An Interview with Melissa Maerz: Covering the Engaging History of ‘Dazed and Confused’ Part Two
March 10, 2021
This is part two of a two part series. Read the first part here.
Q: Given how many people were involved, there’s bound to be some bad blood between [the cast and crew]. How did you place these contradictions side-by-side?
A: I really love oral histories as a genre. It just makes sense to me to give everyone an equal voice like that, even if they didn’t have an equal participation in the movie or equal control over how the movie was. It’s a real pet peeve for me when I read a music book that [revolves around] this great man narrative, of this musician where he’s like ‘I had this vision from the very beginning’ and it was only his vision and no one else contributed to it. I was struck by that and I also kind of distrust the idea of a writer who describes things as if they were in the room when they weren’t.
I think there’s something really honest about just letting someone’s memory be there, where you don’t have to pretend as a writer like you were in the room in order to remember it. I also like the idea that everyone has conflicting memories. That’s always the case, [because] a film is not just one person’s work. Inevitably, no matter how strong of a vision that a director has, though Richard Linklater had a very strong vision and the end result really matches that strong vision, it’s still inevitable that it’s going to be the work of a collective project. The format of an oral history gives people a voice who might not otherwise get a voice.
Q: One part that kind of blew my mind was [that] there is a section of the book where it talks about how they were supposed to make a potential sequel, and [there are] all [of] these crazy ideas. The one that stuck out to me was Adam Goldberg’s character, [who] was supposed to be holding a deep-seated grudge against Clint after their brief fight. Do you wish that there had been a sequel or do you prefer it as a standalone thing?
A: I think Rick got his sequel with Everybody Wants Some!!. That’s his college experience. I don’t really feel like I need a sequel. In some ways I’m glad that there isn’t one because I like imagining. I think imagining what happens to these high school kids is part of what makes watching Dazed [and Confused] as an adult so powerful. You know the Slaters, [the] Darla, and [the] Woodersons of your life and you know what happened to them. Having that layer of knowledge kind of makes the experience deeper, watching it when you’re older. In a way, Linklater’s films are all sequels to each other because they’re all so autobiographical. There’s a character in all of them that’s basically Richard Linklater when he was younger.
Q: The Before trilogy characters also show up in Waking Life at one point.
A: You see someone playing paintball in so many different movies, [and] I think it’s almost an intentional reflection between these different movies. They’re kind of in conversation with one another, even if they don’t literally have the same characters like Waking Life does.
Q: Have you received any word from people who you weren’t able to contact since the book’s publication like Jason O. Smith? Or Shaun Andrews and Milla Jovovich who refused to appear? Were you able to contact them after the publication? Did you get any sort of response after the book’s publication?
A: I kind of figured that Mila and Shaun would give me a no, so I figured that I probably wouldn’t hear from them and I [still] haven’t heard from them. I was hoping that I would hear from Jason O. Smith. The good side is, as you know, I put my email address in the book hoping that he would contact me, and while he hasn’t contacted me, I have gotten so many amazing emails from people about the book and about their own experiences of why they love Dazed and Confused. That’s been kind of an unintentional[ly] great thing that has happened for me.
Q: Some of the actors in the movie like [Matthew] McConaughey and [Ben] Affleck have turned into big stars, while others have sort of faded away. I mean I’m not trying to knock any of them [down] but was there any difference between the viewpoints?
A: I think Matthew McConaughey has told these stories so many times and they have really solidified into mythology for him. It’s funny to me that ‘alright, alright, alright’ is the most famous quote from this movie. I think part of the reason why is because McConaughey himself never misses a chance to repeat it, and part of that is because it has become for him, the launch pad for his whole career. This was his first movie. He remembers that as the first thing that he said for a movie that was recorded for him. It’s offscreen and it’s not the first line he says in the movie, but he remembers it as being the first thing that was recorded. It has really become a thing that he has told, and told, and told, and you know every time you tell that story, it kind of becomes something different and gets further and further away from the actual memories. It really [became] codified in his head at the start of his career.
A lot of the other actors have never really gotten the chance to talk about this before. I don’t think that [Michelle Burke Thomas had] been interviewed on the record about this before, at least [not] in decades. I think for someone like her, it was a different kind of experience. It was a very emotional thing for her to try to dredge up these memories and to think about things that she hadn’t thought of in years. It’s just interesting to see a different perspective, and somebody like McConaughey can really see this in a line because that makes sense for him. For other people who ended up getting out of the industry, it might have had a different role. It’s just interesting to see how people have remade their memories of this movie into a narrative that speaks to them, about the role Dazed [and Confused] served in their lives. But as far as Affleck goes, I was actually pretty surprised at how big of a role Dazed and Confused still plays for him.
Q: I know this is probably a hard question, but what is your favorite scene in the movie and if you can’t answer that, do you have a favorite line?
A: “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.”
I love that line, because to me, that’s the most anti-nostalgia line, right? Christine Hinojosa, who plays Sabrina in the movie, told me that it was a weird feeling for her when the movie was being played at the twentieth anniversary and she heard people saying that line back to the screen. You hear people say that line and not realize that it’s telling them ‘Don’t look back on this nostalgically’. That’s my favorite scene, the scene where Jason London gets up in the football field [and] the camera spins around him, because it’s the one point in the whole movie where they’re thinking about the future.
I think the fact that the character is really Richard Linklater when he was a junior in high school just gives this kind of a double edge. It’s not just this high school kid thinking about how he’s going to look back on this in the future, but it’s being filmed by the guy who’s actually looking back at the kid who he once was. I think that kind of double-sidedness of that scene is really powerful.
Q: Have you ever visited Austin? What are your thoughts on the city and the films inspired by it? Not just Dazed but maybe the other Linklater movies that were filmed here? In your opinion what makes Austin, Austin?
