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The Untold Truth Of Dazed And Confused

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"All I'm saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself." These words are steeped in irony, truth, and ignorance in a way that only the mind of a teenager could create. Randall "Pink" Floyd utters them while smoking a joint on the 50-yard line of the football field where he and his friend have had so many glorious moments. The truth, as director Richard Linklater explains in the book "Alright, Alright, Alright," lies in the fact that he hated high school, despite the fact that he was good-looking, popular, and a star athlete. The irony is that those words may sum up his feeling that their life was just one boring moment after another, but the movie he made about those very teen experiences has resonated with audiences for decades. The ignorance in the statement comes from the fact that nostalgia for one's youth is almost unavoidable.

Richard Linklater had been an aspiring filmmaker fresh off the success of his first Austin-based indie "Slacker" when he got his chance at a studio-sponsored independent film. As "Alright, Alright, Alright," a book also titled the "Oral History of Dazed and Confused," explores, his idea about the last day of school in 1976 Texas was soon being pitched as "American Graffiti" for the '70s. The movie would go on to launch the careers of several high-profile actors and a now-prominent director, with a behind-the-scenes story as compelling as the film itself.

Richard Linklater based Mitch and Pink on himself

In "Alright, Alright, Alright," Linklater tells writer Melissa Maerz, "Whenever Pink talks to Mitch, that's me talking to my younger self." He also says, "That scene in the movie where Pink says, 'If I ever start referring to these as the best years of myself.' That's me reminding myself."

He also mentions in the book that nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, and that his point in making "Dazed and Confused" was to show how imperfect the '70s were. Obviously, that message was somewhat softened, given the popularity of the movie. "Dazed and Confused" was supposed to show how boring and pointless life as a teen could be, but it ended up instead showing the beauty of that pointlessness. By basing the two main characters on himself, Linklater showed how silly it was that he didn't appreciate all the fun he had during those younger years while he was actually living them.

The hazings were based Linklater's high school experiences

According to Keith Pickford, one of Linklater's high school classmates, the principal gave you "licks" with a paddle. It was accepted by the community as a form of discipline handed down by authority figures, so obviously the older kids adopted it to initiate the incoming freshmen. "I made a paddle in the woodshop," Pickford explains in "Alright, Alright, Alright." "Guys would engrave their name in it and drill holes in it."

Linklater explains how he got invited to parties by older friends and when word got out that he was at the party, "a bunch of them rounded me up and gave me licks. My butt was bruised that whole summer, off and on."

Don Dollar, another classmate with Linklater at Huntsville High School, explains that "They made girls walk around with a pacifier, and made them propose to guys." Another classmate, Julie Irvine Labauve, says, "I had to propose to a guy named Carl, and he said, 'What will you do for me?' The answer was always, 'Anything you want.'"

Alright, alright, alright came from Jim Morrison

Matthew McConaughey had never acted in a real movie before "Dazed and Confused," which is surprising, given how much of a mark he makes on the film and how iconic his role would become. Looking back on his experiences making the film, he describes that before he was about to shoot his first scene, he was understandably nervous. The tale he recounts in an interview with George Stromboulopoulos is that he'd "been listening to this live Doros album and in between songs Morrison goes 'Alright alright alright alright' and he's about 4 things. He's about his car. He's about gettin' high. He's about rock'n'roll. And he's about picking up chicks. And I go, 'I'm in my car. I'm high as a kite. I'm listening to rock'n'roll.' Action. And there's the chick. 'Alright, alright, alright.'"

At the end of the day, Matthew McConaughey's improvised, "Alright, alright, alright" goes down in history as one of the great improvised lines in film. It's so iconic that they even named the oral history about the movie after that line, and McConaughey's Wooderson became the character on the cover.

The film's budget was spent primarily on music

The "Dazed and Confused" soundtrack likely contributed to the success of the film. It was so popular that they issued two CDs when the film was released, which makes the huge expenditure on music seem considerably more justified than it did when "Dazed and Confused" was actually shooting.

According to "Alright, Alright, Alright," the funds allocated for music represented about 10% of the budget, with some sources estimating it as closer to 20%. Either way, that's a high amount, especially for an indie. The oral history confirms what many sources assert, that the Jackyls were contacted by Universal to cover the songs, rather than pay for the rights of the original versions. Yet Linklater stuck to his guns. "Teenagers can't express themselves very well," he says in the oral history, "so music is their voice ... That's why it means so much to them. I wanted to transfer that to the screen somehow." He even gave everybody mixed tapes based on what he thought their characters would like. If you watch it enough, you can almost tell who each character is by the music they are playing in their car.

