By Greg Carlson
27 May 2021
The supremely talented Melissa Maerz’s official author biography notes that she “has worked as an editor at ‘Spin’ and ‘Rolling Stone,’ a staff writer for ‘Entertainment Weekly’ and ‘The Los Angeles Times,’ and a supervising producer on HBO’s ‘Vice News Tonight.’ She was a founding editor at ‘New York’ magazine’s ‘Vulture’ website.”
Her fantastic book “Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused” is a must-read for admirers of the film and for movie lovers in general.
Greg Carlson: I love reading books about movies and “Alright, Alright, Alright” is an absolute gift. I could not put it down.
Melissa Maerz: I am so happy to hear that. Thank you.
GC: What did you get into first, music or movies?
MM: Music first. My best friend in first grade had an older sister. She had a cassette tape. Side one was New Order songs. Side two was Depeche Mode songs. I became obsessed with it and that became my entry point to good music. It was kind of an accident. And this was way before I was interested in anything beyond what might have been aimed at kids.
GC: I love the idea of being initiated into good music through the older siblings of friends or through cool neighbors.
MM: So this question of music versus movies makes me want to admit to something deeply uncool. I got introduced to many of the bands I ended up loving through the movies. And this is why I never think anyone is selling out when they have one of their songs in a movie. I discovered the Replacements through “Say Anything” and I discovered the Smiths through “Pretty in Pink.”
There are so many examples of that. You hear a great band in a movie and it leads you to check out more of their music. I’m grateful to movies for helping me expand my music collection.
GC: Did you collect soundtracks?
MM: Absolutely. More than anything, that was the first way that I got interested in a wide range of music. I remember acquiring the “Bright Lights, Big City” soundtrack.
GC: Prince! Bryan Ferry! Donald Fagen! MARRS! That one was loaded.
MM: I had the soundtrack long before I ever saw the movie. When “Bright Lights” came out, I wasn’t allowed to see it. I saw Michael J. Fox on the cover and thought, “What is this?” And it had New Order and Depeche Mode.
Like so many, I also loved John Hughes movies and Cameron Crowe movies. And it went from there.
GC: Where did you grow up?
MM: Portland, Oregon. Which is where I am now. If you told me when I was 18 years old that I would be back here, I never would have believed you. But I love it here.
GC: Was your family into movies?
MM: They took me to movies. I’m not sure they would consider themselves film fans. But sometimes they dragged me to movies I didn’t understand, just because they wanted to see them. I remember seeing “Amadeus” in the theater. That opening was the first time I had any idea what suicide meant, because I asked my parents after we got out what was going on with that scene.
When I was in high school, almost by accident, I was hanging out with a friend and we wandered into Cinema 21, a really great theater in Portland, and saw “In the Soup.” I knew nothing about the movie but it ended up blowing my mind. It felt like a movie I had never seen before. It just felt like it was made with a small budget. But there was something about the idea of this artist trying to get his art made that spoke to me.
GC: Independent cinema of the early 90s rocked.
MM: You remember the calendars that theaters would print out then? With images and the schedule all laid out? This was how I figured out that people followed certain directors. Because several films might be screened together, like work by Jane Campion or Sally Potter. At the time, I didn’t know anything about any of these people. But I started to go to whatever Cinema 21 was playing.
Now all that movie information is on the website, but I miss the physical object you could pin on your bulletin board or stick on your refrigerator.
GC: I kept all my ticket stubs and put them in an album with notes documenting where and when I saw the movie and who went with me.
MM: Special movies almost felt like going to a punk rock show. Especially low-budget independents. You keep the ticket and you put up the poster. It felt like it was coming from the same kind of DIY place.
GC: What was your first rock show?
MM: It was probably Quarterflash at the Oregon State Fair. But the first show I went to of my own accord was Lollapalooza. The headliners were Primus, Dinosaur Jr., and Babes in Toyland.
GC: I only went to one Lollapalooza -- in 1994 -- and it was a good year: Beastie Boys, Breeders, Smashing Pumpkins, George Clinton, A Tribe Called Quest, Nick Cave, and L7. Flaming Lips and Luscious Jackson on the second stage.
MM: When I went, the second stage had all kinds of bands I would later follow, but I didn’t know at the time, like Royal Trux, Unrest, and Sebadoh.
GC: What was the first movie you decided you had to own?
MM: As movies go, I am not a big collector. But it might have been “Persona,” which is one of my favorite movies. I saw it in a great college class about Jung and film. What were some of the first movies you owned?
