In general, it’s become much too easy for me to find specific DVDs. Best Buy and Borders have online availability tags, so I can usually be sure I’ll get what I want before leaving the house.
Until last week.
Last Tuesday was the release of a long-awaited DVD – the Criterion Collection two-disc edition of Dazed and Confused. Many of you reading will know immediately why this is so special, but let me elaborate for those who might not know.
Criterion is the prestige name in DVD. When a movie gets the Criterion treatment, amazing care goes into every detail of the disc from the cover art and packaging to the menus, audio commentaries, special features and so on. They are the best, and they are thorough. They dig up all sorts of material for special features that the big studios would just shove aside.
So why am I so pumped that we have Dazed and Confused on Criterion? Well, folks, this is one of those movies that slipped through the cracks – twice. First off, this is a movie that shouldn’t exist. It was not the kind of movie being made at the time (1992-93) and certainly was not something that a major studio usually put out. But here was Dazed and Confused, the “teen movie” that wasn’t like Porky’s or Better Off Dead or anything else that came out of the 80s for that matter. And though Universal bankrolled the film and released it through co-owned subsidiary Gramercy, the marketing was sparse and unfocused. They tried targeting college kids by hyping up the drugs and drinking in the film and prominently featuring Milla Jovovich on the posters, but Dazed ended up in limited release playing only the larger cities.
Thankfully, in 1993, I moved to a larger city. That fall I headed off to college in Orlando. I had become a big film fan in the years leading up to college, having been lucky enough to get a novelty column in the local paper where I traded weeks with two other students writing movie reviews. Through home video, I sought out different films and occasionally, I would see something utterly unique at the theater.
In the early 90s, AMC Theaters was using a label of “Gourmet Cinema” in some of their multiplexes, bringing in some of the suddenly-hot “arthouse” films. One of these theaters was in an upscale area of Sarasota, just south of my hometown of Bradenton. This was how I came to find out about Richard Linklater’s incredibly unconventional Slacker. Since my conception of what “film” should be hadn’t been shaped by higher education or theory, my mind was wide open to accept whatever this movie had to offer. Many would run screaming from a film where the storyline was non-existent and characters seemed to ramble on about nothing of importance. But if you stuck with it, much of the film was compelling. The conceit of passing off from one chance encounter to another made me wonder where the film would go next. And to top it all off, it was funny. Even if someone hasn’t seen the film for years, they’re likely to remember the woman selling Madonna’s pap smear and the sociological dissection of Scooby-Doo. Much has been made of how Slacker changed Kevin Smith’s view of what film could be, and that’s pretty much the same reaction I had.
After arriving in Orlando, I was checking out the local record shops when I spotted a flyer for the movieDazed and Confused. Because of my reaction to Slacker, Richarad Linklater became the first director I actively followed other than Steven Spielberg. I knew this was Linklater’s new movie, and I knew I had to see it immediately. I made plans to get to the Enzian where Dazed was showing. On a side note, this was the beginning of a lovely relationship with Enzian, a great little theater north of Orlando that shows independent and art films in a restaurant environment. You can have a meal (reasonably priced, too) or adult beverage with your cinema experience at Enzian. They also host the Florida Film Festival every year. This theater became something of a second home, culminating in a stint as staff at the Florida Film Festival one year.
I was incredibly impressed with Dazed and Confused when I saw it the first time. Sure, this film had a fairly conventional structure and characters, but the essence of Slacker was all over Dazed. Nobody on that screen felt like an actor. The conversations were natural and realistic. While I didn’t quite realize it at the time, the story was also rather unconventional. The typical movie plot is driven by the needs of one or two main characters. While Dazed and Confused has something close to a main character in “Pink,” everyone in the cast has something going on. It’s the genius of the movie that we get to explore moments of each person’s life. Those moments are brief but eloquent. It’s the next evolution of Slacker, if you will.
With both Slacker and Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater had changed forever the way I would look at screen acting. Once I realized this kind of naturalistic performance was possible and compelling, it was hard to accept regular Hollywood movies the same way.
Hopefully I’ve given you an idea why Dazed and Confused means enough to me to warrant excitement over a Criterion Collection DVD. And the set lives up to the expectation. The packaging is top-notch. A slipcase houses a foldout digipack for the discs and a thin booklet. Round windows on the front up the slipcase line up with one set of pictures on the digipack and another set of pictures on the inside of the box. Very cool. On disc one, we finally get a Richard Linklater commentary on the film, as well as nearly a half hour of deleted scenes. Disc two houses a treasure trove of materials, from behind-the-scene footage, audition tapes, interviews and more, plus a 45 minute documentary called “Making Dazed” which manages to be interesting and emotional at the same time. While a lot of documentaries for “movies” stick to the mechanics of making a “product”, this one takes a cue from the character-based film itself and shows us the bonds between the people who worked on the film and the love that has developed in audiences in the years since Dazed‘s release. There are a lot of great little moments here, including comments from Linklater and Ben Affleck about cussing in the film, Parker Posey’s explanation for “Wipe that face off your head!’ and plenty of other great anecdotes. It’s also interesting to note what a unique experience in filmmaking that Dazed and Confused was. The actors clearly realize in retrospect what a special opportunity it was and that most films don’t get made the same way. Maybe this documentary could be longer, but what’s in there now is all gold.
My purchase of the Criterion Collection Dazed and Confused was the culmination of a week-long search. Best Buy seems to have underestimated the demand for this set by allotting one per store (it’s now listed as “backordered” too). Quantities of one do not show “Available” on their website, so in-store pickup was impossible. By the time I reached the three Best Buys near me, their single copy was gone. My next choice of purchase was Borders, as I had a 30% off coupon so I could get a good price on the set. By Saturday, three stores in my area showed available, but when I tried to reserve for in-store pickup, two of the stores had already sold their stock (I didn’t want to drive to the third store). Now on Tuesday, a new store showed “available” on the website, so I went immediately. I had to ask an employee for the disc, because they didn’t shelve it in comedy, they shelved it in boxed sets (with a bunch of TV shows)…
The upside of all the looking around I did in this Borders was that I discovered a copy of a great little out-of-print movie called The Daytrippers starring Parker Posey (again), Hope Davis, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and Anne Meara (?!). This was another gem I saw at the Enzian in Orlando, and i was sad I never picked up the DVD once I discovered it was going for $65 and up on Amazon and $40 and up on eBay. But now I’ve got one at regular retail! Thanks, Tampa Borders!
A post-script… I’d just like to add that Richard Linklater’s streak continued for me following Dazed and Confused. I remember my elation at catching a preview screening of his next film, Before Sunrise which I absolutely adored. The preview audience seemed baffled at how Linklater ended the film, but I maintain realism trumps Hollywood endings. The next film Linklater made was an adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s play SubUrbia which I alone seem to have liked. It’s not even out on DVD yet…