A: I’m really careful about answering this because I’m so aware that I’m an outsider. I’ve been going to Austin for many years because I was a music writer for many years. I would always come out for South by Southwest. I love, love, love Austin as a city. When I left New York, my husband and I were talking pretty seriously about whether we were going to move there or to Portland, Oregon, which is actually where we ended up. I think Portland and Austin have kind of a similar vibe in the way a lot of cities like that have. There’s kind of [this feeling of] ‘You think this place is great now? You should have been here in the blank year!’. There’s always this nostalgia for what things were like before, because you’re in a town that wasn’t always a huge city like New York or LA.
A lot of people feel real ownership for what they perceive as what it was like when it was smaller. I think the great thing is that I don’t really know. I can’t really comment on what Austin really is in a way that you could, you know, as somebody who has lived there for a long time. What I like about Richard Linklater’s movies is that they give you such a sense, such a picture of Austin that may not be true for everybody but is really kind of exciting to someone like me.
When I first saw Slacker, I don’t think I’d ever been to Austin before. To a lot of us, it was kind of like, ‘This is how things are?’. You can just go into a coffee shop and talk to somebody about some conspiracy theory about The Smurfs or go into a bookstore and talk to somebody about JFK? It just seemed like a place where people were highly educated, but weren’t driven to just work at a corporate job and make a lot of money. That portrait that I saw in something like Slacker or even Dazed (even though it’s not set in Austin), I feel like [there is] still kind of a vibe to that, of what your values are, be[ing] true to yourself, and not just trying to grow up to be powerful and make a lot of money [which] I really loved. The way Austin is portrayed in Richard Linklater’s movies was something really appealing to me.
Q: Do you have a favorite Dazed and Confused soundtrack moment?
A: It’s hard to beat Sweet Emotion in the beginning, [given that it’s] everybody’s favorite needle drop moment, but I [also] really love Tuesday’s Gone. To me, that sums up so much of what my book is about. It plays at the end of the moon tower party and somebody said in my book – I think it was Mark Duplass – but you’re listening to that song playing, and the party isn’t even over yet and they’re saying Tuesday’s Gone, like “I’m so wistful for these days gone by” and you’re like “You’re still there at the party? It’s not even over yet!”. [It] is like the pre-nostalgia that people have for something that’s not even gone.
Q: At least in the ’80s, the ’70s were sort of seen as uncool, but it seems to me that starting with Dazed [and Confused] you get a lot of ’70s-set stuff. One of the things mentioned in the book is That ‘70s Show, for instance. Do you have an opinion on the ’90s [and] ’70s crossover adjacent media? For instance, something like Freaks and Geeks?
A: Freaks and Geeks is definitely a good comparison. I love Freaks and Geeks and I think that scene where Lindsay gets on the bus, and the unfinishedness of what will happen with her life, is very similar to Dazed for me. In some ways, it seems like this triumphant moment of driving out onto the open road, but it’s also like ‘Where are they going and what’s gonna happen?’ It’s driving off into something as epic as it is in real life as it is inside their heads. I don’t know about stuff that was specifically influenced by Dazed in the ’90s but I do think that Linklater caught the idea that this music was going to be considered timeless soon. You know in 1993, ’70s rock wasn’t quite as prevalent in the mainstream as it would be a couple years later in the late ’90s, and he really got that before a lot of people did.
As you said, I think at the time, it was seen as kind of uncool. But then [when] you get to the late ’90s and there are classic rock formats everywhere, and a lot of these dinosaur rock bands are coming back on tour, a lot of that stuff was really going to be a resurgence. Whether or not Dazed caused this ’70s revival in the ’90s, [I don’t know, but] I think probably part of it is just this 20 year cycle. It was bound to happen, but Dazed and Confused was just a tiny bit ahead of that cycle. You [do] see stuff about the ’70s coming back later, like this revival of glam rock and thrift store clothes coming back in the ’70s style. Movies like The Ice Storm started happening later, so I think it seems even more iconic because it caught that wave slightly before the rest of the world did.
Q: It’s liable to change of course, but what are your top five movies right at this exact moment?
A: Top Five Non-Richard Linklater Films (in no particular order):
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- The Royal Tenenbaums
- Silent Light
Top Five Richard Linklater Films (in no particular order):
- Dazed and Confused
- Waking Life
- Before Sunrise
Q: If you were to do an oral history on another movie, what would it be?
A: I really would love to do one about The Royal Tenenbaums because I think there’s a really interesting backstory to it, but I know that there have been some great books written about Wes Anderson, [and] Matt Zoller Seitz [also] wrote a really great one. I think it would have to be a book that’s very different from what’s already out there.
I would like to someday write an oral history.
What would you like to write about?
It’s hard to pick just one if we’re doing that, but it’s actually for a movie I haven’t seen, the 1980 Heaven’s Gate movie?
Oh yes! We were just talking about this the other day.
It’s a movie I eventually want to watch. It’s three hours long so I’d have to set aside a whole day, but I know it was a nightmare to produce. I think it would be interesting to write about, something that’s such a catastrophic event. It’s been recently hailed as a secret masterpiece, but it also has a lot of actors I really like: Jeff Bridges, Tom Noonan, and Brad Dourif. I’d have to watch the movie of course. Maybe I’d hate it.
It doesn’t even matter if the movie is good or not if it’s got a great story. There wasn’t an oral history but there is a book, I think it’s called The Final Cut and that’s about the making of Heaven’s Gate. And I haven’t read the book so I don’t know if it’s good, but what a story right? Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is one of the all time best, but it definitely feels like whether or not you like the movie there’s a lot to talk about there.
Find Melissa’s book “Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused” at your local bookstore or online at Amazon.com.