Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The 90's Needs Its Own "American Graffiti"

There is a scene in the movie “The Wrestler” (a thoroughly sad and beautiful movie) in which the washed up Randy the Ram (Mickey Rourke) is having a drink with Cassidy, a middle aged stripper (Marisa Tomei). This is the first time they have socialized outside of the strip club that Randy frequents, and things are a little awkward. That is until Ratt starts playing on the juke box. We then see two people long past their prime enjoy a moment of fond reflection of their golden years to the tune of “Round and Round”.

“They don’t make em like they used to.”

“80’s was the best shit ever.”

“Bet your ass. Guns N Roses.”

“Def Lep!”

“Then that Cobain pussy had to come and ruin it all.”

“Like there’s something wrong with just having a good time.”

“I'll tell you something, I hated the fuckin' 90's.”

“Yeah, the fuckin 90’s sucked”

“The 90’s fuckin sucked.”

I bring this up, because I don’t want this post to sound like this conversation. I don’t want to come off as some has-been glorifying the distant past as some sort of golden age. It’s nice to indulge in nostalgia every once in a while, but if you wallow in it you just seem sad. This is meant to be one of those once in a while indulgences.

That being said and running the risk of contradicting The Ram, weren’t the 90’s just way better than the 00’s in every respect? It’s not even close. (This is the part where I falsely recall just how good the good old days were.) There was no tanking economy. No threats of terrorism looming over our heads. There wasn’t even the Cold War. There was little to no Teen Pop (New Kids died out in 1990). And yes, I roughly equate Teen Pop with terrorism. There were no reality shows. No American Idol. No hipsters. Well, there probably were hipsters but they just didn’t piss me off quite as much. And it was the last time a genuine, organic explosion of quality Rock and Roll music occurred. In short, we had peace, prosperity, new episodes of Seinfeld as well as the World Trade Center. All of those things are now long gone.

Of course, we also had Ace of Base and the Macarena. So let’s not get carried away. I’m also a big fan of my Ipod and the internet.

Look, I’m not saying we should all buy Doc Martins and be really really sarcastic all the time. Although a few months ago, I actually tried to bring back the flannel tied around your waste thing. I was always a fan of that. But I looked more like Eddie Bauer than Eddie Vedder, so I gave it up. What I am saying is that the world would benefit greatly from a pitch perfect, dead-on tribute to 1995. A movie that really gets it. And as far as I know, there isn’t one.

I’m not talking about VH1’s “I Love the 90’s”. And I’m also not talking about "Reality Bites". I mean a movie that uses the benefit of hind sight to articulate a unique time. This is something that is long overdue. We need a 90’s version of the film "Dazed and Confused". Of course "Dazed and Confused" was a 70’s version of the film "American Graffiti". Both films are classics and they need a little brother.

In 1973, George Lucas wrote and directed "American Graffiti", a brilliant homage to the end of High School in the late 50’s. Actually, the film took place in 1962 but 1962 has a lot more in common with 1958 than 1967. So I’m sticking with “50’s”. That clip features a pre-Jaws Richard Dreyfus, a pre- Richie Cunningham Ron Howard and a pre-Han Solo Harrison Ford. This film went on to be nominated for best picture, best director and best screenplay. George Lucas really is capable of writing and directing a fantastic, character driven film. So what the hell happened with that prequel nonsense? After rewatching "American Graffiti", "The Phantom Menace" is that much more inexcusable. George, you are dead to me.

In 1993, Richard Linklater wrote and directed "Dazed and Confused", a similar film of equal excellence, dedicated to his high school experiences in 1976. Since it has been 16 years since "Dazed and Confused" came out, I would say we are due for another installment.

Both films follow a similar formula. They both take place on the night of the last day of school. They feature a diverse cast of characters each trying to capture the brief moments of frivolity, freedom and arbitrary restrictions that is unique to adolescence. Both films have scenes where teenagers try to buy beer. They have moments where a squirrelly nerd stands up for himself and characters trying to figure out what the hell to do with their lives. Both films are defined by their soundtracks. The music in these films acts the emotional foundation for every event that transpires. And both have tons of scenes of kids just driving around.

