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‘Dazed and Confused’ and Richard Linklater’s Commitment to Nostalgia

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Aerosmith. A car your dad bragged about owning in the ’70s. Dudes with long hair. Bell-bottom jeans. And pot. So much pot. That’s our introduction to Richard Linklater’s cult-classic reflection of Austin in the summer of ’76. The dreamy mix of lethargic, cinema verité-style interactions. The fanciful, idealized versions of a past that is often met with conflicting sentiments of romanticism and criticism. That is Dazed and Confused.

The film takes place on the last day of school for the students of Lee High. It’s a time when the older kids ritualistically get ready for their senior year by violently hazing wide-eyed, soon-to-be-freshmen. Those junior-high grads burst with excitement — for better or for worse — at the prospect of finally joining this otherworldly cosmos also known as the American High School scene. “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper plays as students joyously race down the hallways in anticipation of what will hopefully be a sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll-filled summer. And anyone who’s experienced that last-day-of-school rush can agree: as far as the sensation of nostalgia goes, this moment always takes first prize.

In Dazed and Confused, Linklater feeds on audiences’ desire for that nostalgia by presenting a romanticized version of the past. But, at the same time, he subverts the common theme to emphasize the importance of change. Indeed, his characters indulge in the tropes of the ’70s, yet when you look closer, there’s more to the film than meets the eye. And at the end of Dazed and Confused, you’ll inevitably come away with a sense that, more important than a penchant for the past, there is a........

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