My Thoughts On… American Graffiti

Just a quick reminder that My Thoughts On… posts may contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film in question, please skip down to the section titled Why Should You See This Film? where you will find no spoilers!

Synopsis

A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college. (via IMDb)

What I Liked

  • American Graffiti is a film that has been on my radar for a while, but one that I had never got around to watching. When I was looking through the AFI 100 Years… 100 Laughs list, I realised that it was on Netflix, and so I decided to watch it. It’s beyond time to get a move on with regards to that AFI list! I was really pleased I did; it’s a genuinely funny, engaging and interesting film.
  • One of the things I love the most about it is its sense of time and place. Roger Ebert said that American Graffiti is “a brilliant work of historical fiction; no sociological treatise could duplicate the movie’s success in remembering exactly how it was to be alive at that cultural instant.” While I wasn’t born for that cultural instant, I know exactly what he means. It feels so completely faithful to the early 60s in a small California town.
  • I’m a huge fan of Star Wars, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not because George Lucas is a particularly fabulous screenwriter or director (in fact I’m not sure how it’s such a great trilogy given his involvement). But here, in a film he made before Star Wars (he actually used the profits from the film to start work on the series), he handles everything perfectly. There are various storylines all happening at the same time, and they all work brilliantly together; interweaving before all finally coming together.
  • The soundtrack is awesome. It’s almost continuous, given that the teenagers spend almost the entire film driving around town with the radio on, so it provides a constant backdrop. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Ain’t That a Shame, Why Do Fools Fall in Love – just the tip of the iceberg as far as the songs in the film goes. There are loads, and they are all great.
  • The aforementioned radio is manned by Wolfman Jack, someone who was evidently a real life DJ. There’s one scene where he appears in real life, though it’s not clear that it’s him at first, and I have to say, I loved him. He was like a guardian angel for the character of Curt, who is searching for a woman he caught sight of in a car at a traffic light. He gives him great advice, and just seems so lovely.
  • My favourite scenes of the film involved John and Carol. John obviously fancies himself as a bit of a player, so when he invites a a girl in a car full of her friends to come cruising with him, and she sends in her sister, he fancies his chances. When she actually gets in the car, and he realises she is only a young girl, he is more than a little put out. But their subsequent journey is really funny, because she is a precocious, insecure little thing, and he’s too nice to be truly horrible. The funniest line of the film, for me, comes when Carol, trying to insult John’s nemesis (played by Harrison Ford), shouts “You’re car is uglier than me!…That didn’t come out right.” I laughed out loud.
  • I liked John so much that when the on screen epilogue came up telling us the ultimate fate for his character, I was genuinely upset.

What I Didn’t Like

  • The film is maybe a little on the long side. Given that it takes place over the course of a whole night, maybe that’s fine, but I did feel it was quite long while I was watching it.

Why Should You See This Film?

As someone who has no true nostalgia for the sixties (having not lived through it), I enjoyed this film, so I would imagine anyone with a first hand experience of this time and place would probably have a lot of fun with this. Assuming that you’re not a seventy year old Californian, I’d still recommend it, because it’s a great film. There’s not a huge amount of plot, you just cruise around the town with these teenagers as they straddle the divide between high school and college. But it’s funny, and brilliantly observed, and well worth a watch (if only to see a young Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford).

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