Friday, October 14, 2016

Revisiting "American Graffiti"

This past Wednesday evening I visited the Cinemark North Hills to take in another Fathom Events presentation of an old movie on a big screen.  This one was 1973's "American Graffiti".  This was the second feature film directed by George Lucas, and it depicts a single night in the lives of a group of teenagers, the night before two of them were to leave their small California town and set off for college "back East".

When this movie was released in 1973, it was viewed as a "nostalgia piece" which is odd when you consider that it takes place in 1962, a mere eleven years in the past.  However, when you think about it, 1962 could have, indeed, been viewed with nostalgia in 1973...Jack Kennedy was still alive and in the White House, no one in America had ever heard of the Beatles, there was no drug culture to speak of, no hippies, and no mention was even made of a place called Viet Nam, although we are starkly made aware of it in the coda at the end of the movie, just before the credits roll.

This movie is probably most remembered for two things.  One, an absolutely terrific soundtrack featuring vintage pre-British Invasion American rock and roll.  The music plays almost continuously throughout the movie, sometimes even drowning out some of the dialog, something that I did not remember from when I first saw this movie back in '73.  

The second notable thing about the movie is the cast which included, among others....

Ron Howard, just after "Andy Griffith", just before "Happy Days", and long before he went on to become one of America's best directors, and an Oscar winner.

Richard Dreyfuss, before "Jaws", before an Oscar in "Good-Bye Girl", and many other great roles.

Cindy Williams, before "Laverne and Shirley".

Suzanne Somers, before "Three's Company" (she wasn't even billed in this one).

MacKenzie Phillips, before whatever that sitcom was that she was in.

And perhaps most famous of all, Harrison Ford, before "Star Wars" before "Indiana Jones" and on and on.

That George Lucas sure had an eye for talent, didn't he?

So, the question put to me was..."How good is this movie, really, forty-three years after it first came out?"  My answer:  It's a good movie, but I'm not sure that I'd call it a call it a classic.  It does a great job in setting the mood of one particular point in time in our culture.  It also captures the insecurities and the fears of kids on the cusp of adulthood.  In those respects, "American Graffiti" nails it, especially when it gives you that "Whatever happened to..." bit at the end.

There are some really good scenes, but I was struck by one comic scene of which I had no memory.  Towards the end of the movie Laurie (Williams), after a fight with boyfriend Steve (Howard) allows herself to be picked up by Bob Falfa (Ford). She jumps into Ford's hot rod  and icily says "Don't say anything and we'll get along just fine."  Hotshot Falfa/Ford regards her sitting all the way across the front seat from him and begins to sing, in an affected deep voice, "Some Enchanted Evening".  It was totally out of character for Falfa and out of context for the rest of the music in the movie, but it worked and was just a great scene by Ford and Williams.

As with all of these Fathom events movies, it played once on Sunday, and twice on Wednesday.  I don't know how many people came on Sunday, but when I bought my ticket on Wednesday, the ticker seller told me I was the first person to buy a ticket for it that day.  Three other people showed up after I did for the 7:00 show.  That can't be good for business, but I hope that this was an aberration, and that these Fathom Events special screenings will continue.

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