I try not to interject my pushy self into these posts, dear readers, but American Graffiti is personal. I'm not sure how many times I've seen this movie -- in dark theaters, over a big Red Moon pizza at the Cinderella Twin, on television, on video and DVD and probably in my dreams. It's the epitome of a nostalgia flick, even for a time I didn't exactly live through, because I was, like, six years old. But I still have a soft spot for it all these years later.
That's partly because I'm a pop-music encyclopedia of sorts, and the musical heritage of American Graffiti is rich, but it's also because I simply love the way it's gilded around the edges with a mixture of hotrod exhaust and bittersweet experiments in the realm of love and confused adolescence. I know, maybe that's hokey in this 21st century -- but so it is.
The film George Lucas made immediately before he embarked into that now-famous galaxy far, far away with Star Wars, only his second feature after THX 1138, Graffiti is unpretentiously fueled by the same out-of-time innocence we all loved about the original Star Wars trilogy...except that in this case, it's well-anchored on planet earth.
Add a perfectly matched soundtrack of oldies and a smart ensemble cast led by Richard Dreyfuss as the uncertain high school senior destined for college at the end of the summer, and you have a movie -- a movie! -- that is the essence of summer, full of chance meetings and intermingled stories all cruising together down the boulevard. Following are a few more reasons why I recommend digging it up this gem from 1973.
One side story involves Mackenzie Phillips as an underage girl looking for a thrill and tough guy Paul Le Mat as a hero whose time in the limelight is running out. Along the way, they bump into a young Harrison Ford as his competition.
Charles Martin Smith, as the high school geek, gets lucky with the beautiful bimbo of his dreams in a poignant turn.
Richard Dreyfuss as the protagonist Curt gets mixed up with a street gang.
And Curt later has a prophetic meetup with the infamous Wolfman Jack.
Susan Froyd, in another life, toiled for a few years in some of Denver's most beloved and belated repertory cinemas. She has also seen a lot of movies over a lot of years. In this weekly series, she'll recommend forgotten films, classics, cult favorites and other dusty reels of celluloid from the past. You might like it.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.