American Graffiti was George Lucas’ love letter to the teenage life in the 1960s. Feeling the need to do the same for his childhood experience, in 1993 Richard Linklater made Dazed and Confused, which followed a bunch of teenagers during their last day of high school in 1970s Austin Texas. In addition to a similar concept, Linklater’s film also features many actors in their early days who would later find varying degrees of success in much bigger films. You have Milla Jovovich who would later become the world’s best-known zombie killer with the Resident Evil franchise and Matthew McConaughey who would eventually win an Academy Award for Best Actor. Not bad considering his signature line in the movie is: "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age."
The movie perfectly captures the high school experience no matter the decade, yet watching it for the first time it really made me feel like I missed out a lot. True, they probably partied a lot harder in the 70s, but since most of the high schools I attended were in South America I didn’t attend a lot of wild parties. My last day of high school was at a school in Quebec City and I had only been there a year, so unlike the characters in Dazed and Confused I didn’t have life-long friends I could go out and party with at the end of the end. By the time I rented the movie while living at the University of Sherbrooke I thought I had definitely missed the boat. Then again, that’s one of the advantages of movies: they allow you to see things you don’t usually see, in this case high school hazing rituals.
The hazing scenes are taken quite seriously at Lee High School, even for the girls courtesy of Senior Darla Marks (Parker Posey) who relishes at the chance to cover the Freshmen with condiments and making them propose to the boys. On the other hand boys Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) and his friend Carl Burnett (Esteban Powell) want to avoid hazing at all cost. To do so they have to evade Fred O’Bannion (Ben Affleck) who is repeating his senior year and would delight to spank their bottoms with a paddle. They find temporary refuge at Carl’s house, which is guarded by his shotgun-totting mother. This is Texas after all.
This being the last day of school the plan is to go out and have fun, and if booze and drugs are present, all the better. The drug part might become complicated for the school’s star football player Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) who has been asked to sign a pledge promising not to take drugs during the summer or do anything else that might jeopardize the next championship season. That goes against the plans of every kid in the town who just want to spend the evening cruising, playing baseball mailbox, going to a drive-in, and drinking copious amounts of alcohol in a field. Some of these activities, such as going cruising around town, are probably not done by teens today but the intent is still the same: to be living as much as possible while you’re young.
Then there is the music, which still holds up decades later. As the bell rings unleashing the students into the hallways for the very last time that year, is there a more perfect song to play than Alice Cooper’s School’s Out for Summer? Between Rock and Roll All Nite by KISS, Slow Ride by Foghat, and Highway Star by Deep Purple, the album is a time capsule of a decade, much like the movie itself.
Between American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High it seems every decade has its iconic high school movie, so I think it’s about time somebody got started on making one about the 1990s. And no, American Pie doesn’t count. That is set in the very late 90s and I think we can do better than a guy sticking his dick in a pie.