I watched Dazed and Confused last night after checking out this little video by A.O. Scott on the NYTimes’ ArtsBeat Blog.
I fell in love with the film for obvious reasons. While the story is at first look rambling, it makes sense for director Richard Linklater to not tack on too heavy a plot. There’s something much more genuine about teenage boredom. Whether a merit of the acting or the direction, when the characters have nothing to do, they really have nothing to do. And when they do, the emotional fireworks are intense. Similarly, the football players are not morons, nor are the geeks that bright either. It’s high school after all and it feels, well, real.
From a technical viewpoint, Linklater’s fluid control of camera also gets me. At the final party scene at the Moon Tower, I felt like an engaged observer, moving between cliques, conversations, and subplots. The camera is patient, following the characters, pulling back at certain intense moments, and refusing to shy away at other awkward exchanges. Also, the way Linklater uses music at certain points in the movie adds a level of pathos and believability to their stories—because, really, how else could you talk about the last day of school in the seventies without Alice Cooper?
The best movies are what they call in the industry “clean.” Things feel seamless, transitions tight, edits sensible, and acting believable. They capture the reality, the mood, and the essence of the story and characters. But those are also the hardest movies to make! There are a million great movie ideas but only a handful of really good directors who could pull them off.
And that’s what always got me as a “screenwriter.” Why do directors get most of the credit? It was only after shooting short films did I realize that in the absence of one, the story breaks down. Because I knew nothing about sound design, my movies sounded crummy. Because I couldn’t light worth a damn, the images looked dark and dingy. And because I had no understanding of how to use the camera, the angles felt off-center and stagey.
And only after I made these short films did I realize why certain directors are good and others don’t know what they’re doing. Dazed and Confused is a short, modest film—one best remembered by a couple of great lines and a few awesome uses of songs. Linklater’s genius is to pull off a good, humble movie and make it seem effortless; something most directors can’t master. It takes a modest genius to make good, modest movies.
Here’s a great scene from the movie. Watch that tracking shot as the guys enter the Emporium. Awesome.