American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973)
It is 1962 and teenagers are cruising in their real cars around the city of Modesto in California. A myriad of characters portrayed by Richard Dreyfus, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Harrison Ford, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Wolfman Jack, and Suzanne Somers. Cruising was a way to get diner at Mels’ Drive in, get girls, and race around the city.
All the characters are connected by the radio broadcast of Wolfman Jack’s Rock N’ Roll setlist filled with classics tunes of the time that makes it one of the most nostalgic and iconic soundtracks of all time. This box-office wonder, obviously appalled the baby-boom generation that grew up idolizing with those cars, bands, and lifestyle. It plays almost as a social study of the time and it captures an era that has been put under a glass case by Americans since it was a time of plenty and social conformism. Just before American lost its innocence with the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. It is set in a time span that is almost boring for historians of the American society. However, this innocence would be troubled by the rise of civil rights movements, hippies, and the Vietnam War.
It is said that George Lucas wanted to make a commercial picture after the failure of his THX 1138. Paying a tribute to his teenage years and to Wolfman Jack, Lucas gives us a portrait of a time that he cherished and loved. It is clear that his approach is one of admiration and it is tainted with nostalgia : a sure shot at the box-office and it pleases audiences to watch cars they drove or dreamt of and to listen to songs they heard hundreds of time.
It is probably the most surprising film in George Lucas' filmography since it is done with almost a documentary eye and the multiple levels of stories work. Its 1990’s response would be Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused about the 1970’s. Lucas has a keen sense on how to make big money with his movies and he knows how to please his audience because he easily remembers what it is to be watching a film that you can relate to. I have a concept about that and I think it is because George Lucas might be the most regular guy of the Hollywood directors of the 1970’s. He makes movies for the regular guy and the child inside of us. It is his strength and he knows how to make memorable pictures.