Sunday, September 16, 2007

iD, 1994
by Simon Reynolds

When Richard Linklater's Slacker came out in 1991,
it seemed that here at last was a movie that captured our
generation's sensibility--our quandaries and quests,
our weird pop-cult obsessions and use of irony as a survival
strategy. Lots of people evidently felt the same, because
Slacker--a shoe-string film made by a self-taught
director-- eventually grossed over $1 million in the USA.
Sniffing megabuck potential, Hollywood financed Linklater's
follow-up Dazed and Confused to the tune of $6 million--
roughly 200 times the budget for Slacker. Finally, Dazedgets a long-overdue UK release this month.

Dazed is set in the Summer of '76, the absolute nadir
of the post-hippy, pre-punk lull, and arguably the moment the
slacker attitude--a mix of fatalism, idealism and irony--was
born. It's the last day of the school year in a Texas small
town, and the camera follows the intersecting trajectories of
a motley crew of teenagers--red-eyed stoners, sports-fanatic
jocks, auto-obsessed greasers, nerdy intellectuals--as they
cruise the town looking for action, and pause to ponder what
they're gonna do with the rest of their lives.

Dazed is a real '70s pop-cult fest, with its pot-rituals, groovy
clothes and rocktastic period soundtrack (Ted Nugent, Black
Oak Arkansas, KISS, Foghat et al). But really it seems to be
a movie about NOW as much as then, in so far as we're all too
familiar with that sense of being stranded after the counter-
cultural tide has gone out.

Drawing on his high-school memories, 31 year old
Linklater trained his cast of brilliant unknowns to ooze that
authentic mid-70s aura. "It was about tweakin' the details--
getting 'em to say 'man' instead of 'dude', teaching them to
do 'soul-shakes' ('cos handshakes were a big deal in the
'70s), getting them to draaaaag their sentences."

Dazed has been compared to American Graffiti, one of the first youth-cult nostalgia films. Linklater says that "what I liked
about Graffiti as a kid was that I actually thought it was
an old movie, made in the early '60s." And so for Dazed, he
deliberately used old-film stock and avoided equipment like
steady-cams that were invented after 1976--all to accentuate
the sensation of 'time travel'.

The biggest continuity between Slacker and Dazed is
Linklater's trademark fondness for non-structure. Nothing
exactly happens in either movie, but watching, you never want
the film to end. Dazed is an attempt to "encapsulate this
entire teenage world in a small town", evoke all its
inconsequentiality and mundane epiphanies, map its highly-
charged sites and interzones.

"I realised that high school life was a loop, or a series
of interwined loops: you run into the same faces, at the same
places, you follow the same routes. The initial idea for
Dazed came when I remembered one particular night--me and
my friends drove around all night, drinking beer and crankin'
ZZ Top. At the end of the night, we'd travelled 150 miles but
never left the city limits! That's what teenage life is
like--you don't get anywhere, but in a sense, you get
everywhere. I envisioned the cast as always moving: they
never sit down--except in a moving car! When you're a kid,
it's always about forward motion, anticipation, the next
thing. One character says: 'aren't you tired of everything
being just a preamble?' But when you grow up, you realise
that back then you were really living, you just didn't
realise it. You were always thinking 'when's the party going
to start?', never realising that this is as good as it's
gonna get!"

Dazed ends on a euphoric note of ambivalent optimism,
as the gang drive into the dawn horizon. It's the road to
nowhere, but they don't care, 'cos they're together. "It's
when they really do break out, if only to buy some Aerosmith
tickets," says Linklater. "But for them, that is utopia!
It's the breakthrough moment of the film, when they finally
break out of the loop of their town."

Another recurring theme that strikes a chord with the
'90s is nostalgia. There's the hippy latecomer Slater,
there's the Young Democrat who mourns Kennedy's New Frontier,
there's the Che Guevara fan.... Linklater captures that
born-too-late feeling that's the negative birthright of
almost every young person today, whether it's punk or 1988's
Summer of Love that's the boat you missed.

"I allowed myself one moment of cheap irony in the movie,
when one character says 'the '70s suck, maybe the '80's will
be better--they can't be any worse'! I actually wrote an
editorial for my high school mag about how the '60s were
great and the '70s didn't amount to much by comparison. Even
now, I still have a feeling of waiting for something to
happen. Psychologically, there's not so much of a gap between
'76 and now. Whereas there seemed like a huge gulf between
'76 and '67...."

All this makes me wonder if there'll ever be such a
thing as '90s nostalgia? How could we possibly hark back to
an era whose pop culture is so thoroughly based on harking

"It'll be up to today's 15 year olds. It's your formative
years that make the time period significant. The intensity
you feel at that age is projected onto what's around you. So
people our age can't possibly know what there is to cherish
about the '90s".

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