Wednesday, July 3, 2013

American Ideals

It's hard to remember sometimes that George Lucas ever made any movies other than the Star Wars trilogy. (Yes, I said trilogy. I'm still in denial that those prequels exist.) They've made him so much money, become a global phenomenon for over 25 years, and instead of new ideas or different films, he just keeps going back to them to tinker with the classics (hey, let's add a CGI Jabba the Hut! What if Greedo shoots first?!). So, it's easy to forget that 4 years prior to creating characters like Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Obi Wan Kenobi in a galaxy far, far away, he filmed a story about Curt, Steve, and Laurie set in the very real place of Modesto, California. Based on his experiences growing up in the early 60s and taking place over the span of one night, American Graffiti, feels like a glimpse into what shaped the young filmmaker into becoming the man he would become. Mining from his personal history proved to be rewarding as it went on to be nominated for Best Picture and recently made Entertainment Weekly's list of 100 Greatest Films of All-Time. It is also the subject of this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot courtesy of Nathaniel at The Film Experience. (After a month long hiatus from the series and my own unplanned month long break from this blog, we are both back and ready for action!) So, hop into your 1956 Ford Thunderbird and let's go cruising...

The studio wanted the title changed not understanding the meaning. It's very, graffiti is...well, you see...AMERICA! Man, what DOES it mean?

There's not so much in the way of plot in the film. It's set the night before a couple of recent high school graduates, Steve (played by Ronny Howard, who apparently spent all of the 70s playing a teenager in the 50s/60s) and Curt (Richard Dreyfuss, who looks like the oldest 18 year old I've ever seen) are headed off to college. Steve tries breaking up with his high school sweetheart, Laurie (Cindy Williams, who, like lil Ronny, loved nostalgia) and Curt isn't so sure he wants to go away. Especially after he sees a vision that sets him on a quest (wow, that sounds like he's a medieval knight) and it just so happens to be my choice for best shot of the film:

Curt is in the backseat of the car with Steve and Laurie up front, listening to Wolfman Jack on the radio, (Wolfman will also have an impact on Curt during the evening.) when he looks out the window and sees a beautiful blonde in a White Thunderbird. (Look, it's a pre-Three's Company Suzanne Somers! What you can't see is that she's using her Thighmaster at this exact same moment.) She mouthes what appears to be "I Love You" to Curt and the guy falls instantly. But, she has quickly driven away before he can find out more about her. Curt spends the rest of the movie trying to reconnect with her, but in the process, finds out more about himself and what he really wants in life. She's a catalyst for his self-discovery and a beacon of hope that something out there is better. 

There was originally supposed to be a shot of her at the very beginning of the film driving in her car while transparent, showing that she never truly existed. It was cut due to the budget. But, I'm glad they kept her in reality. The Girl in the Thunderbird is real. She represents a dream that something great is out there waiting for you. 


  1. I have to confess, my knowledge of 70's TV basically ends at the Mary Tyler Moore Show, so I missed *all* of the TV connections except Ron Howard! Glad we chose the same shot! Great post.

    1. thanks! Somehow the fact that Ron and Cindy were on tv shows set at the same time as this film gives nostalgia upon nostalgia. if only the fonz had made an appearance.
      happy to see you chose the same shot as well! we have such good taste...