Wednesday, August 10, 2011
AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973)
1973 film #2
The first Academy Awards presentation I can remember was the one for films released in 1973. It was an important year in my moviegoing life. I was finally old enough to go see movies of more grown-up fare. When I think back on that year in movies, the three films that stand out in my memory are: The Sting, American Graffiti and The Exorcist. All were popular. All were critically successful for the most part. All were nominated for Best Picture of 1973. And they weren’t at all alike.
The second candidate: American Graffiti
What was the buzz on American Graffiti?: The second major film of the 1973 Best Picture nominees was American Graffiti. The tagline of the movie was “Where were you in 62?” Apparently the answer for director George Lucas was cruising the streets looking for chicks or someone to race.
I remember liking the movie quite a bit when I first saw it. The montage of characters was apparently a new concept, but I didn’t know it was radical; I just liked how the puzzle pieces of characterization all fit together eventually.
I remember at the time people talking about individual scenes such as the wheels coming off the police car, underage Toad trying to buy some liquor, or just that elusive search for the blonde in the T-bird.
Though set in 1962, the film helped bring back a revival of interest in the fifties and led to a couple of popular TV series with a couple of Graffiti stars, Happy Days with Ron Howard and Laverne and Shirley with Cindy Williams. I won’t blame the movie for that, however.
The Music: American Graffiti led to a revival of music from that era in 1973 and 1974. In fact, the soundtrack album had several spin-off records if I remember correctly.
MAD magazine reference (the true arbiter of seventies movies value): MAD’s Graffiti satire was called “American Confetti” The opening frame of the satire features the cast of American Graffiti standing next to Jimmy Stewart! Stewart says he’s there just so the audience will see someone in this movie that they recognize!
Sequel to avoid: More American Graffiti. I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that in this case, more is definitely less.
But should it have won Best Picture?: Today, the movie still seems really fresh. Great characters: Candy “Has anybody ever told you you look like Connie Stevens” Clark as the bleach blonde and Charles Martin “I’d like a pint of Old Harpers” Smith as Toad (and still one of the great screen couples of all-time). Richard Dreyfus as Curt, probably the character most could identify with. Ron Howard and Cindy Williams were the couple who were trying to work out their differences. Paul Le Mat as John Milner, the cool guy with the cool car, unfortunately he’s saddled for most of the night with thirteen-year-old Mackenzie Phillips. Putting the cool guy with an underage, obnoxious girl who he can’t seem to get rid of is one of the film’s brightest ideas. And of course, let us not forget Wolfman Jack as the DJ that makes a commentary on the proceedings.
The multi-character plot fits together well. It’s funny. The characters are great and Suzanne Sommers doesn’t have any lines.
And right or wrong, when I think of ’62 teenage life, I think of American Graffiti.
So despite the case you could make for The Sting, innovative story-telling and characterizations pulls American Graffiti ahead of The Sting by the length of a yellow hot rod.
Tomorrow I will watch THE most talked about movie of 1973.