American Graffiti (1973)

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American Graffiti follows four teenagers on their last summer night together before going off to college. The film covers many wide-ranging themes: the loss of innocence, the loss of idealism, the sexual awakening, body image, bullying, love, dreams etc. All these are told from the perspectives of the four main characters.

Truth be told, I wasn’t really that interested in watching the film despite it being directed by George Lucas. Still, I can safely say that I am very impressed by it as a whole and in fact some parts were so good that I got the chills. The film is a lot darker than one would expect, and I was surprised by how grim the overall mood of the film was. The atmosphere of the film feels very realistic, and I really felt as though I was transported back to that era. As a non-Americam, my idea of that era was somewhat shaped by Grease and my imagination when I studied The Outsiders for literature class, but to see it brought to life so realistically is really quite impressive – the costumes, the (amazing) soundtrack, the cars, the drive-ins all made me feel like I was cruising down the streets with the main characters and (almost) breathing the same air as them.

I also happen to be a sucker for character-driven films, so naturally the film appealed to me despite it’s slow pace. If you hate these kind of films and prefer a concrete plot, look elsewhere. That being said, like Nashville (1975), some of the stories didn’t appeal that much to me, especially the relationship troubles between Steve (Ron Howard, before he became an Oscar-winning director) and Laurie (Cindy Williams). It’s not that it is bad or anything, it just didn’t appeal to me as much as the story lines of the other characters. To me, Curt is the most interesting character of the lot, perhaps because of how well I personally relate to him. Richard Dreyfuss is great here (free of his annoying mannerisms in his later films); he really brought out the aimlessness of the character, and how he is drifting down the streets (and through life). His constant search of the myserious blonde prostitute (“The Most Perfect Dazzling Creature Ever”), his subsequent involvement with the Pharoahs (greasers) and his constant inner debate about whether he should leave for college really brought out the feelings of helplessness from the youth from that era (and perhaps today too).

Strangely enough, the other storyline that I appreciated, though not necessarily enjoyed, was that of Terry, the socially awkward guy who tries too hard to impress. I guess most of the “humorous” scenes come from his story, but frankly they can be  a bit…painful to watch sometimes. Watching him call himself “Tiger”, awkwardly trying to get liquor, escaping the aggressive car salesman and then getting the car stolen makes you chuckle, but at the same time I felt a little bit uncomfortable, perhaps because of the realistic way these scenes were shot and acted. Of course, knowing the character’s eventual fate just made it all the more depressing.

At the end of the film, where Bob’s (a young Harrison Ford) car crashes and goes up in flames, I couldn’t help but sense the feeling of helplessness among the characters (or maybe it’s just me?). It’s like watching everything these youth ever know go up in flames with the car – the drag-racing culture, high school, dates, rock ‘n’ roll etc, and the welcoming of an uncertain and dark era. Watching Steve lament about how his car was actually slower despite him “winning” the race, and then Curt watching the “The Most Perfect Dazzling Creature Ever” from his plane for the last time aren’t the most optimistic ways of bidding that particular period farewell, but perhaps the most realistic and accurate nonetheless.

American Graffiti really grew on me as I got to mull over it. I initially thought it was kinda boring, but in hindsight I actually think it is a very fascinating, dark and heartbreaking film about life. The stories are gelled together very well thanks to the editing and direction, and while it might not be as ambitious as Nashville (1975) in scope, I still think that it is a highly admirable film that is rightly revered as a classic.  4.5/5.

p.s. Is anybody else kinda unimpressed by the upcoming awards season? I don’t really feel compelled to watch any of the films or performances. As of now, I have watched Gone Girl and I thought Rosamund Pike was fantastic but it seems like Julianne Moore is going to take the gold for Still Alice (about time too anyway. Boogie Nights? Far From Heaven? The Hours???) The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game really don’t appeal to me at all, although I heard they’re both solid films. Or at least The Imitation Game is, but I’m not the biggest Cumberbatch fan so I don’t feel the urgent need to rush to the theatre to watch it. Still, I’m looking forward to Still Alice (I heard Moore is fantastic, but people are saying that it is more of a compensation Oscar), Interstellar (yeah I’m slow), Boyhood (yeah, again I know I’m slow) and Birdman (not out here yet). But I just don’t feel the excitement as compared to other years, where I was dying to watch Gravity, 12 Years A Slave, Philomena and even the slightly disappointing American Hustle.

Also, the SAG norms are…interesting. Naomi Watts for St. Vincent? I mean, I like here but where did that come from?

I guess I’ll be sticking to my classical films and 70s best picture noms.

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