A DVD Set That'll Leave You 'Dazed' and Amazed

Matthew McConaughey in one of the year's best DVDs, the Criterion Collection's version of
Matthew McConaughey in one of the year's best DVDs, the Criterion Collection's version of "Dazed and Confused." (Criterion Collection)
By Jen Chaney
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, June 9, 2006

The Criterion Collection's new version of 1993's "Dazed and Confused" (R, $39.95) proves that once in a while a DVD wrong gets righted.

Two years ago, Universal Home Entertainment issued a lackluster special edition of this high school movie classic, co-branding it with a rerelease of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" as the "Ultimate Party Collection." Despite the title, few were very high on the box set. "Dazed and Confused" fans balked at the limited, lame bonus material and, reportedly, so did writer-director Richard Linklater.

Fortunately, to borrow a line from a "Dazed" character, another fiesta was in the making. Enter Criterion, a company known for issuing influential films on DVD and lavishing them with substantive extra features. Thanks to Criterion's TLC, the "Dazed and Confused" faithful finally have a definitive DVD version, complete with 17 deleted scenes, more than two hours of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, a making-of documentary, an enjoyable commentary track from Linklater and a killer 72-page booklet overflowing with essays and other related memorabilia.

With "Dazed and Confused," Linklater set out to "capture life, drifting in its continuous, unpredictable flow," as he declares in a preproduction note to his crew, reprinted for the DVD booklet. He completely achieved that goal, crafting an easygoing yet honest portrayal of young life on the last day of school in a Texas town circa 1976. In the process, Linklater and company also accomplished something rare: They created a film that is both of its time and timeless. Perhaps that's why a writer at Paste magazine once dubbed "Dazed and Confused" the " 'Citizen Kane' of teen flicks."

Linklater never misses a detail, from the period-appropriate sounds of Foghat and Kiss on the soundtrack (the director refused to include a single track released after May 28, 1976, the date on which the movie is set), to the sight of girls using pliers to zip their skin-tight jeans. In fact, as the DVD notes several times, that attention to specifics often put Linklater at odds with Universal, the studio releasing the film, and the producers, who did not get his free-spirited, indie-style approach. Studio execs also complained that the film lacked star power, a note that sounds comical in retrospect. Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey and, in a cameo so small it can be missed with a blink, Renee Zellweger, are just a few of the now-famous faces whose careers got a kickstart from "Dazed." (That's to say nothing of Linklater, who went on to make "Before Sunrise," "School of Rock" and this summer's "A Scanner Darkly.") The movie -- which looks sharper than ever on this new high-definition transfer -- may be a blast, but the exceptional extras deliver just as much kick. "Dazed" devotees will savor them all, including watching McConaughey audition for the part of Wooderson in an "MTV Headbangers Ball" T-shirt and witnessing the emotion of Christin Hinojosa, an Austin high schooler plucked from obscurity to play naive freshman Sabrina. "I'm going to miss the people," she says during an on-camera interview on her last day of shooting, her lip quivering as tears fill her eyes.

But the real highlight may be Linklater's affable and informative commentary. One of the few directors who consistently gives good audio track, he notes how much it cost to secure Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" for the opening scene ($100,000), admits he would vote for Affleck if given the opportunity and even salutes the people who play drinking games as they watch. (People, you know who you are.) He also admits that butting heads for the first time with the Hollywood establishment was a hellish experience but says, "I got out alive with the film I wanted."

And now Linklater and his admirers have the "Dazed and Confused" DVD they wanted.

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