American GraffitiD: George Lucas (1973); with Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Ronny Howard, Candy Clark, Paul Le Mat, Mackenzie Phillips, Charlie Martin Smith, Wolfman Jack. Blame American Graffiti for the nostalgia craze that permeated the early Seventies. In 1973, America was steeped in the Vietnam War and Watergate -- what could be more appealing than the good old days of 1962? George Lucas' paean to teenagers before the war and before the Beatles changed rock & roll was so on-target that over 25 years later it remains a heartachingly accurate portrait of the past as well as a remarkable piece of filmmaking. In a small town in northern California, a group of high school students gather at the end of summer. With a neatly stitched patchwork style, the film follows them through one evening of their lives as they all stand at the threshold of adulthood making choices and facing consequences. Some will go to college, others will stay and get jobs, some are just entering a new grade, others just reaching adolescence. In addition to the spot-on re-creation of the period, Lucas' touch of genius was in casting names that would continue to light the silver and small screens to this day. Besides those listed above, Kathleen Quinlan, Bo Hopkins, Suzanne Somers, and Harrison Ford shine in their smaller roles. American Graffiti was also one of the first films to draw on pop music for a soundtrack that wasn't simply background music. The songs literally help drive the film, whether it's Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids doo-wopping "At the Hop" or Booker T. & the MGs' "Green Onions" heralding the film's showdown, the car race at dawn on Paradise Road. Record producer Kim Fowley was brought in to oversee the songs chosen, and it's astonishing to see how many different record companies licensed songs for it, something that would never happen with today's multimedia conglomerates. It was also one of the first films to recognize the Kennedy assassination as a turning point in this century and wisely posits its time frame before that shattering event. American Graffiti was no Happy Days, and the film's silent epilogue was a sobering reminder that the end of innocence lay just around the bend.
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