Best Of The Best: Dazed & Confused (1993) & Empire Records (1995)

A lot of people have movies that they watched over and over and over as a kid. For me I had Batman Returns and Beetlejuice, but it wasn’t until high school when I really started watching movies repeatedly and two of my most watched movies were Dazed and Confused and Empire Records. Today I was feeling a little nostalgic and decided to watch both of them in chronological order, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

I think my buddy Randy was the first person to bring D&C to my attention and I loved it immediately. It’s about a group of high school students in Texas in the 70s who are dealing with some fairly heavy concepts like what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives, free will vs. the rules placed on us and, most importantly, where to party. It would take forever to lay down the entire plot for you, so just go see the movie if you haven’t yet (what’s wrong with you?). Writer/director Richard Linklater created two of my favorite 90s movies, this one and Suburbia which I watched again a few years ago and even though it’s pretty slow I still like how it captures that feeling of helplessness you feel during and after high school when you want to live a life that matters, but don’t really know how. Dazed deals with very similar concepts, though doesn’t get too bogged down with them.

And that’s what’s great about the movie. There are dozens of characters, some more important to the main story than others, but all of them seem important enough to care about. The script is written so tightly that you’re never bored and always want to know what’s up with the character who you haven’t seen for a few scenes (except Ben Affleck’s O’Bannion, that guy’s just a dick). Plus, everything about the 70s setting feels authentic from the clothes to the cars to the pool hall hang out spot. Oh, and of course, Matthew McConaughey and the rest of the cast make you think you’re really watching a movie from the 70s.

One thing I do want to mention about my past with this movie is that I’ve often been confused by what classes the people were in. For a while, I figured all the older kids in the movies were Seniors who just graduated, but then I realized that didn’t make sense because a big part of the plot revolves around Pink playing football the next year, so they have to be Juniors who are going to be Seniors. On the other hand the younger kids in the movie are going from 8th grade to freshman year. BUT, what about the girls being tortured in the beginning? Are the incoming Freshman or Sophomores? I’m still confused on this because only the boys in the 8th grade class seem worried and not the girls. Ah well. I guess I’ll have to watch it again.

Another thing I want to mention about watching this movie again–I actually watched the VHS version because I have yet to pick it up on DVD and it still looked pretty good–is that, since I’ve been watching this movie for roughly 15 years, I’ve related to vastly different characters when watching it. When I was younger, I related to Mitch, the 8th grader-cum-freshman who gets thrown into an older world of high school that he might not have been ready for but adapts really well. I’m still impressed with how well he adapts and how incredibly nervous I would have been in the same situation in high school. In later viewings it’s been Pink, who’s deciding what to do about his future freedom, Wooderson who seems to be an eternal child (with a sick ass ride, mind you) and even Don who delivers one of my favorite lines in the movie: “I want to look back and say that I did I the best I could while I was stuck in this place. Had as much fun as I could while I was stuck in this place. Played as hard as I could while I was stuck in this place… Dogged as many girls as I could while I was stuck in this place.” Not a bad way to live life.

To say I was obsessed with Empire Records in high school might be a bit of an understatement. One time, after watching Dazed and Confused, Randy and I watched Empire Records. Twice. I even remember the first time I saw it. Mind you, I have no memory of either of these movies being in theaters and only discovered both once they were on tape. Anyway, I went to an all guy Catholic high school. At some point either Freshman or Sophomore year, I went to a date dance with a girl who I was in the same group of friends with. We went back to someone’s house and the girls really wanted to watch this movie I’d never heard of. They turned it on and I was digging the hell out of it because, well, I’ve always wanted to work in a record store and would still consider taking a part time job at one today. Unfortunately, my ride came and I had to leave before it was over. The second time I tried to watch it, it was really late and I fell asleep. Luckily, the third time was the charm and I saw the whole thing, though it wasn’t until a few views later when I discovered the after-credits conversation between Marc and Eddie, which I now wait for every time.

I bought the movie soon after. And the soundtrack. And started a soon-abandoned-though-never forgotten compilation of the other prominent songs that soundtrack missed. And dressed up like Marc for Halloween one year. And have followed all the actors in most of their later rolls. And started reading about the movie online which informed me of a rollerblading female character who got cut from the movie but can still be briefly seen and the Tobey Maguire had a part that got cut. This was in the heyday of fan sites and I was reading all of them that I could find (like here, here, here and here, how great is it by the way that Angelfire and Tripod sites still exist while dumb Geocities went out the window?).

I can still recite the movie pretty well even today, though the version I have on DVD is the Fan Remix edition which has new scenes added in. That still throws me off a bit and the DVD is pretty great, though I wish there was at least a commentary on there from director Allan Moyle and/or writer Carol Heikkinen (who I just discovered also wrote the Center Stage movies). Neither of them have gone on to do too much else, at least not much that I’m familiar with.

I’ve mentioned before when talking about high school movies (either set then or watched then) can be very subjective. I’ve got friends who swear by Lost Boys because they loved it as a kid, but I watched it for the first time as an adult and liked it, but that’s it. I’d like to think that both of these movies are good, even though my love for them stems from being a kid. Dazed is a true classic for sure, I’ve got no doubt about that. Empire might have been the first “workplace” movie I saw which kicked off my love of these movies where all the action takes place based around a workplace and the people who work there instead a specific few characters like Car Wash or DC Cab. I do however wonder if Empire might not be as interesting to kids now as a movie about old time radio might have been to kids my age when we were in high school, but I hope that the themes and emotions explored therein can still be appreciated by anyone.

Damn, I really want to work in a record store…

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