Many names were taken from Linklater's former classmates

If one were to read "Alright, Alright, Alright," they would notice some familiar last names. Andy Slater. Don Watson and Don Dollar. Bob Wooderson. Keith Pickford. And of course, Richard "Pink" Floyd. It's enough to show that, yes, Linklater named the characters after his former classmates. Whether they accurately represented their personalities is another thing entirely, and one that would actually lead to trouble.

In fact, Wooderson, Slater, and Floyd eventually launched a lawsuit against Linklater for the use of their names. Although it's difficult to find the results of the case,  given the fact that the suits were filed in 2004, and all three men agreed to be interviewed (and seem relatively candid during the interviews) for 2020's "Alright, Alright, Alright," one can only assume that they are over the usage of their names. Perhaps it's because their characters became such iconic parts of American pop culture that they decided to embrace it.

Jason Lee was Marissa Ribisi's legal guardian during the shoot

A lot of the cast members were under 18 during the shoot, which could have put a damper on the party atmosphere of the film. One such actor was Marissa Ribisi, who was 17 at the time. She was only able to work on set because of the presence of her then-boyfriend, Jason Lee. While he would go on to star in movies like "Almost Famous" to "Alvin and the Chipmunks," at the time he was just a skater. And he was 22.

"My mom worked and I was 17 and I wasn't emancipated," Ribisi explains in "Alright, Alright, Alright." "Jason lived with us so my mom was like, 'Okay, he'll just have to be your legal guardian.'" His experiences on set had a profound effect on him.

"'Dazed and Confused' was my first time being exposed to moviemaking," Lee says in the oral history of the film. "You can't help but get really excited when you're behind the scenes on a movie set, and you wonder what it would be like to be an actor." So we can probably add one more A-list actor to the list of people whose careers were born on the set of "Dazed and Confused."

Matthew McConaughey's career began in a bar

Matthew McConaughey is one of the most famous alums from "Dazed and Confused." While the cast members were mostly unknowns, though, McConaughey was one of the few with no professional acting career at all. The film school-trained actor got the role simply by being in the right bar at the right time.

Casting director Don Phillips was drinking in a hotel bar and, "in walks McConaughey with this absolutely gorgeous girlfriend," McConaughey explains in "Alright, Alright, Alright." He went on to say that he chose that specific bar because his friend was the bartender, so he could drink for free. But when he found out Phillips worked in movies, aspiring filmmaker McConaughey started chatting him up. Several hours later they were smoking a joint (Phillips claims it was in his room, McConaughey claims it was on a car ride home) when Phillips asked the young man if he'd ever acted.

"Well tomorrow morning," McConaughey quotes Phillips as saying, "Come by this address I'll have a script waiting for you. It's a small part in here, but it's about this guy who's older and he's still hanging out in high school; he likes the chickies. And you might be just right for the part." The rest is film history.

A lot of stars auditioned for the movie

While today it may be tough to imagine a world where people don't know Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Renee Zellweger, or Joey Lauren Adams, back when "Dazed and Confused" was cast, they were complete unknowns. In fact, the actor with the biggest credits to her name at that point was Milla Jovovich, who had starred in "Return to the Blue Lagoon." But there were plenty of familiar faces who auditioned for a part in the film.

"Elizabeth Berkley was auditioning for Shavonne," "Dazed and Confused" casting assistant Lisa Bruna says in "Alright, Alright, Alright." "Denise Richards was also up for Shavonne. Vince Vaughn was up for two roles ... Alicia Silverstone auditioned for Sabrina. Also, I have a very early headshot of Kirsten Dunst in the folder." She also mentions Jared Leto having auditioned.

"Claire Danes came in," says Linklater. "She was in sixth or seventh grade. It was like, 'You're one of the best actors I've met! But you're just too young.'" He also mentions Jennifer Love Hewitt, Mira Sorvino, and Ron Livingston. In fact, it would make for an interesting thought experiment: Who had a better career, the cast or the people who almost made the cast?

