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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews American Graffiti (1973)

December 7th, 2012
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Hey, anybody remember when George Lucas was a great filmmaker?

It’s funny, all the recent hullabaloo over the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney has been treated, by most of fandom, as great news. Can you think of another occasion in which the sale of a beloved property from its creator/owner to a huge, soulless corporation was treated with such uniform glee as being GREAT news? This is a testament to how far George Lucas’ reputation has fallen. After living through the massive disappointment that was the prequel trilogy, most Star Wars fans — and I count myself among this list — have come to feel that George Lucas no longer had the ability to make a good Star Wars movie (or, for that matter, a good movie of any kind). Pretty sad, no?

It’s easy, now, to re-write history and take the point of view that George Lucas was NEVER any good and that everything that once seemed great about Star Wars was really because of his collaborators: people like Lawrence Kasdan, Irwin Kershner, and others. But for all that the original Star Wars film seems somewhat simplistic today when compared with the magnificence of The Empire Strikes Back (which, in my opinion, is one of the five greatest movies ever made), I think it’s a silly argument to suggest that the original Star Wars was anything short of a visionary, game-changing masterpiece, and while perhaps George Lucas can’t claim ALL the credit, he surely deserves the lions’ share.

All of this is a lengthy introduction to taking about Mr. Lucas’ 1973 film American Graffiti. Made five years before Star Wars, this is a marvelous film, one that surely stands as a strong argument in favor of the massive cinematic skills that George Lucas once possessed.

Set in 1962 in Modesta, California, and hugely inspired by Mr. Lucas’ experiences as a teenager, American Graffiti follows a group of kids on one momentous night at the end of their high school years. The kids are all part of the (now almost-forgotten) culture of “cruising” — driving around in their cars, looking for fun and/or trouble. The film plays to Mr. Lucas’ strength, as there are many long stretches with very little dialogue. The story is told primarily through the visuals (Mr. Lucas and his collaborators developed several ingenious ways to shoot the kids in their cars while they were speeding around the roads of Modesto) and the phenomenal rock-and-roll soundtrack.

About that soundtrack: the film has no score — the mood is set entirely through the careful selection of the over-forty songs that make up the soundtrack. (Don’t for a minute believe that Quentin Tarantino invented this technique!) The lack of … [continued]