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Where Was I In '62? Where Were You?,
This review is from: American Graffiti (Collector's Edition) (DVD)
"Where were you in `62?"
I wasn't around in `62 -- I was born in `63, as a matter of fact, and I was 10 when George Lucas' American Graffiti was released. I wasn't really aware of either George Lucas or American Graffiti in 1973, although four years later I would know Lucas from his next -- and most popular -- film, Star Wars. I did not go to the movies much in 1973, but I saw this wonderful film when it was broadcast by ABC some years later. (ABC, capitalizing on its "hot" new sitcom, Three's Company, shamelessly promoted it as "starring Suzanne Somers." In fact, Suzanne is not even billed with the eight "stars.")
If film and television historians have it right, though, American Graffiti was the catalyst for the 1950s Nostalgia fad that begat TV's Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and the blessedly short-lived Joanie Loves Chachi (not to mention Sha Na Na and Broadway`s Grease). And it isn't terribly surprising that Happy Days and its spin-offs owe their inspiration -- if not their very existence -- to Lucas' first major culturally significant film. Happy Days starred Ron Howard, who (as Ronny Howard) had second billing in Graffiti, while Laverne and Shirley costar Cindy Williams was the female lead.
American Graffiti is a bittersweet yet comedic look at what the DVD publicity blurb says was "America's last age of innocence." In the summer of `62, JFK was in the White House, the Beatles were still unknown in this side of the Atlantic, and drive in diners and movie palaces were very popular. There was no Internet or even Studio 54 just yet, so kids went cruising, looking for girls to pick up or rivals to race in their souped-up hot rods. (Lucas, in the Making Of documentary on the 25th Anniversary DVD, says his intent in making American Graffiti was to document cruising as a socio-cultural phenomenon that died in the more turbulent half of the 1960s.)
The movie's structure -- commonplace now but it was revolutionary at the time -- intertwines several plots involving a group of recently graduated Southern California high school seniors on their last night before going to college. Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) is fretting about going to college in the East with his friend Steve (Howard). Wracked with indecision, he spends his last night in town searching for The Blonde in the White Thunderbird (Suzanne Somers in her first, albeit small, role). His misadventures cause him to step out of character, especially when he crosses paths with The Pharohs, the local gang of miscreants.
Curt's sister Laurie (Williams) must not only cope with her brother's last minute bout with "cold feet" but with the fear of losing Steve. In what may be a typical situation for couples who are "steady" but are going to be separated by circumstances, she's devastated by Steve's suggestion that they "see other people" while they are in school. "I can't expect you to be a monk," Laurie says with false bravado, but in "The Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" sequence, it is obvious that she is hurt and angry.
The other two subplots of this wonderful film center on Toad (Charlie Martin Smith) and John (Paul Le Mat). Toad is the car-crazy, girl-deprived nerd that we either knew in school or that we recognize in ourselves. His attempts to impress the lovely Debbie (Candy Clark) are hilarious -- rivaled only by a similarly themed scene in Summer of '42 -- only to discover that Debbie likes him for who he really is. John, on the other hand, is the Han Solo of this bunch, the high school dropout who loves fast cars and even faster women. He, too, discovers a tender side as he is saddled with 12-year-old Carol (a pre-One Day at a Time Mackenzie Phillips). Not only must he learn patience while driving around with Carol, but also he is being challenged as the top drag racer by Bob Falfa (played by the man who would be Han Solo, Harrison Ford).
All these stories will converge in a climactic, winner take all race, and several Lucas touchstones will resurface in his later Star Wars series -- the choice to either take or reject a certain path, the relationship between men and their machines, and the quest for either love or adventure.
Serving as a unifying thread to all these subplots is Wolfman Jack, mostly heard on the radio but seen briefly in a Yoda/Ben Kenobi style of mentor for restless Curt.
Lucas uses music here very effectively. Each song (and there are over 40 here, ranging from Rock Around the Clock to The Great Pretender) was chosen to provide emotional context, not just period atmosphere. He envisioned American Graffiti as a musical "with no singing or dancing."
