Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dazed and Confused (1993)

In the moments that immediately followed my first viewing of George Lucas' pre-Star Wars masterpiece American Graffiti (1973), I distinctly remember thinking that it might just be my new favorite movie. Almost four years and several rewatches later, I can confidently state that at this point in my life American Graffiti is my favorite film of all time.  Although well-respected by both film historians and critics, it's not the greatest movie ever made nor is it one that everyone will appreciate, but for me this film has it all.  Set in 1962 Bakersfield, American Graffiti tells the story of a group of recent high school graduates and their struggle to figure out what the next chapter in each of their lives will be.  For some of them the decision revolves around college, but for others the stark reality of working in the same small town in which they grew up seems almost predetermined.  Life is changing, but decisions can wait until morning when the infinite possibility of one summer night lies on the city streets before them.

American Grafitti has a strongly established setting (a specific year in a specific US city, taking into consideration contemporary music, cars, trends, etc.), a diverse set of characters with passions, problems, and quirks, and a simple plot/theme of enjoying the time at hand which allows the events of the film to take place in one 24 hour period of time.  Naturally when I kept hearing about how Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused (1993) accomplished these same feats nearly as well, I was excited to check out this more recent film.  I wasn't expecting it to dethrone my favorite movie (which it didn't), but I figured I'd at least enjoy it (which I did).

Dazed and Confused begins on the last day of school in 1976 Austin, Texas and follows a group of adolescents who have just been set free for the summer.  These teens range in age from incoming freshman to newly crowned seniors.  Rather than focus on life after high school, the worldview of Dazed and Confused is more narrow in scope, and in my opinion the initiation of last year's 8th graders is one of the more interesting aspects of the film.  While this shift in focus admittedly lessens what little plot there is (no matter what happens, they're all gonna be back at school in a couple months), it makes the theme resonate all the more clearly: wherever you are in life, live it up to the fullest.

Similarly to how American Graffiti marked the debut of several stars (including Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfus, and Cindy Williams), Dazed and Confused introduced an even larger batch of Hollywood names with the likes of Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, RenĂ©e Zellweger, Anthony Rapp, and Adam Goldberg topping out the list.  Some of their roles are a lot of fun to look back on, particularly Matthew McConaughey (who I usually dislike).  Ben Affleck's character is a real jerk which, if you already hate him, makes it all the better when he gets what he deserves.

The music in the film is killer.  It's all '70s rock with a bit of folk (Bob Dylan's "Hurricane") and two songs by War ("Lowrider" and "Why Can't We Be Friends"), a group whose genre I can never quite put my finger on.  A few of my favorites used include "Sweet Emotion" by Aerosmith and "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath, and the fact that they chose Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold" over "Cat Scratch Fever" I think shows a lot of taste.  Peter Frampton and Alice Cooper are also put to great use.  The soundtrack would be supreme if not for one fatal flaw.

My biggest problem with this movie was that it paid tribute to my favorite '70s movie but not my favorite '70s band.  Despite the fact that its title is taken from a track from Led Zeppelin's 1969 debut album, the film fails not only to include the song "Dazed and Confused" but also to incorporate a single song by the band that played it!  In my mind there was no excuse not to replace a few of the more run-of-the-mill songs by Foghat or Sweet or ZZ Top with at least a couple mainstream Led tracks like "Rock And Roll" or "Whole Lotta Love" let alone write/direct a sequence to go along with some portion of the six and a half minute perfection that is "Dazed and Confused."  When the credits rolled and ended with no Led, I was in disbelief.

I did some research, and it turns out that the director actually intended on using "Rock And Roll" but was unable to secure the proper authorization required to do so:  

'Plant sold his rights to the Led Zeppelin material in the early 1980's, although he still maintains 1/3 creative control, but he doesn't get any royalties from the sales of Led Zeppelin albums, hence his comment when being interviewed by Letterman about Zeppelin being more rewarding for Jimmy these days. Robert has used this control to veto the 20th anniversary single of "Stairway to Heaven" and the use of any Zeppelin material in the film "Dazed and Confused."

Director Richard Linklater went to the extreme length of sending a video tape of him personally pleading to Plant to let him include the song "Rock And Roll" in his movie "Dazed And Confused". The film is about a group of teenagers in the 1970s and what they get up to on the last day of school. The film featured a lot of classic seventies songs such as Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion". Both Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones approved the inclusion of the song, but Plant, for reasons best known to himself, refused to allow it to be used. This meant it couldn't be used, as agreement from all three surviving members of Zeppelin was required. There is no Zeppelin content in the film anyway, and Linklater was of the opinion that Plant's "people" rather than him were behind the refusal, actually expressing his doubts that his pleas ever got to Plant himself.'

So no one really knows why authorization for the Dazed and Confused soundtrack was denied by the band.  It's a shame because the film really would have benefited that little bit by filling out its vintage rock playlist, but at the end of the day it's a minor complaint by an outspoken Led Zeppelin fan.

Another factor that doesn't make this film as classic for me is that the characters by and large are degenerates.  They're entertaining, but I just don't identity with them or think I would have been like them had I been in high school in 1976.  With American Graffiti, I really feel like I could have been there in 1962 cruising downtown with Wolfman Jack on the radio, trying to find that blonde in the T-bird.  For me, that's what these movies are all about: capturing a time we never could have experienced otherwise.  When it comes down to it, these are just the trivial reasons why I prefer American Graffiti; Dazed and Confused is great, too, partially in its own way and partially through emulation.  Long live the '70s!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting read, never thought about the Led Zepplin thing, or realized how many now mainstream actors were in that movie.