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.


2 comments on “July 27, 2014: American Graffiti (1973)

  1. T.A. Gerolami says:

    I think some of the reason it seems so unlikely to set a movie in 2003 now is because we’re too old for it-we weren’t in high school in 2003-and partly because how available older pop culture is to us now. That’s partly technology-when you only had broadcast and vinyl you’d have to dig up old records to hear the music and pre-home video you’d be forced to luck out onto a screening or TV showing of an old movie. The article you link to (there’s also our own Dazed and Confused at 20 piece) suggests someone referencing Sgt. York in 1977 seems ridiculous…and yet, many of the reviews of Star Wars point out how it blended a lot of influences, including John Ford Westerns (contemporaneous with York) and Flash Gordon (even older). I’d also point out that this movie helped launch 1950s-early 1960s nostalgia-and while we did have a huge “turn of the century” nostalgia phenomena in the 1940s, they didn’t have good preservation of the 1900s pop culture, one reason I think the effect was less lasting than the 1950s/1960s nostalgia of the 70s (or maybe Boomers are just more narcissistic than the Greatest Generation). I think another difference is the state of the industry at the moment. Lucas made his film when a lot of new filmmakers were making (cheap) films with younger casts and a lot of freedom. The Baby Boomers were still going to theaters in droves and were hungry for films that would speak to them. Dazed and Confused was made during the Indy boom when, once again, young filmmakers were making (cheap) films with young casts that spoke to their generation. Right now we’re in the middle of a period when Hollywood’s response to declining box office is to take no risks what-so-ever and to insist on making big event movie after big event movie. So even if there were young filmmakers looking to set a film in the late 90s or early 2000s, no one is going to fund it, or, if they do, no one is going to distribute it. There’s also the problem where, in the 90s, at least, so much of culture was retro that you would start to feel like you’re looking in a hall of mirrors. Even if this theoretical film were to get made, it would face the hurdle of finding an audience in a media environment that’s incredibly fractured.

    I’ve never seen this one all the way through, but I’ve meant to because the parts I’ve seen of it are good.

  2. geelw says:

    Oh, Doctor…. you MUST see this in its entirety one fine day. It’s probably Lucas’ most interesting and personal film because it seems at least partly autobiographical in spots. The casting is brilliant and the film definitely influenced a great deal of things on TV and in film for years.

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