This film is fun to watch and definitely deserves having been votes as one of the American Film Institute's top 100 Films of All Time. Watch it with a friend or alone, and if you were of age in the 1960s, answer the movie's famous log line: "Where were you in `62?"
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 2, 2008 1:31:49 PM PDT
A. Massey says:
A classic film. Love those hotrods. In 1962 I had a 1961 Vette! I am now 68yrs old driving a 23 Tbucket. Nothing ever changes!
Posted on Nov 18, 2011 9:08:15 AM PST
Scott Kornacki says:
As you pointed out, I think the DVD blurb is right. The early sixties really were America's last time of innocence. Graffiti really captures that feeling. Wow, things sure are different. Great review of a great film. Thanks.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2011 9:33:21 AM PST
Alex Diaz-Granados says:
Thanks, Scott, for your kind comment. I really appreciate it!
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2011 9:36:15 AM PST
Alex Diaz-Granados says:
Thank you, Mr. Massey, for your kind comment on this review; nice to know that you have a passion for hot rods and that you understand, from personal experience, what the characters in Graffiti were really all about.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 6, 2012 1:42:49 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 9, 2012 4:19:58 PM PDT
Alex, great review but this movie actually takes place in Northern California (it was filmed in Modesto). Also, was John a dropout in the movie? I think he graduated earlier than the others. I gave your review a "yes" vote because you obviously have a passion for a great movie!
Posted on Aug 8, 2012 10:53:41 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Dec 14, 2012 4:03:18 PM PST]
Posted on Jan 24, 2014 8:05:28 PM PST
Laverne and Shirley as did Mork and Mindy spun off Happy Days dude and I was around in 1962!I remember the show/shows and that's my error.i loved the Coupe,but that '55 hevy that Harrison Ford drove was 1 badass Chevy and there were only 5 in my family as well as a 1958 like the 1 that Howard had in the movie.Main cars for us was the 1957's which you don't knock off the road period and you can make them run so hard with a built 265ci that speedometer would go around passed the 120 mark back up to 40 or 50 if you had the road and guts to do so!!In the air force they used the 1957 for showing how G-Force worked and it would pull 3G's and only car to do so!!
I still jerk that movie out and watch at least twice a year and I play the vinyl or the cd of the movie,loved the music o it and it would be hard to beat it with another similar to it..I live the 1950's(late) and the 1960's,nothing more I would like than to go back to that time frame in my life!!I had a ball and it was a time of fun and love plus some mischief that we would play on certain people..LOL...Those were the years to live and my oldest brother was the only Harley Davidson man around(true 1 that is) and the Nelson brothers found him in 1976 and helped him get the material for the no helmet law here in Ky .Our Mother walked into the shop 1 afternoon with my sister and Marvin said "Mother bet you don't know these 2 here."Mother replied,"why that's David and Ricky Nelson,how's your parents doing boys?"just like she had known them all her life.She was born in 1919,so she saw the show The Nelsons a lot and knew them right off the bat!!She was a Mother to 13 and raised the last 5 herself after the death of her husband in 1959 and 2 months pregnant,but they did get that law passed with an exception,you must have medical insurance or you cant ride without a helmet.
You know that '55 Chevy looked like it was raising up in the air before the wreck at the end and you know that it was a true story about all that was featured in the movie,just used their names and what they told them.I can remember John saying it use to take a tan of gas to make a circle around the town.Well we are by far not a large town,but I remember that it would take an hour to make a circle here and then you would have to fill up @ 11pm or else you would run out of gas and our ride stayed on the roadside the rest of the night unless you saw a riding mower so there was some gas to be had!!I worked @ an Exxon and yep stayed busy til 11pm or after!!I was a car cleanup boy and they loved my work and I drove every type of car you could see on the road at that time,but my favorite was a balanced 350ci/350hp in a 1971 Chevelle Malibu with a 4spd rock crusher and I blew a big block away on a Saturady night not once but twice!!He had every excuse in the world on those 2 races and thank goodness the boss didn't ever know I took is car out racing!!
LIVE ON 1960'S AND 1970'S!!You made life worth living and having fun!!Wish I could go back and live it all over again!!
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