US, 1973, 110 minutes, Colour.
Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charlie Martin Smith, Cindy Williams.
Directed by George Lucas.
American Graffiti was nominated for several Oscars but unfortunately, won none of them. It is a very good film. The writer director is George Lucas who made THX1138 and the very popular Star Wars. He has re-created a refreshing nostalgic picture of the period of his late adolescence, 1962. Set on one night, like THX, moving from a dark world into sunlight, it shows us fairly naive teenagers, charming even in their silliness, innocent even in their foibles (except for the toughs, the Pharoahs). Characters are excellently drawn and acted by Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Richard Dreyfuss. There is an almost non-stop contemporary song background and commentary which is unobtrusively effective. This pleasant picture of youth growing up, mistakes and all, seems a strange prelude to the sour realism of 70s American history.
1. The meaning and tone of the title? A sideline in American history? The film's attitude towards youth as portrayed and their function as graffiti?
2. Comment on the effectiveness of the structure of the film: the fact that it took place on one night, from darkness into light, indecision to decision, adolescence to adulthood, the climax of the race, the pathos of the statements at the ending.
3. How well did the film use its colour, Techniscope, the constant commentary of the popular songs ? the appropriateness of the songs at particular stages of the film, the appropriateness of the lyrics? How authentic did this make the film the continuous musical background? The nostalgia? The portrayal of the town, the streets and the cars, Mel's drive in?
4. How nostalgic was the film? Did it hallow the past and give it an aura? Or did it portray it as real? Its portrayal of youth in 1962, pre-Vietnam? The innocence and naivety about the youngsters? The fact that most of them were nice? How positive a picture of youth did this give? How optimistic was the film? How much was it tempered by realism and adulthood?
5. How well did the film interweave the stories of the principal boys and girls? The bond of the town, the night, love, anger, friendship?
6. What stance did the film take about youth? Did it seem impartial in its portrayal of youth? What were the good features of youngsters that the film emphasised? What did it criticise as bad?
7. How well were the characters portrayed and explored? Were they real persons or did they tend to be caricatured? Did it portray them as real, their good and their bad? How effective was this considering the time span of the film was one evening?
8. The portrayal of Kurt: as a sympathetic youngster, his sense of responsibility, his indecisiveness about his future, his relationship with his sister, his friendship with Steve? The enigma of his personality? He was a puzzle to himself. His idealizing the blonde in the car and making her a quest? The importance of the drive with the girl and his kissing her and then his slinging off at the other girl? The importance of his encounters with the Pharaohs as so different from the Pharaohs, joining them in their robbery, and yet appearing grateful to those who had given him the scholarship? His participating in the prank on the police car? The importance of his call to the Wolfman and his response to the wolf man? His response to the Wolfman's radio call? The importance of the phone call? The fact that he did decide to go? As an intelligent and man of integrity? Groping for self-understanding? The importance of the note about his becoming a writer?
9. Steve: the clean-cut American youth, dating the head girl leading the dance? How mature was he? How much intelligence? The importance of his friendship and love for Laurie, their dating, their parting, sex, jealousy, anger and quarrelling? Keeping up a good face at the dance? His leaving his car to Terry? Driving around without Laurie? Refusing the date with the girl at Mel’s? His decision not to go? Was this right? Having the time? His future as an estate agent?
10. Jerry: how effective as a comic character, did he seem real? His naivety and his being ridiculed? His love for his bike and his being thrilled with the car? The scenes of his satisfaction when driving? Bumping and running away? Thinking himself the big man in picking up the girl? The style of chatter and his exaggerating the story? The sequences of trying to get the whisky? Innocence and yet trying to be a man? His petting of Debbie? And the contrast of losing the car? The humour of the discussion of the goat murderers? His being sick, involved in the fight and being saved by John? His sharing the happiness with Debbie on reflecting on the evening? His involvement with John in the race? Jerry as staying around the town? The pathos of his death?
11. How did John contrast with the others; as a tough man, older than the others, as having little future except with cars? His car and his enjoyment of driving? The champion? His generosity in fixing other's cars? His picking up the girls, the victim of the joke with Carol? The importance of their relationship and slinging off at each other? The gradual friendship during the evening? Foaming the car with the girls? His giving Carol a souvenir? The importance of the challenge of the race? His admitting that he was being beaten? The irony of his later death?
12. The importance of the challenger ? showing off and driving around the town? His girl friend, with Laurie and her not talking, the race itself and the destruction of his car?
13. How did the Pharaohs contrast with the ordinary youngsters in the town? Their poses and toughness? The mystique of the gang? Their attitude towards Kurt? The fact that they mellowed during the evening towards him? Robbing the games place, with the police. their belief in themselves an invitation to Kurt? The comment on the tough guys of the 60s?
14. How attractive was Laurie? The ordinary small town girl, her relationship with Steve the value of her friendship, love and emotions the realities of quarrelling, keeping a good face during the dance, refusing sex.. deciding to go with the challenger., the impact of the accident on her settling down then for another day and having Steve for the year?
15. How did Debbie contrast with Laurie? The cute blond of the early 60s going for the ride, drinking booze, her niceness to Jerry, the petting, the losing the car, the fascination with the goat murderer, her response to the fight? Sitting on the curb and realizing that she had had an enjoyable night? As an ordinary unintelligent blond of a small town?
16. The other girls - spending their time riding the roads, talking, passing on gossip etc.?
17. The importance of Carol in the film - as young. as growing up like the other girls, her attitudes towards being out, towards John, tough language but softer realities? Her comments on her parents? What had the youngsters achieved that night? How had they grown?
18. The portrayal of adults and their absence from the film? The men in the shops. at the dance, the teacher and his disillusionment the police and their threatening of John, the elder couple looking at Terry sick. the Parents at the end?
19. The importance of Wolfman Jack for the film - his constant patter and the jargon of the 60s, the wide response of the youngsters to him, Kurt's admiration, the reality of Wolfman and his kindness to Kurt?
20. What insight into human living, growing up, the value of human dignity did this film give? It was nominated for Oscars in its time. Did it deserve them?