Friday Favorites 3/14/2014
It was 1962. My friend, Charlie, and I were leaving for college the next day. Charlie was anxious to go, but his girlfriend, Anna, was trying to talk him out of it. We were all headed down to Savin Rock to cruise the parking lots at Jimmie’s and Phyllis’, Charlie and Anna in his Chevy and me in my Dad’s turquoise and white Buick Special with Wolfman Jack on the radio. I knew we’d run into Russ in his white Ford, looking for someone to race and that at some point I’d have to tell Charlie I was having second thoughts about going away to college. Uhhhh, wait. That would be the plot of the 1973 film, Amercan Graffitti. It happens every time I watch it … I begin to transport the story to my hometown and populate it with my high school friends because, after all, I did graduate in 1962, the year portrayed in the film. Fred Roos, who did the casting for the film, brilliantly chose people who looked like average high school kids instead of movie stars, and in their period outfits and hairstyles, I can see someone from my high school yearbook in every scene. And the soundtrack, which featured 41 hits of the early sixties could just as well have been a soundtrack for my senior year.
If you have Younger Eyes, you may not know that American Graffitti was the second project of director George Lucas, and was produced by none other than Francis Ford Copolla. The film is loosely based on Lucas’ high school years in Modesto California, and the four main characters … the wishy-washy Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfus), confident Steve Bollanger (Ron Howard), nerdy Terry “The Toad” Fields (Charles Martin Smith), and drag racing John Milner (Paul Le Mat) … representing a phase of his teenage years. The film is a who’s-who of young actors who went on to bigger things, also including Cindy Williams, Kathleen Quinlan and Harrison Ford. Wolfman Jack, whose frenetic disc jockeying provides a unifying background to the story, was played by the Wolfman himself.
American Graffitti also launched the career of George Lucas and led directly to the TV series, Happy Days, which starred Ron Howard and Cindy Williams. Ron Howard and Lucas became friends and worked together on a number of projects, probably leading to Howard’s decision to try directing. Not bad for a summer hit that was rejected by 6 studios before Universal decided to make it for the unbelievably low budget of $1.7M. By the 1990s, the film had made more than $250M, making it one of the most profitable films ever.
Perhaps no film has ever caught the spirit and the innocence of the early sixties like American Graffitti. I can see myself in some of the characters, particularly Curt, and my high school classmates in others … which is why it’s so easy to watch it again and again. And then there’s that soundtrack. Rock Around the Clock. Sixteen Candles. At The Hop.
And my personal favorite, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by the Del Vikings, with an arguing Steve and Laurie starting a Snowball Dance.
Yup. Nostalgic Friday Favorite … the film or the soundtrack.