Rixflix A to Z: American Graffiti (1973)

Director/Co-Writer: George Lucas // Universal; 1:52; Color
Crew Notables: Francis Ford Coppola (producer), Willard Hyuck & Gloria Katz (co-writers), Kim Fowley (music recordist), Walter Murch (sound montage)
Cast Notables: Richard Dreyfuss (Curt Henderson), Ron Howard (Steve Bolander), Paul Le Mat (John Milner), Charles Martin Smith (Terry "The Toad" Fields), Cindy Williams (Laurie Henderson), Candy Clark (Debbie Dunham), Mackenzie Phillips (Carol), Wolfman Jack (himself, disc jockey for XERB), Bo Hopkins (Joe Young), Manuel Padilla Jr. (Carlos), Beau Gentry (Ants), Harrison Ford (Bob Falfa), Lynne Marie Stewart (Bobbie Tucker), Kathleen Quinlan (Peg), Del Close (guy in the bar), Susan Richardson (Judy), Kay Lenz (Jane), Joe Spano (Vic), Debralee Scott (Bob's girlfriend), Suzanne Somers (Blond the the T-Bird)
Cinema 4 Rating: 8

How different our lives might be if this film had not been the monstrous hit that it turned out to be. Would Star Wars have gotten made if this film hadn't given notice to George Lucas' then burgeoning talents? Would Happy Days, whether you see it as a cultural eyesore or not, been the same or made at all if this film hadn't taken off? Would a lot of shows and movies be cast differently over the next 20 years if so many members of this unbelievably famous cast (though not at the time) get this flick writ in gold onto their resumes? I don't, or can't, know the answers to these, since Graffiti did succeed, and the world as we know it stayed on course, good or bad.

Here's the deal with Graffiti for me: I didn't see it for years. At least, until it popped up on VHS, which was actually a big deal when it did, and truth be told, I was disappointed. Why? Because this was one of those films that people talked about too much. They built it up for me, elaborated on the plotline, let me think it was dirtier than it could ever possibly be, and reworked the dialogue until it was far from its actual use in the film. The Graffiti that this unknowing cabal of completely innocent idiots plugged into my grey matter was far closer to Animal House than the film it actually is. In fact, some people (or even I) may have been confusing the movie with others of its nostalgic ilk, including the Belushi flick, which I also did not see for a few years after its release (though it came 5 years after Graffiti). And then there's The Hollywood Knights, a film which sits as an uneasy and slightly inept conglomeration of both films, but one which I saw before either of them (so, naturally, despite its ineptness, I love it).

But then, trapped on a couch with a broken ankle in the middle of a snowbound winter in Anchorage, I saw six times on cable in one week. At first, I was watching because the music (and the raspy cool voice of Wolfman Jack, whom I used to watch late nights on The Midnight Special in the 70s) caught my ear, and then the casual humor of the story kept me around, and finally, the sweetness and milky-eyed nostalgia of Lucas' vision completely sucked me in and I was hooked. It doesn't hurt that the baby-faced cast of eventual stars (and a couple of superstars) are all wonderfully cast to even the smallest role, and it also doesn't hurt that the car culture madness that I normally abhor suddenly made complete sense to me. I suddenly understood the late night cruising that I mocked so deeply in my own high school years, and it all became so attractive to me at a point where I was well past my doing the same. Even if, ultimately, the car rallying is only an extension of primate mating rituals; boy monkeys beating their chests and fighting over the girl monkeys, only they do it in souped-up woodies and T-birds. But, man, I wanted to cruise that strip just like the rest of 'em.

The coolest thing about Graffiti, though, was that it led to my first victory in a trivia contest. It was in a history class at Chugiak (my first high school) in which my teacher, who obviously was a huge fan of the flick, offered an excuse from Christmas vacation homework to the person who could identify the movie quote on the chalkboard: "Where were you in '62?" Without ever seeing the film, but knowing about it somewhat from a story on the evening news, I was able to give the correct answer. He also gave me a followup question regarding the DJ in the film. I was able to answer that as well. When he asked me if I had liked the movie, my reply was "No, sir. Haven't seen it. But I've heard everything about it."

And you thought it was because I had stayed at a Holiday Inn last night...


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