62 – American Graffiti (1973)

John Milner: File that under uh, C.S. over there.
Carol: C.S.? What’s that stand for?
John Milner: Chicken shit – that’s what it is.

 

Seen before?

F: Another one that’s new to me.

R: Nope, only the trailer.

 

Thoughts?

F: The second film on this list about teenage life in small town America. I did enjoy this but still think The Last Picture Show is superior. For me this has less complex characters and less of (actually make that no) plot. But it is arguably more fun.

R: The subject matter overlaps but tonally they’re very different. Where The Last Picture Show is all tragedy and existential dread, this is about the thrill and feeling of invincibility that comes with being a young adult with your whole life ahead of you. It felt like the youngsters in The Last Picture Show were being suffocated by the lack of options in their lives; here it feels like they are intoxicated by the possibilities.

F: Which is the more realistic though? I guess somewhere in between? There is definitely a feeling of fear at that point in your life as well as excitement about the possibilities. 

R: I think to some extent it reflects the more optimistic economic outlook of the 60s compared to the 50s. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is only a happy-go-lucky film. There are plenty of insecurities that are not so well hidden under each character’s bravado that gives it some nuance.

F: With the male characters perhaps! I found it a problem that the girl who ends up riding around in the car with John is the only female character who has anything close to character development. The others I think were there just as a backdrop to the male storylines. 

R: That’s an entirely fair criticism I think, and the more balanced representation we saw in The Last Picture Show shows that neither the film’s age nor its setting is any excuse for that. But if we did want to try to excuse it, could we perhaps say this is a film looking mostly at machismo and bravado, and those are two more typically male character flaws? 

F: That’s true but my question would then be why the film has to be macho? I’ve always found George Lucas writes quite ‘obvious’ characters in that they never really do anything unexpected and can quite easily be placed into generic boxes. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy his films and perhaps is one of the reasons they have such universal appeal.

R: Establishing character motivations is one of the fundamentals of storytelling, and something George Lucas does very well, here and of course in Star Wars. But in doing that I think he does sacrifice complexity and depth. I’d hoped for example that the nerd character might prove more multifaceted by the end of the film, but no. Each character has their arc and the film very rarely deviates from taking us from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Appropriate perhaps in a film featuring drag racing!

F: Definitely not a film that hangs around! What about the music in this? A contender for best soundtrack alongside Pulp Fiction?

R: If you like songs from the early 60s then certainly! Personally I’d rate the Tarantino soundtrack ahead of this because it has a few more unusual choices. What we get here are all big radio-friendly pop hits.

F: Setting is also important here. I think Pulp Fiction works hard at not necessarily placing the film in a particular time and the music helps with this. Whereas this is very much set in the early 1960s, again the music helping to establish this.

R: I think it’s a fantastically evocative film. You feel like you’re in 1962 cruising along the streets with these kids, and that’s not just down to the music. Those shots through the passenger windows as people in adjacent cars talk to (or yell at) each other do a great job of putting the audience in the car with the characters. Nothing about the film is particularly deep or clever, but it puts you in amongst the story as well as anything else we’ve seen on this list so far.

F: Yes and for all my criticisms, I did find myself getting carried along with this film and finding it a lot of fun. 

R: That’s rock ‘n’ roll for you!

 

Is it worthy of the top 100?

F: Sadly it’s a no from me. Plenty of fun but just not enough depth.

R: I’m slightly on the fence, but a film doesn’t necessarily need to be deep to be good. I’ll say yes. Just.

 

Up next:
 61 – Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
Previously:
63 – Cabaret (1972)
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