HE hasn’t re-watched American Graffiti since…I forget but it’s been at least 20 or 25 years. And I don’t remember being that all blown away. I love Richard Dreyfuss‘s character and particularly his nocturnal adventure with The Pharoahs, but I was never in love with this film…sorry. It seemed to coast too much on ’50s pop tunes. I respect Graffiti but I’ve never been able to love it.

Posted on the New Beverly website:

“The sleeper success of American Graffiti kicked off the whole wave of ’50s nostalgia that threatened to overwhelm the entire decade, and yet Lucas’ film was set in ‘62. Even though on the outside the early ’60s just looked like The ’50s, Part 2, underneath changes were brewing. The big cities had all moved on. But small towns, like the one in American Graffiti, were able to exist in a bubble — at least until Kennedy was assassinated.

“While the movie has a great cast of girls, director Lucas makes it abundantly clear, when it comes to narrative, he’s only following the boys (Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Charles Martin Smith, Paul Le Mat).

“Best buddies Curt (Dreyfuss) and Steve (Howard) are leaving their small hometown of Modesto, California in the morning to fly to college back east. So the college that Curt and Steve are supposed to fly off to represents more than just a normal rite of passage for the two young men. The college represents the growing consciousness of the ’60s that exists beyond the Brigadoon-ish town they’re escaping.

“But Curt (who is Lucas’ stand-in — he wants to be a writer, and when he grows up he will write American Graffiti) is ambivalent about getting on the plane in the morning. He’s starting to think he might not even go.

“Of all the characters Curt is clearly the most intellectual, so then why is he hesitating going off to college? Usually the budding writer in these types of stories can’t leave their hometown fast enough. But Curt’s ambivalence suggests he’s a deeper sort than just a cocksure kid full of piss and gage who can’t wait to jump ship on his old hometown.

“Curt’s not really questioning going to college. He’s questioning the idea of leaving all the people he’s ever known. But even more than the humans he leaves behind, Curt’s questioning leaving the rituals of community that the young people of Modesto partake in.

“Like hanging out at Mel’s — the curb service diner that is the starting point of every youth in town’s weekend night. Mel’s where the burgers are juicy, the shakes are thick, the neon is pink and green, the music is rock and roll, and the fancy faced waitresses in colorful uniforms wiz back and forth on roller skates, balancing trays of burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Hanging out at high school dances, that even though he’s graduated, Curt could probably get away with for another year without looking creepy.

“What sets Dreyfuss’ Curt apart from his peers and the rest of the cast, is that he’s the only one who realizes how temporary these rituals are. Curt knows if he gets on that airplane tomorrow morning, everything that the film so nostalgically celebrates — he can kiss all that goodbye. The town and the life he leaves, won’t be the town and the life he returns to. If he even does return, which in all likelihood he won’t. Curt seems to know once he leaves he’s not coming back. Curt knows the boy who exists today will no longer exist even two years from now. That’s why he’s contemplating staying too long at the party.

“But Lucas balances Curt’s resistance with the cautionary example of Big John Milner (Paul LeMat). Milner is the guy who stayed too long at the sock hop. Milner acts and lives as if it’s 1958. He’s a few years older than the other boys. Big John chooses to hang out with kids who were probably freshmen in high school when he was the big-shot senior, instead of contemporaries from his old class. He continues to cruise the boulevard on cruise night and try to pick up high school girls. He continues to live off the reputation he created for himself in high school (the fastest drag racer in town).

“And Lucas gives him a dandy of a dilemma. A new guy in town, Harrison Ford’s Bob Falfa, who’s gunning to dethrone the king and take away the only thing Big John has left — his reputation. Milner’s situation is a neat twist on the high school football star who always planned on going pro but didn’t have the talent to go all the way, and lives in the glow of former gridiron glory.

“In the sequel, More American Graffiti, we learn Big John Milner does move on to be a professional drag racer. His storyline in the sequel follows his attempt to secure sponsorship for his racing team and his attempt to romance a beautiful Norwegian girl who speaks practically no English, who he just met. The romance is light, yet meaningful since we in the audience know that Milner will die later that day. Maybe Big John will never experience life, but at least he can experience love.

“As Bob Dylan sang, ‘The Times are a Changing’, but in the first movie Milner rejects even the small changes that have occurred in Modesto so far. When Mackenzie Phillips’ Carol asks him; ‘Don’t you think The Beach Boys are boss?’ Big John proclaims; ‘I hate all that surfin’ shit. Rock and roll ain’t been worth a shit since Buddy Holly died.’

American Graffiti made George Lucas a directorial superstar and for good reason. Like a lot of great nostalgia pieces (Meet Me in St. Louis, Summer of ‘42, Cooley High, New York New York, Dazed and Confused) it seems to get better the further it gets from its original release date.

“George fills Graffiti with one clever stroke after another. One of the strokes that helped make the movie tremendously popular was the wall-to-wall ’50s rock-and-roll soundtrack that can be heard in the film from beginning to end. Usually emanating from various car radios. Including — in this radio soundscape — the voice of all-night disc jockey Wolfman Jack, who acts as the film’s de facto narrator.”