7/30/13: American Graffiti (1973)


George Lucas’ American Graffiti, like the movie from my previous Blog, Animal House, takes place in 1962. It’s the story of Steve (Ronny Howard, as he was billed) and Curt’s (Richard Dreyfus) last night in their presumably California town before heading to the east coast for college. But Curt decides he doesn’t want to go; and Steve’s girlfriend, Laurie (Cindy Williams), doesn’t want him to go at all, let alone go along with his notion that they see other people while he’s away. The cast also includes a 30-yr-old Harrison Ford (Bob Falfa), a 12-year-old Mackenzie Phillips (Carol), and cameos by Wolfman Jack as himself and Suzanne Somers as The Blond in the T-Bird. 

AG - StarsAG - HFAG - PhillpsAG - Wolf AG - SS

Music from the early days of rock’n’roll is prominent in the film, of course. My regular readers know how much I love music, including movie scores & soundtracks. And this picture has a great soundtrack, every song of which was picked by Lucas. “I don’t like that rap crap. Rock’n’roll’s been going down hill ever since Jerry died.” As you watch the movie & listen to the music, you’ll be reminded of the TV show, Happy Days – for example, the inclusion of Mel’s Drive-In in both. However, Happy Days was not spun from American Graffiti, but rather a 1972 episode of the TV show Love American Style entitled Love & the Happy Days which included Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham. 

AG - Jer     AG - Mel's

There is a rumor that in post-production, a staff member asked Lucas for “reel two, dialogue two”, abbreviated R2-D2, which gave rise to the name of the legendary robot 4 years later. Lucas only directed 6 features: Star Wars Episodes I-IV, THX 1138, and American Graffiti. So you’re about to watch the trailer for final George Lucas feature that is not part of the Star Wars franchise. He was also one of the writers. It received 5 Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Producer Francis Ford Coppola shared the nomination), Original Screenplay, Director, Editing (shared by George’s then wife, Marcia) and Supporting Actress (Candy Clark as Debbie). 

AG - Coppola AG - Lucas AG - Candy

This coming of age classic are the loss of innocence (the drunken puke scene) and the passing of the torch from boys’ love of toys (cars) to girls. The Act III conclusion, or [in aristocratic voice through “denouement”] as we say in the theater, denouement, is the car race scene. It’s also a classic example of the Ancient Greek theatrical plot ploy, “deus ex machine”, or “god from the machine”. The still used but highly criticized technique is so named because, originally, a machine was employed to send a god to save the protagonist from certain doom. In Homer’s The Odyssey, Athena swoops down from the rafters with the aid of a crane to make peace between Odysseus & the Ithacans just before they slaughter him; in Star Wars, Han & Chewy fire on Darth’s TIE Fighter just before he destroyed Luke’s X-Wing; and in American Graffiti, the deus ex machina happens in the car race saving Steve & Laurie’s relationship forever. And now, click the Deus Ex Machina link below to magically take you to the preview to George Lucas’ American Graffiti. Once you watch it, you’ll want to rent it. 3 Stars!

AG - R2AG - Deus AG - Race


2 thoughts on “7/30/13: American Graffiti (1973)

  1. I studied this movie in high school when it came out (in a “Humanities” course) and remember our teacher bemoaning it not winning an Oscar for best editing, given the very difficult task of weaving all the separate plot strands so well. I think “The Sting” won it, based on its use of old-fashioned “chapter titles” and wipes. I totally fell for the aptly named Candy Clark, who unfortunately didn’t do too much high profile work after that (I only recall “The Man Who Fell To Earth” and have no time to imdb…). Nice post, but I think the Steve & Laurie resolution was not meant to be a “happy” resolution; rather, Steve’s dreams of freedom from his suffocating small town life died that night. He got stuck there, and Curt–who was our true, hesitant protagonist–finally decided to escape.

    • I’d argue that The Blond in the T-Bird and Curt’s thoughts of staying are a foreshadowing of their role reversals. It seems that as the plane soars and Curt sees the T-Bird on the highway, his role as a free-spirit is sealed. He was, from the onset, prepared to follow her anywhere. And Steve, all fire & brimstone as he chases down Laurie just to see her almost fatally wounded in the crash, realizes he is meant to be w/ her in Modesto. Let’s not discuss the shite that is More American Graffiti. It has no impact here, though Steve becomes even more homebody, irrespective of their breaking marriage.

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