“I like that blurred line between what history does with period films”

Richard Linklater on his seminal coming-of-age film Dazed and Confused

When Dazed and Confused celebrated its 20th anniversary at the New York Film Festival last year, Richard Linklater decided to have some fun with his introduction. “I got up and introduced it as if it was made in 1976,” recalls the writer/director, referring to the time period of his coming-of-age classic. “I was like, you know, ‘I loved making films in the 1970s; it was just a great time to be making movies…’ and the joke at the end was how amazing it was that they’d entrust a teenager to make a movie and how I felt lucky that they let me make it. I like that blurred line between what history does with period films.”

He’s reflecting on the fact that more years have now passed since Dazed and Confused came out than existed between the moment in time it represents and the date of its original release in 1994. “There was a 16-year gap between its making and what it represented; but now there’s a 21-year gap. So it’s all starting to blur. At some point in the future it will be interchangeable.”

This is a typically Linklater way of thinking about his back catalogue. The Boyhood director’s sophomore feature may have initially been viewed as American Graffiti for the generation identified and named by Linklater with his 1991 debut Slacker. But as time has worn on, Dazed and Confused has become a benchmark in its own right: a film that not only gave early breaks to the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich and — blink and you’ll miss her — Renée Zelwegger (as “Girl in blue pick-up truck”), but also reflected his early fascination with the passage of time as a storytelling device.

The latter is something that has continued to feature throughout his career, most recently and ambitiously in the 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood. Dazed’s set-over-one-night structure; its bitter-sweet celebration of school’s end; even McConaughey’s most famous line as the 20-something lothario David Wooderson — “That’s what I like about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age” — all tap into the way in which time rather than plot drives and defines our lives. “I guess I tend to have these self-aware characters,” marvels Linklater. “Even Wooderson, a guy who…” He trails off laughing. “That’s such a strange thought to have.”

One of the strangest things he observed in making “a period film in the present tense” with Boyhood compared to a regular period film like Dazed and Confused was just how little the external world changed around the characters over the course of the Boyhood shoot compared to the huge cultural changes that took place between Dazed’s setting and its release. “I think I couldn’t have picked a 12-year period in which the outer world has changed less. My peanut theory at the end of the day here — because I’ve really had to think about it and look at it — is that once everyone is online, the demand for outer change is reduced. We’ve gone from trying to change things to just trying to keep up. We’re overwhelmed basically. And you just don’t see the outer rebellion.”

Perhaps that’s why his next film will delve back into the past, albeit in a Linklater-esque way that will allow it to feel simultaneously up to date. “It’s a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused and a continuation of Boyhood, if that’s possible,” he says of the film, entitled That’s What I’m Talking About. “If one film can do both of those things, it sort of does that. It’s set in 1980, but also right where Boyhood ends: a guy shows up at college, literally bag in hand.”

As for Dazed and Confused, now that it has come of legal American drinking age, it’s being celebrated at Glasgow Film Festival tonight, with a specially created craft ale called “Richard DRINKlater” and a pre-screening roller disco. “Haha! Perfect,” laughs the man himself.