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Abrased and Contused: Great Texas Work Injuries in Cinema

It never hurts to remember triumph over misfortune as a reminder that a work injury - even a serious one - is rarely reason to despair. Maybe you never thought about work injuries like that before, but if not, do you remember this movie? Hard as it may be to believe, it has been thirty years since the release of Dazed and Confused. That’s almost twice the span of time between its premiere in 1993 and the film’s setting: Texas, May 28, 1976.  Since it’s late May in the Lone Star state, it seems like the perfect time to revisit Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age classic, shot in and around the director’s adopted home of Austin. (Disclaimer: Events depicted therein are for viewing enjoyment only, not for emulating.)

The ensemble comedy has gained a fanatical following far exceeding its paltry box office grosses upon initial release, and some of today’s most recognizable faces got their big breaks from the movie, including Academy Award winners Ben Affleck, Renee Zellweger, and University of Texas alum Matthew McConaughey.  It turned the Texas capital into a viable alternative to Hollywood for independent-minded filmmakers: Linklater co-founded the Austin Film Society.  It also spawned arguably the biggest movie catchphrase in recent memory, albeit decades after the fact.

Melissa Maerz’s excellent book Alright, Alright, Alright: An Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (HarperCollins, 2020), is packed with insight and anecdotes about the making of the film.  Among those: the revelation that the movie’s two de facto protagonists, freshman Mitch Kramer and senior Randall “Pink” Floyd, were avatars for the writer/director at those ages, with his older, wiser self mentoring his baby-faced doppelganger throughout the film.  “Pink is me,” Linklater admits to Maerz. “And so is Mitch.”  (Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that the characters are even dressed identically in gray t-shirts, blue pants, and long brown hair when they first cross paths.)

When seeking the performers who would not only carry the film but embody its creator, Linklater did not have to look far for his Mitch; Austin native Wiley Wiggins happened to be outside a local coffee shop when the casting director, looking for non-professional actors, offered him a chance to audition.   

Finding the right person to play Pink, though, depended on an initially horrific twist of fate in the form of a Texas work injury.  

Jason London, who eventually won the role, never intended to become an actor either. In Alright, Alright, Alright, he recalls being fifteen and working construction for his father in DeSoto, Texas, until his left foot got caught in the lift mechanism on a forklift, amputating two toes.  As he tells Maerz: “My whole life at that point was all about sports, and the only way I was gonna get to go to college was through scholarships in sports or the military.  All of [a] sudden, that path was gone. I thought it was the worst thing that could’ve ever happened to me. But then I decided to take drama. I guess it was destiny. I had to think about life beyond sports, just like Pink.”  

London’s unfortunate Texas work injury inadvertently set him on an alternate career trajectory, fortuitously intersecting with Richard Linklater in Austin five years later and providing one of the most beloved Texas-based movies its co-lead.  The anecdote is one of triumph over misfortune and a reminder that a work injury—even a serious one—is rarely reason to despair.  As we reminded you at the beginning, if you never thought of triumph over misfortune before…  


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