Play it Again – American Graffiti

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By Jess Lomas
April 24, 2013

As a teenager, summer days seemed endless, the nights were full of possibility, and the future was unwritten. Before George Lucas introduced the world to Star Wars, he captured those fleeting moments that signal the end of childhood and the beginning of adult life in American Graffiti; a homage to the “simpler” time of 1962.

We meet nice-guy Steve (Ron Howard), hesitant Curt (Richard Dreyfuss), bad-boy John (Paul Le Mat), and geeky “Toad” (Charles Martin Smith) on their final night together before Steve and Curt head off to college. Steve attempts to define his relationship with Laurie (Cindy Williams) before he leaves, suggesting they see other people while he’s away. Curt is second-guessing his college scholarship in favour of staying at home and seeking out the mystery blonde in the white car. John cruises the strip, as usual, looking for a date until he finds himself stuck babysitting 14-year-old Carol (Mackenzie Phillips). Toad, meanwhile, enjoys his newfound independence with the loan of Steve’s car and dream girl Debbie (Candy Clark).

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Set over one memorable night to a toe-tapping soundtrack of rock hits, the accomplished young cast are only out-shadowed by the impressive line up of vintage cars. This is the pre-JFK assassination and Vietnam War era; hardly identifiable to a modern audience, yet the friendships and self doubt explored here are still powerful. It’s also a rare treat to return to a film such as this and witness the humble beginnings of many big Hollywood names, Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford in particular, as well as the true launchpad for Lucas’ career.

It’s the timeless coming of age premise; the end of one chapter and the daunting prospect of new beginnings that make this film relatable forty years after its release. The cars, slang, and drive-in diner may have changed, but the period detail and nostalgic lens American Graffiti is filmed through, coupled with the realistic teenage situations and dialogue, creates an entertaining time capsule of the rock ‘n’ roll life that no longer exists, and of friendships that once seemed unbreakable.

4/5

American Graffiti is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.

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