Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Dazed and Confused

Today, I watched Dazed and Confused, the excellent film from director Richard Linklater. Linklater is one of the most interesting directors working today and is one of the biggest influences on the stuff that I've done. Linklater is notable for maintaining an independent voice even when working on big studio films, such as School of Rock and this film.

Dazed was made after his breakthrough film, Slacker, an independently financed film that put him on the map. Slacker is a non-narrative journey through the city of Austin, stopping off just long enough to hear what each character has to say, then moving on. Waking Life is structurally very similar to Slacker. After the success of Slacker he was given the opportunity to make a higher budget, more mainstream studio film, an opportunity that proves the death knell of many people who have made a great independent film. It's very easy to make a bad, or at least more conventional, less unique film when given this opportunity.

Luckily, Linklater actually improves on his first outing and crafts a really art cinema version of the teen comedy. The film drifts through a bunch of seperate character's lives, with the narrative being passed along from character to character in the same manner as in Slacker. The film doesn't really have a plot, it's just a bunch of stuff that happens, but it works becuase the film isn't about character so much as about capturing a period of time. Linklater does a great job of giving the film a 70s feeling. The soundtrack is great, and the production design make sthe film feel authentically period. However, he also touches on universal themes. So, while the film is set in the 70s, it's also timeless.

Linklater has such a great ear for talk that he's able to make some twenty unique characters in minimal time. Just from what people say, we can understand everything about them. He has an ear for minute details in dialogue that give the film a lot of realism. And, because he doesn't have to service a narrative, the dialogue is always natural, not subordinated to the demands of a story. Dazed and Confused has much more in common with French New Wave and 60s art cinema than it does with any other teen comedy ever made. Even though the film was advertised as a drug film, I think it works more as just a great art film within a traditionally commercial genre.

I like the way the film simultaneously inspires nostalgia and condemns it. To go all this effort to recreate his high school years clearly indicates that Linklater has strong love for those times, and wants to share that love with others. The success of the film is pretty much dependent on the viewer feeling on some level that high school was a great time, and wouldn't it be great to have another go at it. But then at the end, he upends this by having Pink reject this very nostalgia, and say that he's only killing time before he can leave. It's a great embrace of the odd relationship I think everyone has with high school. When you're there you can't wait to leave, but after that, there's always a part of you that would love to go back there. It's wise that Linklater has the character say he wants to leave, even though Pink ten years down the line may just be saying "Wow, those were the best years of my life."

Related Posts
Finding Meaning in Discussion: On Linklater and the Before Duology (12/7/2004)
Richard Linklater Day (7/22/2005)

1 comment:

Raúl! said...

Indeed, Richard Linklaker is a great director. He's got a new film coming out: new-film-from-richard-linklaker.html