I think there is a lot of significance to “just driving around.” When you’re in high school, you are constantly told (mostly by John Hughes) that this moment of your life is supposed to be an unending adventure in exploration, house parties, first kisses (can “first kiss” be plural?) and social glory. But the reality is most of your time is spent in inescapable boredom.

All day long at school, you are bored out of your mind, actively trying to kill time. Friday comes, and more often than not you end up hanging out in your friend’s basement, watching Pulp Fiction for the ten thousandth time while trying to play the rhythm part of a Metallica song on a Mexican Stratocaster (maybe that was just me).

Now there’s not a damn thing wrong with being bored on a Friday night. But in this charged environment of high expectations, you feel like you should be singing Twist and Shout on a float for the German Day Parade and anything short of that is a failure. If you are bored, you end up feeling like a loser. And that’s just unfair. So instead, you just drive around. You don’t drive anywhere in particular. You just burn gas, bullshit with your equally bored friends, listen to music and look for other people doing the same thing.

And that is why these two films resonate so well with people of different generations. The plot of "Dazed and Confused" is pretty bland. They get out of school, they go to a little league baseball game, they drive around, they go to a pool hall, they drive around again, they go to a party, they go to the football field and then they go home. That’s it. And yet it captures the urgency of the moment. Wanting like hell to fit in and belong and then realizing the thrill of actually fitting in and belonging. It doesn’t matter when or where you grew up. It doesn’t matter if you were the cool kid or the weedy, shy dork. We all relate to those moments.

Check out this scene from "Dazed and Confused". Again, the only thing that happens is that they walk into a pool hall but it feels much more significant. Badass music and slow motion shots of people walking through crowds have that effect. Dylan rules.

Heaping tremendous amounts of meaning onto events that are ultimately quite trivial is a defining element of high school life. Whether it’s a football game, a dance, a school election, a party over the weekend, ultimately none of it really mattered worth a crap. And yet at the time, it all felt so huge and important. So much angst over such silly things. And even though it sets you up for perceived disastrous failure (losing a playoff game or getting shut down by that one girl) that same urgency creates moments of undeniable triumph.

Below is a video of the Smashing Pumpkins song 1979. This is the closest thing I know of that captures this chapter of my life. It is specific to the mid 90’s but like any effective creative work, it transcends time and place.

Double cross the vacant and the bored
They’re not sure just what we have in store
Morphine city slippin’ dues down to see
That we don’t even care as restless as we are
We feel the pull in the land of a thousand guilts
And poured cement, lamented and assured
To the lights and towns below

Now a few of you knew me quite well in high school and will probably be happy to tell me that our lives didn’t resemble this video at all. It is true that I have never rolled around inside of a tractor tire. But it feels like that time of my life. Maybe it’s just the way I want to remember it. You should never let historical facts interfere with nostalgia.

So I nominate Richard Linklater to start work on a 90’s version of "Dazed and Confused". George Lucas is clearly no longer capable of anything like this. I don’t know maybe call it "In Bloom"? "Even Flow"? "Teen Spirit" is too obvious. Linklater has made several great movies since ("School of Rock", "Before Sunrise", "Before Sunset") and it’s time this window of history had it’s own "American Graffiti".


pete said...

Great Post!! I'm glad someone else has seen and appreciates American Graffiti.

Informant said...

Your movie has already been made. It is called Can't Hardly Wait and I know you have seen it at least a dozen times. You probably own it.

Problem solved!

Nieder said...

Super Bad?

BusterBluth52 said...

Informant, you are right that there is no shortage of horny teen movies set in the 90's and yes I do own the director's cut of Can't Hardly Wait. It's 4 and half hours long, but totally worth it.

But the distinguishing feature of both Dazed and Confused and American Graffiti is that they look back 15 - 20 years to fondly reminiss. It utilizes the advantage of history to depict a more accurate account.

And Superbad didn't take place in the 90's and didn't have a large ammount of characters. Good movie though.

Spencer said...

Man Dazed and Confused is a great movie. I wish I could watch right now.

Also remember like a year ago when we almost died together. I was thinking about that today. That was pretty cool.

BusterBluth52 said...


You're going to have to be more specific. Do you mean trudging through freezing water underneath giant, fragile ice cycles without any helmets? Yes, that was cool.

I finally did Spry last weekend. It was a lot of fun. But man, that hike out destroyed me.

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