Thursday, September 9, 2010

At the drive-in: American Graffiti

A night in the lives of a group of teenagers of a small American town in 1962. That doesn’t say much for a plot, does it? Nor do words like “culturally significant” or “instant success” come to mind when we read that simple idea for a film. But when the hands and minds of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola are involved, you know something good will come out of it.

For those who have never seen American Graffiti, please watch what to me is the best 50’s themed movie ever made. When a movie is selected for preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress, in some sense it has to be worthwhile to watch. Not only that, but take in consideration the actors involved in this film, who were at the beginning of their careers: Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, and Charles Martin Smith.

Harrison Ford as Bob Falfa

One of the most famous cars in movie history: John's '32 Ford.
American Graffiti has all the ingredients that let you to know what the 50’s/60’s were like: a high school dance, the local drive-in, greasers, a favorite DJ, hot rods that you would love to have, and of course, rock n’ roll music. Forget the special effects, the present day big productions. This was film made with $775,000 as a budget (low, for 1973). But it was made by people who knew what they were doing. Even though the making of it had a lot of problems from start (from studios who didn’t want to touch it, to a town who backed out of their contract as a location, after just one day of shooting), it would turn out to be a masterpiece.

Sure, Grease is a great movie as well, but to me it was made in a much more 50’s fantasy world, and the characters were more comical. Don’t get me wrong, I love Grease. But American Graffiti is a down to earth and believable movie. It’s like it was based on the lives of thousands of teens from the 50’s/60’s. Not only that, but much of it evolves around “cruising”, a famous ritual kids back in those days had. Riding around at night in cars on the main road of your town, was for many, the way to flirt, defy other hot rodders for races, or simply look for trouble.
Wolfman Jack

The music selection of this movie was absolutely fantastic for any oldies lover. Not only it has many rock n’ roll “standards”, but the double CD soundtrack also has excerpts of DJ Wolfman Jack broadcasts that were used in American Graffiti. Whoever was lucky enough to buy the LP version, got a real gem. Only on the LP, do you get the extremely rare version of Ain’t That a Shame with female backing vocals. Somebody told me once the famous female vocal group that were credited to have recorded this version with Fats Domino, but I just can’t remember the name right now. If you want to hear this treasure, you can get it here.

I didn’t want to tell too much about the movie in this review, because I really don’t want to spoil the experience for people who are going to watch it for the first time. But there is one special appearance in the film. Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids sing a famous 50’s hit, At The Hop, in the high school dance scene as Herby and the Heartbeats. That, for itself, is worthwhile watching.

Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids as Herby and the Heartbeats.

If you’re thinking about buying the DVD, make sure it has The Making of American Graffiti. It contains over an hour of many interviews, not only with George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, but also with the whole cast and some of their screen tests. The DVD I have is the collector’s edition, if that helps.

1 comment:

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