Dazed and ... pissed
People who care about these things (that's you, right?) were disappointed to hear that director Richard Linklater wasn't going ahead with his planned commentary on Universal's new Dazed and Confused "Flashback Edition." Reportedly, he withdrew because he was unhappy that some good supplemental material - a feature-length doc on the production, for example - was being cut from this, the second DVD release of the film. Now that we can all get a look at the disc, it's easy to imagine some other reasons he might have wanted nothing to do with it.
For one, the studio put an advertisement on his movie: Not once, but twice on the menu screens does a link take curious viewers to an advertisement for sneakers. (This is in addition to the previews that play automatically when you put the disc in.)
Encroaching advertising is bad enough, but the biggest slap in Linklater's face isn't even included on the disc. If you happen to be watching other recent Universal discs, one of the auto-play previews is an ad for an "Ultimate Party Collection" combining Dazed and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In the ad a snippet of Dazed dialogue boasts, "The '70s obviously rocked." Problem is, that's the exact opposite of what Linklater's character said.
In the 1976-set Dazed and Confused, a character expresses a pretty commonplace dissatisfaction with the era in which she was stuck. She calls it the "Every Other Decade Theory": "The '50s were boring; the '60s rocked; the '70s - oh my God, they obviously suck. Maybe the '80s will be radical?"
Universal's shameless ad, which all but passes you a bong in the hopes that you'll think these films are "party movies" - they aren't - is just the kind of brain-dead nostalgia that Dazed is so good at avoiding. The reason people will want to rent the movie is that it is so astoundingly good at capturing something universal about youth, even while it casually nails all the period details of its actual setting. (Here, a Universal marketing exec pipes up: "That, and it has Ben Affleck in it!")
Dazed and Confused is one of the finest movies of its kind, and readers who haven't seen it should certainly find the time. But collectors should wait with fingers crossed, hoping that a studio like Criterion - which got where it is by (gasp) respecting the movies it reissues - will get the rights some day soon.
Lest this column sound like a hotheaded indictment, it should be noted that Universal has also provided film lovers with some real treats in recent weeks: Their W.C. Fields Comedy Collection and Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection gather five classics each; neither has much to brag about in the features department, and therefore could be cheaper, but this is classic comedy that deserves to be in print. Universal's reissues of old TV are some of the more interesting titles in that department - from the iconic detective Peter Falk created in Columbo to the lovably crappy pulp sci-fi of the 1979 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, with poor Gil Gerard torn between the good girl/bad girl love interests of Erin Gray and Pamela Hensley.
The studio has wasted no time bringing us Ali G Indahouse: The Movie, which pales in comparison to its source material, and Dawn of the Dead, which doesn't. With all due respect to maestro George Romero, the new Dawn is a perfectly thrilling update of his original film - it should help keep the current zombie renaissance afloat long enough to pave the way for Land of the Dead, the long-awaited fourth chapter of Romero's series.
Finally, the studio is paving the way for Martin Scorsese's Howard Hughes picture The Aviator with Hell's Angels, Hughes' landmark film about World War I fighter pilots. Allegedly the most expensive movie made in its day, it features two things Hughes couldn't get enough of, planes and starlets: The director amassed a fleet of vintage fighters for his dogfight scenes and gave a prominent role to newcomer Jean Harlow. Film buffs will surely want to see how Hughes' real-life airplane acrobatics stack up against Scorsese's CGI ones - which are set to hit the big screen on Christmas day. •
By John DeFore