Super Special Features
The hidden genius of The Dukes of Hazzard.
You probably haven't thought much about the shorts that Jessica Simpson wears as Daisy Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard. Perhaps you assumed that Ms. Simpson simply stepped into her dressing room, grabbed a revealing pair of jeans shorts from a pile on the floor, and strolled over to the set. You could not be more wrong.
To make her short-shorts, the costume department first had to make a model of Jessica Simpson using a Barbie doll. Next, they designed tiny test pairs of shorts sewn to scale. Once they had determined the perfect cut, they began the arduous task of building the full-scale short-shorts, which would be worn by Ms. Simpson herself. A pair of blue jeans were draped and sliced by hand, washed, and then fed into a dryer for authentic aging. Next, the seams were meticulously ripped to make it appear that Ms. Simpson had worn these jeans shorts all her life—that she was, in fact, Daisy Duke.
Finally, the jeans shorts were trimmed. "It's truly a matter of centimeters where you approach the danger zone," says costume designer Genevieve Tyrrell. "You risk cutting them up to here and having too much butt cheek, or getting too close to 'the business.' There are a million things that can go wrong." All this precision paid off. Three pairs of Daisy Dukes were created, two in denim and one in white corduroy. They were not only contemporary—with a lower cut across the waist to expose more midriff—but shorter than the original Daisy Dukes worn by Catherine Bach.
My inside knowledge of the creation of the Daisy Dukes is indeed awe-inspiring. And this is just the tip of the insight iceberg that has smashed into my brain after watching the one hour and 17 minutes of special features on the DVD for The Dukes of Hazzard.
Once a novelty, the special features have become that option on the menu screen between "Languages" and "Setup" that you sometimes think will be interesting (why on earth was Al Pacino in Two for the Money?) but never are (he thought it was great). But the studios won't stop making them anytime soon, because special features compel otherwise sane individuals to purchase not only the Titanic DVD but the Titanic: Special Collector's Edition DVD and the Titanic: Deluxe Collector's Edition DVD. Sometimes special features are indeed special, like the six hours of them on the DVDs of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but more often than not they're like the bowl of candy that the crazy cat lady down the block puts out every year for Halloween: untouched, unloved, unseen by human eyes.
Yet, how can anyone watch The Dukes of Hazzard special features and not be convinced that this is the most important movie of the 21st century? The 30 minutes of deleted scenes make it obvious that, like Orson Welles, director Jay Chandrasekhar had his masterpiece defaced by a spineless studio. What has been left on the cutting-room floor includes Seann William Scott's cry for environmental responsibility ("Coal produces trace elements of arsenic and mercury. This produces sulfuric acid, which is responsible for the formation of sulfuric aerosol and acid rain."); an anti-fur message; a push for the legalization of marijuana; and a plea for man-on-man love. In these lost scenes, the Duke boys take every opportunity to tackle each other and fall to the ground, tickling and teasing in their tight blue jeans. Could there have been a Brokeback Mountain if these two kissing cousins hadn't paved the way with their locker-room antics?
The Dukes of Hazzard special features also reveal the film's darkly beating heart: the General Lee. Named after the Confederate military hero, the General Lee is a 1969 * Dodge Charger with a Confederate flag painted on the roof and a horn that plays "Dixie." "The General Lee is an icon," says the stunt coordinator. "It's almost an actor in its own right. We perform stunts and tricks with it that people can relate to." Well, maybe not black people. But everyone else.
The General Lee is so magnificent that everyone who encounters it loses their mind. "To put a car in a slide, you're overinducing the traction the car has produced, initiating it with a turn from the steering wheel and then giving it full throttle until it seems to be backing out once the car breaks traction to control that dynamic," babbles Rhys Millen, a Formula D drifting champion. Others have a more biological view of the General Lee and its needs. Dan Bradley, the second unit director, claims, "We knew in theory that we could mate it with another car. But it had to be the right car." The meaning of this statement remains mysterious and disturbing.
After the General Lee, the special features of The Dukes of Hazzard reach their brilliant climax: Ms. Simpson's thought-provoking video for her cover of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Were Made for Walking." This gripping mininarrative tells the story of a young woman who dreads washing her car, but while working at her local bar she learns that if you apply the principles of line dancing, car washing can be a healthy, pleasant, and at times, sensual activity. Willie Nelson is also on hand to remind us all of the vagaries of time, fate, and gender.
My viewing done, the question remained: Is The Dukes of Hazzard a modern day masterpiece? Have we returned to the great, auteurist-driven cinema of the 1970s? Judging by the all the extras, the answer has to be yes. But I haven't actually seen the movie and I never will. I don't want to ruin the special features.
Grady Hendrix is one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival and he writes about pop culture on his blog.