American Graffiti

Dir: George Lucas,1973. Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith. Comedy.

American Graffiti posterConsidered by some to be an interesting historical footnote as the film uber-nerd George Lucas directed before he became a zillionaire with Star Wars, American Graffiti is actually much more. Besides helping to usher in a nostalgia wave during the '70s for a more innocent time before the Vietnam War and playing like catnip for classic car geeks, American Graffiti is a perfect ensemble comedy with a then cutting-edge use of wall-to-wall classic Rock & Roll songs on the soundtrack and a wonderful piece of Americana. It’s Lucas’s homage to those years in Modesto, California when kids drank milk shakes at Mel’s Drive-In and then cruised up and down the boulevard all night with their radios blasting, looking for kicks. The film is set in 1962. JFK was still alive, most Americans couldn’t yet point out Vietnam on a map, the Beatles hadn’t even touched down yet, and the baby boomer youth culture was beginning to dominate but still looked a lot like leftover 1950s innocents.

In a now classic coming of age set-up, American Graffiti takes place one August night after high school graduation. With the summer coming to an end, four buds (and the women around them) face the dilemma of impending adulthood about to overtake them. The clean cut Steve (Ron Howard) is excited to be heading off to college but has to figure out how to break it off with his longtime girlfriend, Laurie (Cindy Williams of future Laverne & Shirley fame). The much more thoughtful Curt (Richard Dreyfuss, in a role that would jump start his career before Jaws would make him a superstar a few years later) isn’t so sure about leaving for college out East the next day and goes on a search for some kind of meaning to his life and for the beautiful blond (Suzanne Somers) he spotted cruising around in a T-Bird. Instead he ends up taking part in antics with a gang of Greasers known as The Pharaohs (lead by the hilarious Bo Hopkins). Steve leaves his beloved Chevy Impala in the hands of his nerdy pal Terry "The Toad" (Charles Martin Smith who would go on to play a similar bumbler in The Untouchables). Now sporting a bitchin’ set of wheels, Terry spends the evening wooing a much more experienced woman, Debbie, played wonderfully by Candy Clark who scored an Oscar nomination for the performance and went on to appear in The Man Who Fell to Earth. The fourth strand of the story follows the more blue-collar, street racing cool kid, John Milner (Paul Le Mat, an actor who had the charisma and looks to hit the big time, but unlike many of his costars, his career never really took off other than playing the lead in Jonathan Demme’s acclaimed flick Melvin and Howard). He is being pursued for a drag race by a new guy in town, Bob Falfa (a cowboy hatted Harrison Ford), but his nightly fun is interrupted when he gets stuck with an annoying "tweener" Carol (Mackenzie Phillips), the two start off at odds but end up with a sweet brother/sister like relationship. A final "where are they now" epilogue scroll tells us what happened to the guys, bringing the film even more powerful pathos.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Sep 29, 2013 1:15pm

Inserts

Dir: John Byrum, 1975. Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Jessica Harper, Bob Hoskins, Stephen Davies, Veronica Cartwright.

Set in Depression-era Hollywood, Inserts follows the lives of a has-been film director and his entourage of “degenerates” that helps him lead a career directing pornography. The movie might bring to mind a stage play as it is set in a single day, in one room, and follows the actions of the cast in real time. What made the story interesting was realizing that the glamorous and privileged approach to blockbuster films in the late '20s was also used with smut. The performances and heavy dialogue also allow you to mentally compare the fickle and sleazy attitudes in the filmmaking industry of yesteryear with those of today.

Richard Dreyfuss plays The Boy Wonder, a young director known for his achievements in silent film who discovered that he couldn't direct talkies. He's hit rock bottom, just like the rest of America during the Depression, and refuses to leave his Hollywood Hills home. He's dealing with a looming anxiety about not only being a failure but what will happen to his home when the city wants to build a freeway through the land. When a fellow called Big Mac (Bob Hoskins) offered him a contract to direct porn, he took it, not knowing that having such a brutish producer might be the end of him for good. Harlene (Veronica Cartwright) is his star in the picture, and a real handful. Sparing no time, she dives into a frenzy of antics and gossip before settling into her heroin fix. Her co-star is the young and naive Rex the Wonder Dog (Stephen Davies), who laps up praise from others so quickly that you'd think he was a bit dense. The three try to pick up from where they last left off filming and are disturbed by a knock on the door. Harlene's daily gossip comprised of telling the director that the then unknown Clark Gable thought he was a genius and wanted him to direct again. She gave him his address, and now he's come to talk. The Boy Wonder wants nothing to do with that world and sends Rex to shoo him away. They pick up again and grow close to finishing when Mac makes an entrance with his fiance Cathy Cake (Jessica Harper), who is mesmerized by their activities. Mac's presence causes tension because he's paying for the picture and providing Harlene's drugs. Once the actors are paid and high, The Boy Wonder finds it nearly impossible to continue working. As Mac bullies everyone and makes them uncomfortable, Harlene exits the room to shoot up and the others talk of developments in both the film world and America's future.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Apr 7, 2011 4:02pm

Jaws

Dir: Steven Spielberg, 1975. Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw. Horror.

The summer of 1975 saw a decline in beach activity and beach resort profits, not because of anything that happened in real life, but because what happened in the cinemas that summer. It was a little film, by a twenty-something director, that due to technical problems was barely able to get out of the water. At the time of its release Jaws may have been the biggest cultural blockbuster since Gone With The Wind. It was all the talk, all the rage, and its effect on beach life and the reputation of sharks is still felt today. But more importantly, hype aside, Jaws is also some good old-fashioned filmmaking, and is still one of the greatest adventure, horror films ever.

In the mid '70s it was rare for a director of a major studio movie to only be in his 20s, but after a string of acclaimed TV movies, including the landmark thriller Duel, Steven Spielberg was called a wunderkind. His first go at the big screen, The Sugarland Express with Goldie Hawn, was a well done road picture. Though it was steeped in '70s rebellion, it didn’t come close to revealing just how in touch with the pulse of audiences Spielberg would prove to be.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Apr 29, 2011 7:21pm
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