It is the summer of 1962, and the new graduates are considering their futures during a classic night of teenage romance and drama. American Graffiti captures the emotion, music, and adventure of one hot summer night in the Central Valley as most of the teens seek to move on with their lives after high school. George Lucas co-wrote and directed this period piece that reflects his own days as a hot-rod cruiser in Modesto.
The flick (which was shot in less than a month) is full of great cars and music, and it introduced many future stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Harrison Ford, Kathleen Quinlan, Suzanne Somers, … and it even featured DJ Wolfman Jack as himself.
The critics and the public loved it – and it received five Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. Critic Roger Ebert has described American Graffiti as “a brilliant work of historical fiction” stating that “no sociological treatise could duplicate the movie's success in remembering exactly how it was to be alive at that cultural instant." He says “Graffiti was a flawless time capsule of meticulously re-created memory, as authentic as a documentary and vividly realized through innovative use of cinematography and sound.”
And this from www.lucasfilm.com, the company’s official website:
"Lucas's second feature film, the low-budget American Graffiti (1973), became the most successful film of its time, and garnered the Golden Globe, the New York Film Critics' and National Society of Film Critics' awards. Pushing the boundaries of storytelling into new directions, American Graffiti was the first film of its kind to tell multiple stories through interweaving narratives backed by a soundtrack of contemporary music."
For the first time, George Lucas integrated popular music into the flow of the film. In fact, he has said he was “very interested in the relationship between teenagers and rock’n’roll: when I wrote the script, I would select a song for each scene. I would make each scene less than two minutes or whatever the length of the song was.” He noted that since the film almost had “wall-to-wall songs, we treated the music like a sound effect.” Sometimes Lucas even had tunes seeming like they were coming from the radio of a passing car. He said: “In Graffiti, I used the music to create the realism and the sound effects to create the drama.” The ‘50s based-soundtrack for the movie continues to sell copies.
All that experimentation came together nicely in a production that introduced several new cinematic techniques. In 1999, American Graffiti was ranked number 77 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest American movies.
But, most of all, Graffiti touched the hearts of millions of “eternal teenagers.” And, as a “time capsule,” it provided an important sense of what America was and how it was changing in that pivotal year of 1962."
Why the film was so important.
In 1962, America was evolving from the “Fabulous ‘50s” into the “Turbulent ‘60s.” Whether by design or serendipity, George Lucas (who graduated that year) precisely portrayed the year and the attitudes that marked the ending of an era before darker days took over. In fact, Universal pictures describes the film as capturing the “heart of America’s last age of innocence.”
The summer of 1962 was the touchstone, the centerpiece, the bridge between the ‘50s and ‘60s. Certainly, the end of the “cultural”’ 50s ended tragically on November 22, 1963, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The musical times also were a’changin’ even earlier with the arrival of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, who created a major shift of pop music … which either mirrored or motivated cultural shifts then taking hold.
Then came the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in August 1964, leading to the military buildup in Vietnam. In American Graffiti, the cinematic fate of Terry “The Toad” Field was reported in the brief epilogue as being MIA near An Loc in December 1965. Thereby, Lucas’ movie, which was released in 1973 even before the war had ended, offered the first serious reference in American cinema to the war’s cost and impact.
American Graffiti is a true “coming of age” movie for its characters and, indeed, for the country.