Taken from the August issue of Dazed & Confused:
In 1993, a year after this magazine was founded, Richard Linklater released the soon-to-be-cult movie Dazed and Confused. Drawing on his own memories of high school in smalltown Texas, it developed the loose, laidback cool and approachably comic bent of his previous film, Slacker (1991), catching the mood of a new generation. Set on a balmy May day – the last of school – in 1976, its ensemble cast (some of whom, like Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Milla Jovovich, would go on to huge fame) endure hazing rituals, cruise round in cars and get stoned to an era-defining 70s rock soundtrack.
We chatted to the affably chilled-out director about what his Dazed beginnings mean for him – and us.
Dazed Digital: It’s 20 years since you made Dazed and Confused...
Richard Linklater: Yeah, it was a vibrant time. It begins and ends with that cast. It was great to get to know them and figure out how to make the movie together. We had a mini-reunion recently.
DD: At one point in the movie one of the kids says: ‘We should be up for anything.’ Another responds: ‘Yeah, but what?’ Is that restlessness and lack of direction era-specific?
Richard Linklater: Not really. It’s an eternal question. I marvel that people can ever know exactly who they are and what they want. And with all those feelings and chemicals in your body at that age, it’s by definition an insane time in our lives, and the film captures the joy and pain of that.
DD: Like us, you took the title from the Led Zeppelin song, right?
Richard Linklater: Yeah, it was a working title I initially threw in – we never thought it’d be the actual title. But I’ve found good titles come early or not at all. It takes a full decade to process your teenage years. With that film I revisited music that had meant so much to me then. The idea I’d drift away to a whole other kind of music would never have occurred to me. It makes you think you’re a completely different person now – but of course you’re not. The most fascinating relationship is that of yourself to your previous self.
DD: Though Dazed and Confused is set in a small Texan town in the 70s, the kids in it seem pretty tapped into a wider pop culture through music.
Richard Linklater: There were only a few FM radio stations. It’s wonderful that different radio stations played different things. Like southern rock: they didn’t listen to Ted Nugent, for instance, in LA or New York. Punk rock was on the map, but it hadn’t filtered down to certain places. You could barely think of a thing today that couldn’t be anywhere. But the commercialisation of culture was starting to take hold; everything punk rock was rebelling against was starting to be commodified. You could smell a rat even by then. While the spread of music used to be more honest and pure, what you have now is a corporation that can really impose that on the culture. It still requires some kind of recognition, but it’s really being force-fed.
I marvel that people can ever know exactly who they are and what they want. Teenage years are by definition an insane time in our lives
DD: What about youth-culture films now? Have you seen Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, for instance?
Richard Linklater: I saw it just the other day. I think it’s wonderful – I love its point of view. These films never go away. They were at a nadir around the time of Dazed and Confused. It feels like the industry is trying to meet the market now – it’s a challenge, the hoops you have to jump through to get a film made these days. You have to talk up how successful it’s going to be.
DD: Dazed and Confused’s sprawling, improvised style has worked well for you in numerous films...
Richard Linklater: From early on, from Slacker, there were people rambling about things not in front of them. It’s something about my creative thinking – we’re stuck with ourselves and what we think is worthwhile. I like working with a big ensemble.
DD: You got labelled as a flagbearer for a whole slacker generation. How did you feel about that?
Richard Linklater: I was mature enough to know that it was a bunch of rubbish. I got thrown in categorically with a certain generation. It’s not like I was even of that time. But it’s super that a low-budget, weird experimental film could be part of any discussion at all. With people now it’s so commodity-based. Young people should be championing films of their generation but they don’t go to see them in the theatre with their friends. Maybe they’ll download it. But something like Transformers they’ll go to see. It’s tougher to have the cultural impact now – I caught a wave that was still in the culture.
They were at a nadir around the time of Dazed and Confused. It’s a challenge, the hoops you have to jump through to get a film made these days
DD: You never went to film school, just bought a Super 8 camera and got to it. Would you always recommend the DIY approach?
Richard Linklater: The basic technical aspects of filmmaking aren’t that difficult if you have any technical aptitude. I was a self-starter in cinema. I had mentors, just not in an official academic or accredited area. I took my own subjective path. I read that Hitchcock was against film school in the 60s and 70s, that he thought people were making films too early, and needed to learn first on a theoretical level. I took that to heart, watched a lot of films and read a lot. But everyone’s different. I’m kind of shy – I don’t want any feedback really. I don’t need to be reminded that something isn’t working. I don’t like institutions, the environment of academia.
DD: You’ve remained loyal to Texas – you still live in Austin and strongly support its filmmaking community...
Richard Linklater: I’m very grateful to Austin. Being from a small town gave me a place to land. There was music and culture. I like that no one cares here about stuff like whether your film was down on opening weekend. In LA that’s the air everyone breathes.