Seeing the reviews for American Graffiti from the old-timers make me want to relive my childhood and teenage life all over again. There are memories created that will never die but it makes you long for those memories. Of course, I’m not an old man and my childhood culture isn’t the same culture set in this film. This is the generation of my parents and they know about this culture even better than I do, but the message is the same. It’s all about remembering the times you had when growing up. The year this film took place is 1963, and boy was everything so different when compared to today. Everyone back then listened to the radio, cruised amongst the highways looking for women to pick up, hung out at the local drive-in restaurant, and so forth. People either went to college or just found a local job and set out cruising. Gosh life was so simple back then! This film authenticity was created with the driving force of director and screenwriter’s George Luca’s attempt to show what it’s like to grow up in such a world. The film took awhile to come into fruition because studios felt scared of this film and the lackluster results of 1971’s THX 1138, but it was worth it because Lucas brought his childhood back to life and made me dream about living this kind of life. Lucas, after the instant success of this film, became a household name.
The film has a variety of characters with interconnected stories. Everyone has their own story, but each character fits into the whole scheme of things. It was a very hard task to pull off, but Lucas did a great job in getting me to care for these characters. There are the two best buddies, Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) who have gotten into a wonderful college, but on the night before they leave for school, Curt has second thoughts about college. He decides to spend his night pursuing a woman he heard about on the radio who drives a white T-Bird. Steve spends the night trying to make up with his girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams) after he tells her they should see other people while he is at school. Meanwhile, there are two other friends who have their own adventures. John (Paul Le Mat) is forced to drive around a little girl, Carol (Mackenize Phillips) as he seeks out a hot rod racer Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) to race. And the nerdy Terry (Charles Martin Smith) borrows Steve’s car but gets in trouble when he picks up a girl.
I loved the casting choices Lucas made. There are no big names (for 1973), and some of these names would go on to have spectacular careers and this film gave birth to the careers of future Oscar-winners. This is Harrison Ford’s first film role as he was studying a career in carpentry at the time. Ford would later make a big name for himself in Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Richard Dreyfuss used this film to shed his identity as a child actor and he does it very well. This role may have gotten him his famed role in Jaws. Little people remember that Ron Howard used to be an actor before he became a very famous director, but this movie shows that he knew how to act. Paul Le Mat was great as guy who tries to show off how tough he is, but he cannot because he has a strong heart. I loved his character’s interactions with the 12-year-old Carol who was a very funny character herself. Maybe that is what softened his heart. But I liked how Lucas made his characters representations of his younger self. For example, the Terry character is a resemblance of Lucas his freshman year in high school where he came across as nerdy and had terrible luck with girls.
This film was made on such a cheap budget, that a musical score could not be produced. However, Lucas used his artistic license to gather a great collection of old rock’n’roll to use on the film. He used great music from the likes of the Rolling Stones and Bill Haley and the Comets. That made me appreciate the film more because of its use of music. The music also gave flavor to its authenticity because this is the kind of music people listened to back in this time period. The use of Wolfman Jack (a very famed L.A DJ) showed how much he and radio meant to the people of this era.
American Graffiti is a very good film that shows how life was like for teenagers in the early 60’s just when rock music was coming to dominate the airwaves. My dad saw this film when it was released and he says it is one of his favorite movies and it’s an accurate representation of an era that has disappeared except for everlasting memories. Thanks to a energetic soundtrack and believable characters, I was able to understand each character. That being said, sometimes it feels like this film is too experimental. I’m not all too big on experimental films, but luckily Lucas found away to turn this into a very good film. Not my favorite film with growing-of-age films, but it’s still worth a watch. Especially to see early acting from the likes of Harrison Ford and Richard Dreyfuss.
My Grade: B+