It’s the proverbial end of the summer 1962 in a small southern California town. It’s the evening before best friends and recent high school graduates, Curt Henderson and Steve Bolander, are scheduled to leave town to head to college back east. Curt, who received a lucrative local scholarship, is seen as the promise that their class holds. But Curt is having second thoughts about leaving what Steve basically sees as their dead-end town. Curt’s beliefs are strengthened when he spots an unknown beautiful blonde in a T-bird who mouths the words “I love you” to him. As Curt tries to find that blonde while trying to get away from a local gang who has him somewhat hostage, Curt may come to a decision about his immediate future. Outgoing class president Steve, on the other hand, wants to leave, despite meaning that he will leave girlfriend, head cheerleader, and Curt’s sister, Laurie Henderson, behind. Steve and Laurie spend the evening “negotiating” the state of their relationship.
The single-greatest teen-age cruising film ever made
American Graffiti, voted in 1998 to the American Film Institute’s list of 100 superlative films, is as good today as it was upon its release in 1973. Countless films (such as Linklater’s excellent Dazed and Confused) have borrowed heavily from Lucas’ blueprint of multiple characters and storylines punctuated by wall to wall rock music. If possible, you should try to see the 1998 documentary that accompanies the DVD release, as it provides a wealth of information directly from Lucas, Coppola, LeMat, Ford, Clark, Dreyfuss, Howard, and many others about the creation of the film from concept to box-office phenomenon.
The American Garden of Eden
In the summer of 1962, for these four Youths, it’s the closest they will ever get to the Garden of Eden. The music, the cars, the drinking, the dancing, and the innocence, American Graffiti is a harder film to make than Star Wars. To identify with the generation and to create truth from the characters, George Lucas’s masterpiece is American Graffiti. From the town Big shot, the future Racecar Driver, the Perfect Couple, and the local Nerd, it is amazing how the audience identifies with all these characters from our past. Like a page out of the high school yearbook, this movie jumps back into the early ’60s, before the war, before the lines were drawn, the age of innocence in America would soon be coming to an end. This is the last party of the summer before the dream finally ends.