Where were you in ’62?
American Graffiti is a coming-of-age movie co-written and directed by George Lucas and produced by Francis Ford Coppola and Gary Kurtz. The film stars Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Harrison Ford, Bo Hopkins, and Wolfman Jack. The story takes place in Modesto, California in the early 60s, following a couple of high school graduates as they spend one last night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college. (Running Time: 112 minutes)(Rated PG)
This movie was made during a time when studio executives were beginning to invest in young filmmakers ripe from school. After the huge success of Easy Rider (1969)–probably the first independent blockbuster–studios decided to follow up with a series of inexpensive indie flicks that would appeal to younger generations, so five movies with budgets under $1 million were made by Universal Studios: The Hired Hand (1971), The Last Movie (1971), Taking Off (1971), and Silent Running (1972), and this one, which is where George Lucas came in…
After the failure of Lucas’s first feature film, THX 1138 (1971), his friend and producer Francis Ford Coppola (director and writer of the Godfather films), had him write Graffiti on a dare. He challenged Lucas to write a script that would appeal to a mainstream audience; more importantly, a “funny movie”. In no time at all, George wrote the script, inspired by many events and and experiences cruising the streets of Modesto, where he grew up, envisioning Graffiti as a generational movie that would broader his scope as a filmmaker.
It was not easy to get backing for the film, with most studios being turned off by the idea of having over forty-something songs used in the movie, jacking up the production budget significantly. Universal Studios eventually bought the pitch, recognizing well-known and successful filmmaker Coppola on board as producer. The film was shot in twenty-nine days, mostly at night, and the budget came out exactly at $777,777.77. Pretty impressive, to say the least.
If you sat down and watched this, and afterwards your friend told you that Star Wars creator George Lucas made this, you would probably not believe them. It is a totally different movie–but not in a bad way! But it proves that Lucas does not have to take us to a galaxy far, far away. Instead, we go to southern California, with young folks we know quite well.
It is a fun, funny, fresh-out-of-the-box motion picture. I did not grow up in the 60s, but if this movie is accurate enough, I wish I had! Good times, hip music, and exciting people! …But why did they have to wreck that gorgeous ’55 Chevy? (I take this moment to shed a sorrowful tear for the loss of that amazing automobile)
I would also like to see what the original, rough three and a half hour cut would have looked like. Lucas had Verna Fields edited the first cut before he brought in his then-wife Marcia Lucas to bring the length down to a manageable two hour cut. Still, that would have been interesting to see.
The film was an enormous success, becoming one of the top three the year of its release. It grossed over $140 million, which is incredible, if adjusted for inflation. It was also nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture.
All in all, a 4 out of 7 stars. I recommend it most highly! A true American classic. It better be well-regarded years down the road, or I’ll be most upset.