its attempt to recapture the cultural aroma of the 1970s. F& has an advantage, it is based on primary source material, so its nostalgia is less removed from the decade and despite its rambunctiousness, it comes across as a bit more authentic than Dazed and Confused, perhaps because of the sense of doom that is present throughout the film. D&C on the other hand, is nostalgic for a time that, to me, seems impossible to have ever existed.
In any case, the veracity of the film shouldn’t be a question, it is meant to be nostalgic and entertaining, not some example of truth. What is interesting to me is that the nostalgia present in the film is aimed at my demographic, specifically, folks that probably weren’t even born in 1976. In this case it creates an interesting paradigm, where folks feel nostalgic for a time before they were even born. As irrational as this seems, it can find its purchase in the fact that the film presents a time less fraught with institutionalized worry, pre-War on Drugs, pre-HIV, pre-litigation society, all hassles that were just hitting their stride in the late 80s/early 90s. The 1976 we see in the film haven’t completely forgotten the 60s or even the 50s, in some respects, hot rods have given way to muscle cars, but everyone still goes to the drive-in and pool hall to hang out. The worst thing anyone has to worry about is signing a primitive anti-drug/alcohol/sex/rock and roll pledge in order to play football.
The film is a comedy though, such semi-deep thoughts aren’t its focus. Despite the weird nostalgia, the high school archetypes are so well represented that it is almost instinctual to imagine yourself as a certain character or in a certain clique. The retro fad was just picking up when I was in high school, so I had a collection of 70s shirts, orange corduroy bellbottoms and other paraphernalia that could have been spawned by this movie or only just fed by it. As an adolescent rite of passage film it gains an almost timeless appropriateness. You take your allotment of shit from the higher-ups and then they introduce you into the mysteries of High School. I know as a freshman I spent a fair amount of time in a trash can, and as a senior I spent a fair amount of time putting freshmen in trash cans. This is what gives the film its staying power, while it is nostalgic for a high school in a specific time period, it gives enough archetypal examples of high school behavior that anyone who’s been there can relate to it.
• Criterion Essay by Kent Jones.
• Criterion Essay by Jim DeRogatis.
• Dazed and Confused.net.
• Damox Fansite.
• Cinepad review.
• YouTube clips [1, 2].
• Wooderson et al. v. Universal Studios Inc. et al.