GC: I taped and dubbed a lot before I started buying, but as far as prerecorded stuff, I got “Madonna: Truth or Dare” and Michael Hoffman’s “Some Girls” on VHS. I switched to LaserDisc for Criterion Collection releases like “Do the Right Thing” and “Taxi Driver.” I also still have my “Dazed and Confused” LaserDisc. What movie have you watched the most?
MM: Definitely “Dazed and Confused.” But also “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” That one might be my all-time favorite movie. It changes, but if I had to pick one right now, it would be “Eternal Sunshine.” I reviewed it when I lived in Minneapolis and had just experienced a long-term relationship break-up when I wrote about it, so it really hit me at the right time. I also love art about the function of memory. Anything focused on memory is something I am interested in watching.
GC: Your interest in memory is obvious in your book and one of the things that makes it so emotionally touching. Everyone involved had to find a path forward following that one moment in time. What was your initial reaction to the film?
MM: I loved it. I didn’t know anything about Richard Linklater. I was going into my first year of high school in the fall of 93. That timing was one of the things that I found appealing. This was a movie about high school and even though it’s set in the 70s, it felt like the future to me. I thought, “This is what high school is going to be like. Drinking and riding around with older kids and parties. The best.” Now I watch it as an older person and it doesn’t look like the best at all. It’s more vicious and wistful.
GC: I love your line: “We watch it, and we feel what anyone who's ever been a teenager wants to feel. We feel seen." So good!
MM: Thank you. I interviewed Andrew Bujalski when I was working on the book and he said something so specific. He said in the scene on the football field we hear the name of the cop, and the name happened to be the same as the cop in his town who busted kids. Everybody has some story like that from “Dazed and Confused,” something that makes you feel like it so closely represents or reflects some part of your life. Do you feel like that about “Dazed”?
GC: Yes. When it opened in the theater I went three days in a row. I just wanted to dissect every bit of it. “Dazed and Confused” is consistently glorious. It never lets you down. Who is your favorite character?
MM: I love Tony, Anthony Rapp’s character. I feel like Tony was me in high school. Definitely not cool enough to be at the beer bust but somehow ends up there anyway. A little disgusted by Wooderson. And interested in politics. But there are so many good characters.
GC: The first time I watched the movie, I realized that the car with Tony, Cynthia, and Mike was the closest to my own experience. Even though I wanted to be Pink.
MM: Somebody mentioned that the conversations you hear in Cynthia’s car are similar to the kinds of ideas floating around in “Slacker.” You can imagine those three characters moving to Austin and becoming some of the people you see in “Slacker.” So I have good hopes for their future, more than I do for O’Bannion.
GC: O’Bannion’s look is on target. Do you have a favorite “Dazed” costume?
MM: There are so many good costumes but McConaughey’s could be the best.
GC: That homemade Nugent shirt.
MM: So good. At the beginning, when you see the kids going into the school, there are so many amazing 70s tee shirts in that scene you can’t even call them all out. The costume designers were recreating shirts based on photos in Linklater’s high school yearbook.
GC: You’ve said that “Tuesday’s Gone” is your favorite music cue in the film.
MM: It’s hard not to say “Sweet Emotion,” one of the best movie openings ever. But “Tuesday’s Gone” works as a borderline joke and works in more than one way. Someone says in the book that the cue represents teenagers being nostalgic for a night that’s not even over yet. There’s a wonderful sense of humor about so many of the song choices. “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”
GC: My favorite is “Summer Breeze.” A single shot that pushes over that Ford Maverick to Julie and Mitch on the blanket. A little over half a minute long.
GC: What’s the key line of dialogue?
MM: “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.”
GC: Good choice.
MM: It sums up so much about my own feelings regarding nostalgia. One of the cast members of “Dazed” told me that when she went to a reunion show, people were shouting that line back at the screen. They clearly did not catch the message.
GC: The football field scene is a standout in a movie filled with standouts.
MM: It has that amazing wraparound shot of Jason London looking off in the distance. It still gives me chills just mentioning it. I think the reason why it is so good is that it’s Pink wanting everyone not to be nostalgic but it’s also Richard Linklater as a junior in high school. And it’s the only time in the movie where you ever see anyone think about anything other than what’s happening that night or in the moment.
Dr. Gregory B. Carlson is an Associate Professor, Communication Studies, and Program Director, Film Studies, at Concordia College.
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