Alright, Alright, Alright: An Oral History of Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused

Image of Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused
Release Date: 
November 17, 2020
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Alright, Alright, Alright is targeted at the film’s fans, who should enjoy it. It is a well-organized and developed oral history that presents an engaging and enjoyable chronicle of an enduring 1990s film.”

Set in Texas during the last day of school in 1976, Dazed and Confused features teenage cliques depicting the commonality of the adolescent experience. By its 1993 release, contemporary rock bands were producing music that “kind of tasted the same as ’70s rock,” drawing inspiration from bands like The Who, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Aerosmith. Pearl Jam even performed with 1960s and 1970s rock icon Neil Young at the 1993 MTV Music Awards. Consequently, teenage culture in “the ’90s had a ’70s nostalgia.” Such elements created a receptive environment for the film, which simultaneously fueled this nostalgia.

Although a cultural touchstone for teenagers growing up in the 1990s, Dazed and Confused remains a relevant coming-of-age film. It captures the essence of teenage life, fostering an anti-nostalgic nostalgia making new audiences “feel good about the worst time of their lives.” By fixing on the qualities uniting teenagers during adolescence, it has allowed young people from different generations to make connections with people of the past.

It is this continued relevance prompting Melissa Maerz’s Alright, Alright, Alright, which draws its title from a line by break-out star Matthew McConaughey. The film enjoyed a renaissance in 2020, as it was also featured in McConaughey’s memoir Greenlights and the cast reunited for a virtual table reading of the script for a “get-out-the-vote” fundraiser.

Research for Alright, Alright, Alright commenced in 2018, the film’s 25th anniversary, with director Richard Linklater’s cooperation. Maerz interviewed most crew and cast members, including Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Chrisse Harnos, Sasha Jenson, Cole Hauser, Deena Martin, Jason London, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Anthony Rapp, Nicky Katt, Marissa Ribisi, Michelle Burke, Renée Zellweger, Christin Hinojosa, and Wiley Wiggins. Maerz includes a “cast of characters,” providing a list of interviewed individuals and their connection to the film.

Maerz organizes each chapter around a topic and provides an opening narrative followed by interview excerpts. This structure creates the impression of a dialogue, or conversation. Many chapters’ titles draw from film lines.

The book is divided into four parts. Part I (“Inspiration”) relates the reality behind Dazed and Confused and its early development. Beginning chapters relay the history, people, and events (including Linklater’s adolescent years) inspiring the script and characters, and Linklater’s journey toward becoming a filmmaker, with a focus on his fist significant film, Slacker (1991).

Subsequent chapters recount Linklater’s endeavors to secure backing for Dazed and Confused, including studios’ impressions of it as “an American Graffiti of the ’70s,” and getting ready for production. Much attention is placed on casting, as many of its actors, then largely unknowns, later ascended to stardom. 

Part II (“The Shoot”), comprised of 19 chapters, is the longest section and compiles behind-the-scenes stories and gossip, starting with anecdotes about the cast’s arrival on set and getting into character. During rehearsals, Linklater encouraged actors to incorporate their own backgrounds to their characters.

Filming Dazed and Confused was a constant struggle between Linklater and Universal Studios, which criticized his use of language, lack of nudity, and crew selections, creating conflicts between him and producer Jim Jacks (chapters 11, 15, 18, and 19). The book relates production challenges, such as shifting from day to night shooting (chapter 16), and the shooting of iconic film scenes, including the party at the moon tower (chapter 23), the climactic scene on the football field (chapter 25), and the ending (chapter 26).

Part II also focuses on the relationships forged on set, primarily among the cast. Several developed friendships, including Parker Posey and Joey Lauren Adams (chapter 13), and Cole Hauser and Ben Affleck (chapter 17). Both duos’ notorious hazing scenes in the film—the “air raid” and paddling sequences—are addressed. Yet not all cast members cliqued. Chapter 21 reveals both the rapport and competitiveness among the female cast.

Many backstage romances blossomed (chapter 12). Perhaps the most infamous one involved Milla Jovovich (then the most famous cast member) and Shawn Andrews. Chapters 14 and 24 focus on this relationship, as the two instantly connected with each other (and married briefly), but not with anyone else. Andrews’s negative reputation diminished the couple’s roles in the film. This marginalization created room to expand other roles, such as McConaughey’s Wooderson.

Finally, Chapter 22 relates how McConaughey’s father died during filming, and how this event impacted his dedication to his role and career.

Part III (“The Comedown”) narrates Linklater’s battles with Universal in post-production. Conflict arose over aspects of finishing the film such as editing, its soundtrack, and marketing. As the film’s soundtrack became a popular release, it receives prominent attention.

The studio wanted contemporary bands covering 1970s songs. Linklater retained the originals, but to reduce licensing costs, some were cut from the official soundtrack. Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” which opens the film, was one. However, the band’s popular album Get a Grip, released the same year as Dazed and Confused, helped link the 1970s-set film to the 1990s in the popular imagination.

Part III ends by covering the film’s release and impact of Linklater’s film diary “Dazed by Days,” published in the 1990s in the Austin Chronicle, criticizing the studio and other perceived obstacles to his film.

Part IV (“The Legacy”) reveals the reactions to Dazed and Confused from Linklater’s peers who inspired it, the cast’s and crews’ subsequent careers, and the film’s box office disappointment and rebirth on laserdisc and VHS in 1994 and then DVD in the 2000s. Maerz includes comments on former sequel or spin-off ideas—and how the film paved the way for That ’70s Show (1998–2006). She also includes the cast’s ten-year reunion celebration. The film’s continued popularity, despite its 1970s setting, is suggested as nostalgia for the 1990s, when the film was released.

Never a cinematic masterpiece—Linklater regards the film as “middling”—Dazed and Confused’s enduring influence was happenstance, making its cultural relevance a surprise. During its tenth anniversary in 2003, Texas Monthly provided an oral history of the film. Criterion Collection released a special DVD edition in 2006 including an audio commentary from Linklater, the “Making Dazed” documentary, on-set interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, cast auditions, and footage from the ten-year anniversary celebration. A booklet with essays and cast and crew memories was included.

Consequently, Alright, Alright, Alright is not the film’s first oral history. Maerz reveals in the front matter that she also used letters, memos, script drafts, and other documents. However, such sources are barely woven into her narrative, even though it suggests familiarity with them. She relies almost exclusively on interviews she conducted of about 150 people. Maerz eschews using prior interview material in favor of what she has collected, likely because of copyright issues, even if it retreads some of what has appeared before.

Nevertheless, Alright, Alright, Alright is targeted at the film’s fans, who should enjoy it. It is a well-organized and developed oral history that presents an engaging and enjoyable chronicle of an enduring 1990s film. It covers a broader range of topics in greater detail than its predecessors, presenting the most comprehensive oral history to date of Dazed and Confused. The book also features numerous black-and-white behind-the-scenes photos and some excerpts from script drafts, letters, and Linklater’s “Dazed by Days” diary.