Sunday, December 03, 2006

Classic Movie Review: "American Graffiti"

Although best known for his Star Wars movies, George Lucas actually had made a few films before Luke, Leia, and Han ever graced the screen. In fact, if not for his Star Wars films, American Graffiti, released in 1973, would probably be considered much more of a classic, career defining movie. Does the nostalgia of 1960s, looked at in the 1970s, hold up in the 2000s? Sorta.

Due to such movies as Grease and American Graffiti, I fear that there is a distortion of the past. When viewed through filmmakers' eyes, the younger days of the Boomer Babies always seems to be filled with greased back hair, cigs rolled up in white t's, and beautiful looking cars. Every teen is innocent, yet on the cusp of something bigger. Every girl is demure and naive or dangerous. And boy, back then everyone was friendly and no one minded the occasional drag race.

If there is an indicator of a gap between the Boomer Generation and Gen Xers/Yers, it is probably the nostalgia movie. I do not think a young upcoming movie maker now will make a movie out of the early 90's with grunge rock as the background. The newer generations are more cynical and saracastic. Outside of movies like Reality Bites and Suburbia, which themselves were made in the 90's, I don't recall many movies addressing the "Good old days" of the last decade before the millinieum.

But enough about the nature of American Graffiti, what about the actual movie? Believe it or not, George Lucas was once an above average writer. American Graffiti, while not having a strong plot, had characters that were not one-dimensional. Sure it helped that Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard were the stars, but the writing wasn't the typical flat Lucas dialogue I have come to expect from the man. The 60's speak didn't seem forced and I could see people talking like that in everyday conversation. Like I said, there was little to no plot, as the movie followed Howard and Dreyfuss on their final night before going off to college, but at least things happened.

Harrison Ford also has a small role in the movie. Of course he would go on to be Han Solo and work with Lucas's friend Steven Spielberg for the Indiana Jones movies (which Lucas also was a part of). It is also interesting to note that Ron Howard doesn't leave the nostalgia-type project, as he also did Happy Days, a 70s TV show about the 1950s. Dreyfuss and Spielberg would meet up for the perhaps the greatest two movie colloborations of all time: Jaws and Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.

If nothing else, American Graffiti serves as a roadmarker as one of the first movies in the Renaissance that the silver screen would soon undergo. Francis Ford Coppola, who produced this film, Lucas and Spielberg would soon invent such things as a "summer blockbuster" (Jaws), the Force (Star Wars), and the concept that a sequel could be better than the original (Godfather II). So pick up American Graffiti if you want to spend an enjoyable two hours and see the beginning of the rebirth of American Cinema.

3 Hot Rods out of 5.


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