I Saw A Film!
From the sadism of upperclassmen abusing the underclass with paddling and degradation to the frustration of the emptiness of parties and sports, the story of coming-of-age has never felt less fulfilling. The fact that Dazed and Confused lacks a coherent over-arching plot is both to its merit and kind of a deficit in terms of satisfying film-making. In researching this film I realized that Dazed and Confused was less about reliving a kind of romanticized love-affair we tend to have with our pasts and more about the helplessness and resulting anxiety we forget about as we grow into our adulthood. Yes, we’ve got more responsibilities once we graduate into our adult lives, but we also have more control and more options than the limited and unfortunate circumstances youth imposes.
We follow several kids around on the last day of school, and while I experienced nothing like any of this at the rural high school I went to, I do recall mostly being wholly unattached to much of anything resembling respect or excitement. There were always lovely girls to dream about, but those dreams never really came to fruition, or if they did, the results were so awkward and derailed that the experiences become just embarrassments. There are a few examples of the sort in the film, that remind us of how powerfully sexuality and our hormonal instincts detract from our otherwise calculated daily efforts. Since Dazed and Confused drops everything scholastic except the sports coaching (the Coach seems to follow the kids around despite the onset of summer). We are mostly concerned with the inertia of social settings even as, and possibly resembling ourselves, Matthew McConaughey’s older hang-about character Wooderson has never quite left the scene.
I’ve read that the kids who peak in high school are the saddest of all, but that seems to me to be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. I remember being told over and over by adults that the school years would be the best years of our lives and my friends and I thinking, Oh great, perhaps suicide is in order then. But those folks were wrong, though possibly well meaning, and people say all kinds of useless trash to kids that they have no idea how to reconcile. In Dazed and Confused it is 1976 and while these denizens of this high school world are a few years older (though younger as depicted in ’93) my own high school life ended in the early 80s with pretty much the same pathetic sputter, resulting in my fully understanding that the experience had been little more than a kind of DMV of corralling youth. It would have been nice had I met one person who carried around Russian Literature, or knew something about the French absurdists, or possibly could have taught us anything about Labor struggles and the definition of blue collar happiness. Had someone been having us read Vonnegut or Roth, or anything relevant to the Reagan years that so marked our decade of coming to adulthood. We were wholly unprepared for anything, but then, no one is really prepared for the world in any actual capacity beyond balancing a checkbook. Who would teach us about the vicissitudes of the stock market, or the real chances of winning a lottery? Shouldn’t there be instruction on how not to be a mark?
Dazed and Confused ends up playing around in the dustbin of pot smoke and beer. Blue collar distractions that really only satisfy if there’s anything like actual living satisfaction on the plate. Otherwise the concerns and haze only cycle back to another year of helpless anxiety as soon as September rolls around again. I do remember each summer telling myself that this year would be different, that I’d really apply myself, but by the time Labor Day rolled around I knew the score and had already fallen fully into old habits of bringing-a-book and day-dreaming about the nude legs of the young woman seated in front of me. The problem with setting up a system of education, noble though it be, is that mediocrity, through it’s very lack of being at all interesting, loses it’s champions to indolence and despair. Teachers (not much depicted in Dazed and Confused) are the same kids a generation later just with the responsibility of holding a job and maintaining a living, possibly with children of their own. This cycling of largely unchallenging daily drudgery while waving flags of celebrating youth creates a sort of vacuum into which we lose our focus and reach for the simplest measures of success. For my money the ability to read probably outweighs most of the high school skills on order. Once you can read you can learn basically anything you need, but then there are ways a savvy family can use education systems to their advantage. I just didn’t come from that sort of background and neither do these young folks strumming their guitars, getting into pointless fights and wondering what developments can come of youthful ignorance.
This film runs about 4 bucks on Prime and includes a couple of memorable, oft quoted lines from McConaughey’s hang-about character. The poster really does no justice to the effort, it’s not a Fast Times At Ridgemont High comedy.