American Graffiti

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“No sociological treatise could duplicate the movie’s success in remembering exactly how it was to be alive at that cultural instant.” 

Roger Egbert

Let me make one thing clear from the start: this film is about a culture that’s utterly foreign to me being Swedish – the cruising and rock’n roll culture just didn’t exist in my country nor in any other part of Europe, I think. It’s probably a totally American phenomenon. This doesn’t make the movie less fascinating. There are still a lot of things to which I can relate.

George Lucas wanted to recreate his own days as a teenager in 1960’s Modesto. “Cruising was gone, and I felt compelled to document the whole experience and what my generation used as a way of meeting girls,” he explained. As he developed the story,  he included his fascination with Wolfman Jack’s nonstop disc jockey show. This radio program runs as a background throughout the whole film. Lucas actually wrote each scene with a particular song in mind. He was at the time pretty much unknown as a film director and had a hard time selling the concept. He was turned down by several companies. United Artists,  for example, called it “a musical montage with no characters”. Eventually Universal Pictures accepted it.

The film set in 1962 follows a group of youths, just graduated from high school, during one summer night. The year is important, showing a time more simple and innocent, a world before the Vietnam war and the Kennedy assassination, before counterculture, the civil rights movement, feminism and sexual revolution. The options were simpler: either you went to college or you stayed at home, got yourself a job and continued cruising. Even the music was simpler before Beatles and the British invasion, before Bob Dylan.

So the film can be seen as a farewell to childhood dreams before reality steps in, but it’s also a goodbye to the post World War II American dream. Nostalgic? Yes, but it’s also unsentimental, tough and funny. In short, it’s a very good movie.

 

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