July 27, 2014: American Graffiti (1973)


Cast and Crew: George Lucas (Director, Writer), Francis Ford Coppola (Producer), Gary Kurtz (Co-Producer); Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford

What It’s About: It’s the day before Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) are due to leave their small town and head off to college.  Instead, both are having second thoughts.  Steve and his girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams) go through a lot of drama, while Curt accidentally earns initiation into a local gang of toughs.  Meanwhile the normal rhythms of the town roll on: Wolfman Jack’s radio broadcasts, the roller-skating waitresses of Mel’s Drive-In burger joint, dorks and drunks and sock hops and, above all, the growling of engines as townie hot-rodder John (Paul Le Mat) faces off against out-of-towner Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford, in his first role for George Lucas).

Why Watch it Today?: Producer Gary Kurtz turns 73 today.  If his name isn’t familiar to you, you probably haven’t watched Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back quite as many times as I have; he produced both of those films, collaborating with George Lucas and Harrison Ford once again.  Kurtz also produced The Dark Crystal.  If the first iteration of the Lucas-Kurtz-Ford teamup isn’t interesting enough to get you to watch this film, consider watching it as a thought-provoking exercise in coming-of-age nostalgia.  Others have blogged about how odd it is to think about making a film today like Dazed and Confused, which was set 17 years before its release.  Even odder would be a film like this one, which commemorates a time 11 years earlier that must have felt like an entirely different, shiny and optimistic planet (Curt has hopes of meeting President Kennedy).  I’m pretty sure no one is rushing to make the equivalent film set in 2003…  Some of the closing scenes pack more symbolism and social commentary, for instance on the invisibility of women and African-Americans at the time, than they may have set out to do in what is generally a standard teen comedy.


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