• Lucas pivots from the Kubrickian artistic asceticism of his debut THX 1138 for an all-time nostalgic, hang-out film with his second effort
  • Lucas is always the gambler- here, he bets on a slew of unnamed actors and no plot—and then runs up a big budget curating some of the greatest songs of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s era.
  • “A brilliant work of popular art, it redefined nostalgia as a marketable commodity and established a new narrative style, with locale replacing plot, that has since been imitated to the point of ineffectiveness.” – brilliantly from David Kehr- https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/american-graffiti/Film?oid=1150459
  • Wolfman Jack’s XERB the radio station is the first sound in the film. Like 1955’s Blackboard Jungle Lucas uses Rock Around the Clock from Bill Haley & His Comets as the jumping off point. Pawlikowski would masterfully use the same song again in 2018’s Cold War.
  • It is tough to talk nostalgia in 1973 and not mention Fellini’s Amarcord (1953’s I Vitelloni is really a hangout film about five friends) certainly later films like Woody’s Radio Days (1987) and Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) and then Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) would make for companion pieces. Linklater’s films even incorporate Lucas’ time sensitive tight Brief Encounter-like structure. There’s no Diner (1982) from Barry Levinson without American Graffiti. Many critics at the time made note of the comparisons with 1971’s The Last Picture Show from Bogdanovich though the tone is different of course.
  • This is the story of four friends: Curt (a charming Richard Dreyfuss), Steve (Ron Howard), John ( the James Dean complex- played by Paul Le Mat) and Terry (Charles Martin Smith). The premise is simple- Curt and Steve are set to leave for college the following morning. Steve is planning on going and Curt isn’t so sure, they flip over the course of the next 12 hours. They go on their own adventures that night, largely involving cars and music.
  • Lucas is looking back at the early 1960’s (which seems crazy to be doing so soon after it happened), but it’s ironic, the characters are even looking back within the film about their good old days.
  • As mentioned, Lucas bet on securing the rights to the songs on the soundtrack and it pays off. There are (reportedly) 40+ songs bathing the 110-minute running time. And don’t sleep on Walter Murch’s sound editing contribution as some of the songs fade in and out, are at a distance, overlap…. everything from The Beach Boys to Buddy Holly.
  • It helped make a star out of just about everyone in the cast. Howard and Cindy Williams were TV royalty with Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. Harrison Ford is here of course; Suzanne Summers plays Curt’s blonde he spots. Dreyfuss would go on to be one of the more accomplished Hollywood actors in the back half of the 1970’s. Overall the film is the third biggest hit in the US in 1973 behind The Exorcist and The Sting and it helps give Lucas the juice to take on his next ambitious project…. Star Wars.

Obviously, Lucas and Coppola are buddies- when the cop car pulls off the road you can see the theater is playing Dementia 13– Coppola’s 1963 film- not sure that would’ve been historically accurate to be the only film playing at that seemingly small theater.

  • The film’s starts visually with Mel’s Drive-In—one of the most painterly frames in Lucas’ career. It serves as a sort of shrine and he knew what he had here as he’d go back to it often during the film including at the 84-minute mark off of Dreyfuss’ face and the car window. It really isn’t a beautiful film at all outside of the establishing shots of Mel’s and this one singular shot.

you hear the XERB radio station first– but visually the film really gets started with this immaculate painting of an establishing shot

this is a different one actually- later in in the film and darker as it is now fully night. Lucas knows what he has here with Mel’s

another stunner of a frame involving Mel’s- Dreyfuss here at the 84-minute mark

yet another here with Candy Clark

  • Haskell Wexler on the crew as a consultant
  • The titles in the epilogue as postscript—this would be picked up on by many films after including nostalgia trips (with four friends) like Stand by Me (Reiner, 1986) and others.
  • Highly Recommend/ Must-See border