Ethan Hawke on how Dazed and Confused revealed an important new voice in cinema

This article is one of several contributed by filmmakers and actors as part of Variety’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time package.

I’ve always believed that Cassavetes, Kerouac, and Bukowski bear a huge responsibility for inspiring some of the most subtle work of the last half century. They made it look so easy. With his first two films, “Slacker” and “Dazed and Confused,” Rick Linklater immediately joined this illustrious team. Through a haze of pot smoke, draft beer spills and ’70s rock ‘n’ roll, he made everyday life profound.

I first saw Dazed and Confused in 1993, two weeks before it was released. Steve Zahn and I were doing a play with fellow actor Anthony Rapp, and he invited us to some advanced screenings to see his new movie. We snuck a six-pack into the movie theater, and right away from Aerosmith’s opening act—”Sweet Emotion”—to the end credit roll, I knew the movie was everything I’d ever aspired to do with my life. With one quick stroke you’ve become one of those powerful helpers.

It’s a surprisingly simple movie. retro and modern. There are no loud obvious plots, no special effects, just honestly revealed people, with good humor. Like “American Graffiti” before it, it’s an examination of the adolescence of the previous generation. And with the gift of hindsight, they both examine small slices of life in an effort to decipher the central mysteries of why growing up is so difficult.

Oddly enough, what makes “Dazed and Confused” great (besides the fact that it’s funny) is that it’s a movie full of moments that shouldn’t be in a movie. For example, in an early scene after a quiet game, two baseball teams form opposing lines and exchange lame, trick plays and, muttering, “Good game” to each other. I never even imagined a dramatization of this hypocritical and boring ritual that I had already lived through thousands of times. I understood my own life through this film – and realized that the moments that went unnoticed really shaped me. The culmination of these dumb, anti-drama visions is that captures that gloomy, anxious feeling of being in high school, and anguish for a more exciting future.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing ensemble cast of this movie, who perfectly embody every high school archetype. When the always excellent ensemble cast in a movie, you know you’re dealing with a very special director. Add that to the (seemingly) breathtaking camera work and consistently insightful writing, and you’ve got what the old-timers call a “stone cold masterpiece.”

Now, I may be a little biased here, as I also grew up in Texas and have since become a longtime friend and collaborator of Richard Linklater. But I didn’t know Rick the night I saw that movie. And it was clear that in parallel with his previous film, Slacker, there was a new and important voice in American cinema.

Ethan Hawke is the star of “Training Day” and the “Before Sunrise” and “Boyhood” trilogies.


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