Quentin Tarantino called it his favorite '90s movie

The 1990s introduced the world to some legendary directors, Linklater included. But arguably Quentin Tarantino, whose "Pulp Fiction" came out in 1994, would be at the top of most people's lists. None other than Time Magazine called "Pulp Fiction" the "most influential American film of the '90s." Tarantino, the iconoclast that he is, has a different perspective. "[Dazed and Confused] is my favorite movie of the '90s," Tarantino said at a 2013 Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards ceremony, as reported by Entertainment Weekly.

The same Entertainment Weekly article mentions that while Tarantino was making "Pulp Fiction," the only two movies he made an effort to go see were "Dazed and Confused" and "Carlito's Way." It also features Tarantino's proclamation that the movie gave him inspiration during a dry spell while trying to write in Amsterdam. Apparently, he rented "Dazed and Confused" and "All of the sudden I wasn't lonely anymore." As he says, "Those people have become my friends."

The actors actually partied together during the shoot

"Rick created this three-month-long party environment for the cast that mirrored the energy of the movie itself, just letting all these 19-year-olds hang out and get drunk and get stoned and run around the hotel and cause trouble," Ben Affleck says in "Alright, Alright, Alright." The book has several chapters dedicated to the fact that the cast, many of whom stayed in the same place, partied hard when off-camera. Another chapter is dedicated to the fact that there were a lot of romantic hookups among the actors.

"As you get older, you can't get smashed on a Sunday from 1:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m, fall asleep, and wake up at 6:30 p.m. and feel good," says Cole Hauser in the oral history. "But at 17 years old, you're like, 'Give me a bottle of water! I'm ready to go.'"

The book details how they ran up bar tabs, and some of them appeared on film stoned and drunk. They had sex, did hallucinogenics, formed cliques, and lived a spring break lifestyle in Austin during the shoot. Most importantly, they all seem to agree that Linklater planned it that way.

Huntsville has a fire tower, but Austin has moon towers

"Dazed and Confused" culminates in a party at the moon tower, which is one of the biggest divergences from Linklater's hometown of Huntsville as a source of inspiration for the film. "The beer bust usually happened at the fire tower," says Linklater's classmate Don Watson in "Alright, Alright, Alright." "We had a fire tower in Huntsville, not a moon tower. There are moon towers in Austin. That was Rick's shout-out to Austin in the movie." Other classmates in the book go on to detail how climbing this old fire tower, a lookout, became a common drunken challenge. 

Austin's moonlight towers have lit the city since the 19th century, although now they are rickety old towers reaching to the heavens. No doubt they still would make a great party place, even if they aren't a perfect representation of Linklater's own teenage years.

Shawn Andrews was disliked by most of the cast (except Milla Jovovich)

Shawn Andrews, who plays Pickford, was thought to have a big future when the film was being made, and acted accordingly. "Alright, Alright, Alright" has a chapter dedicated to Shawn, and the seemingly universal dislike of him, entitled "The Next Marlon Brando probably wouldn't call himself 'The next Marlon Brando'." It sounds like he only made one friend there: Milla Jovovich. The two were apparently joined at the hip. Unit publicist for the movie Jason Davids Scott said in the book that, "There were lots of little cliques. But Shawn and Milla were completely on their own."

It didn't help that, according to the other cast members, he was pretty cocky, despite having not much of a CV. "He was too confident," Rory Cochrane says in the oral history. "To the point where he would tell the hotel staff, 'Save my sheets, I'm gonna be famous.'" Jason London especially didn't like Andrews. "Listen, there's a reason why we all call him Prickford. I never had any behind-the-scenes drama with anyone, except with Shawn."

Dazed and Confused did poorly at the box office

There is a long but prestigious legacy of films that flopped at the box office but became classics, to the point where it's almost considered a mark of honor. That seemed to be especially prevalent in the '90s, and "Dazed and Confused" is no exception.

The film is listed as grossing a little under $8 million, not a big haul considering its budget of almost $7 million. Yet it came out at a time when people still invested in home video, and that's when it really began to take off. Rolling Stone called it a "word-of-mouth phenomenon." With a cast full of future A-listers, a director with a huge amount of buzz, a banger soundtrack, and a fresh take on the reckless, beautiful energy of young adulthood, it's no wonder that "Dazed and Confused" has captivated audiences for three decades and running.