American Graffiti

  • Category: Music & Movies
  • Words: 644
  • Grade: 100
Besides my very personal reasons for liking it, "American Graffiti" is a landmark film in several matter-of-fact ways. It was the first mega-hit for George Lucas, enabling him to go on to make "Star Wars" and the rest. It featured an astonishing array of young actors who basically got their start in this film, actors I will enumerate shortly. It was one of the first movies, maybe THE first, to involve a series of different, inter-cut stories shaped into one cohesive picture. It was the first film to use a continuous montage of classic rock and roll music from beginning to end to reinforce its plot. And it was made on a shoestring but became something near the second biggest-grossing film of its time.
The story takes place during the course of one night in a small Central California Valley town, just as school is about to begin in September. The main characters are a group of recent high school graduates, several of whom are college bound. One of the primary characters is Curt, played by Richard Dreyfuss, an adventurous loner who spends the evening chasing a beautiful blonde dream girl played by Suzanne Somers in a white T-Bird. Another important person is Steve, the All-American boy played by the All-American kid actor, Ronny Howard; he's the former student body president who has to decide whether to go away to school or stay around home, close to his girlfriend, Cindy Williams. A third important figure is Terry the Toad, played by Charlie Martin Smith. He's the eternal loser, the poor soul with the funny haircut and glasses who never gets the girl; only this time, with the help of a sweet young air head, played by Candy Clark, things turn out just a little better than he could have imagined. Then there's John Milner, (Paul LeMat) the hot rodder, the juvenile delinquent, the tough guy with the heart of gold, the fellow who is just beginning to realize that maybe there is more to life than beating the next challenger, (Harrison Ford) in a drag race. His encounter with a young girl, MacKenzie Phillips helps us to see him in a different light. Collectively, every one of us can see some part of our self in one of these characters. And over all of this presides the spoken but unseen presence of the mythic disc jockey, Wolfman Jack, perhaps the most important icon of all, the one common thread touching and connecting all their lives.

Like Lucas's "Star Wars," the film is about change, transitional phases in a person's life. Each of the movie's characters faces change overnight, and the story becomes a metaphor for the changes we all encounter. In addition, the film encapsulates in one night the ending of an era in American culture. The year 1962 may have been the end of innocence in at least a few obvious ways. To follow were the assassinations of the Kennedy's and Martin Luther King; the Vietnam War; hippies; drugs; the breakdown of home and family; political scandal; and, at the very least, the end of old-time rock and roll with the coming of the Beatles and the British music invasion.
It's hard to believe in retrospect that "American Graffiti" didn't win every award possible when it was first released, but, in fact, it got its fair share of negative reviews. About seventy per cent of the critical reaction was favorable, but the rest? Well, the San Francisco Chronicle thought it was the worst film they had ever seen and gave it their lowest possible rating. Times change; people change. It's the theme of the movie. Today, I can't imagine anyone not being moved by the film or seeing its importance. It is a unique American classic and a must see for any movie watcher.
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