Monday, April 26, 2010

Still crazy after all these years: American Graffiti


Before George Lucas lost himself in an alternate universe of sometimes great, sometimes mediocre filmmaking, he directed a movie that marked him out for greatness. True greatness, of the cinematic rather than the merchandising sort. American Graffiti, modelled on Fellini's I Viteloni is nothing more than a riff, but all I can say is that everything coheres. Rick Linklater more or less remade the thing as Dazed and Confused, which is another favourite of mine. Graffiti shows us a couple of kids who have just graduated high school. Though its their last night before most go off to college, nothing special happens. They drive around, get into a fight or two, and try and impress their crushes. Just like any other night - the exact note to hit if you want to be capturing memories authentically.



Hollywood in the '70s was when an idea like this - no stars, no real plot, debutant director - could get greenlighted and made into a convincing motion picture. Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and Harrison Ford, all looking very very young, are excellent, but the supporting characters are just as memorable, like the stud turned babysitter and his rebellious ward, or the blonde floozy with more depth than one would initially give her credit for. The movie mostly unfolds after dusk, and it looks beautiful and dangerous, like a scene from the Springsteen number 'She's the one'. This movie often gets lost amongst the other contenders authored by the Brat Pack, heavies like Close Encounters, Godfather, Taxi Driver. It definitely doesn't deserve to.