‘Dazed and Confused’ 20th Anniversary: The Crazy But Real Life Story of Wooderson, Slater and ‘Pink’ Floyd
The 2013 Huntsville High School school year commenced the week prior to the Labor Day holiday. On the first school Friday, a pep rally for the forthcoming football season was held in the school gymnasium. According to The Item, the paper of record in Hunstville, this Hornets squad was thirsting to improve on their 7-3 season of a year ago. Much like it does in the rest of Texas, high school football rules the town of Huntsville.
In the pep rally crowd, mixed among the football gods, seniors already counting the days until graduation and freshman still overwhelmed by the high school experience, could be the next voice of a pop music generation or the author of the next great american novel. Anyone of those kids could turn out to be a state senator or serial killer. The future possibilities seem limitless for the class of 2014. In 1976, an adolescent Richard Linklater sat among the faces in the Huntsville High.
Born in Houston, Linklater’s family settled in Huntsville where the future self-taught writer-director would attend the local high school and accumulate some of the story ideas for his future movies. It was during this time that Linklater would cross paths with three men who were — or claim to be– the inspiration for key characters in Linklater’s coming-of-age stoner classic ‘Dazed and Confused.’ Released in theaters on September 24, 1993, the movie celebrates it’s 20th anniversary this month.
In an interview conducted around the time ‘Dazed and Confused’ was being edited for release, Linklater discussed the inspiration for his movies — particularly the well-received ‘Slacker’ released in 1991 and the forthcoming ‘Dazed’. When discussing the concept behind ‘Dazed’ and it’s pioneer teen comedy predecessor ‘American Graffiti’, Linklater laid out the differences between Dewey High School and the fictional Lee High School in Linklater’s flick.
“‘Graffiti’ was nostalgic,” Linklater told Jon Lebkowsky of the pop culture website Mind Jack. “It was that high school world everyone wished they grew up in. ‘Dazed and Confused’ is the world everyone did grow up in.”
When asked if the film’s interweaving stories, all taking place in one 24-hour period, were pulled more from his experiences growing up in Houston or his time served in Huntsville as a teen, Linklater said the tales were “closer to Huntsville, but a lot of the experiences in it really took place in Houston.”
Bobby Wooderson, Andy Slater, and Richard “Pink” Floyd were friends and members of the same graduating class as Linklater at Hunstville High. The trio didn’t keep in touch in the years after graduation but suddenly reconnected in the years after ‘Dazed’ became a box office and rental hit. The three classmates, who shared almost identical names with prominent characters on the screen, held a reunion of sorts to sue Linklater and Universal Studios, for defamation of character. The men claimed that ‘Dazed and Confused’ damaged their reputations and unfairly portrayed them as “stoners.”
“Like, for example, the scene that shows me showing somebody how to make a bong in shop class,” Andy Slater explained in a 2004 interview with the Washington Post. “I did not do that. I never did that. But they used my name and they show me making a bong in shop class.”
Peter Carlson, the Washington Post staff writer assigned to the story, met with the men in a Hunstville law office to discuss the case.
“The funny thing about it is,” Carlson recalled over the phone last week, “they had just filed suit. So I called the lawyers, and the lawyers arranged for this meeting. They (the three men) just kept laughing about it all and the lawyers kept stressing that this matter was not the slightest bit funny. They seemed to find it funny when telling the stories.”
Carlson, the author of Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey, recalled the plaintiffs seated around that conference room table in 2004 didn’t really seem that much different than their celluloid characters. “What I remember is the three of them at the table, these middle-aged men, trying and failing to keep a straight face while talking about this stuff.”
Critics gushed over ‘Dazed’ before its release. Rolling Stone dubbed it “the ultimate party movie, socially irresponsible and totally irresistible.”
Entertainment Weekly deemed it “the most slyly funny and dead-on portrait of American teenage life ever made.” The only people not so crazy about the eventual film, besides the men from which Linklater pulled inspiration, were the heads of Universal pictures.
Linklater told Mindjack, in a follow-up interview after ‘Dazed’ hit theaters, that the head of Universal called the movie “‘the single most socially irresponsible movie in the history of Universal.” “Wow, that’s GREAT!” Linklater recalled.
“That’s a long history. That’s seventy-seven years of movies, including ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ and ‘Do the Right Thing’. That was quite a compliment. We should have put that on the poster.”
The film launched the careers of several actors including Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, and an unknown Austin native who allegedly met the casting director Don Phillips at the Hyatt hotel bar. After several hours, and cocktails, the two were kicked out after last call. The native son was introduced to Linklater after the all-night bender. Linklater took a liking to Phiilips’ drinking buddy, Matthew McConaughey, and cast him in possibly his most iconic role — the underage girl-hunter and graduated-but-never-gone Wooderson.
The studio made its $6.9 million budget back — the majority of the cash was spent on obtaining the rights to use the songs that appeared on the soundtrack and throughout the movie.
Box office receipts were average but nothing to toke up about in celebration. The movie grossed $918K in its opening weekend. Word of mouth pushed the movie and after a month in the theaters, the domestic box office tallied at a couple grand below $8 million dollars. The movie found new life in video release and is considered a cult classic among movie buffs, stoners and children of the Nixon years.
The three men involved in Wooderson et al. v. Universal Studios Inc. et al. were never really fans.
“They claimed they didn’t care about the money, it was more about ‘justice’, which is what everyone claims in lawsuits like this one. What they claimed was, they were tired of people yelling things like ‘Hey Wooderson! Let’s go burn one!’ so their basic rap to me was that this movie came out, and they were shocked the movie used their real names, and made them out to be knuckleheads. It took so long to file the suit because they assumed the movie would eventually go away.”
The movie never went away, finding a new audience with each passing generation. In March of this year, Linklater and several ‘Dazed’ alum gathered in Austin to celebrate the movie’s 20th anniversary. The group accepted the Star of Texas award at the 2013 Texas Film Hall of Fame awards gala.
The Huntsville Hornets dropped their season opener. A similar fate to the lawsuit against Linklater and Universal. It was eventually dropped due to the statute of limitations having expired. According to online database resources, Wooderson, Slater and Floyd still reside and work in the Huntsville area.
“Let me tell you this,” McConaughey explained as the fictional Wooderson, “the older you do get the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N.”