Those were the days, my friend
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Revisiting a film that was made in the '70s, which evoked the '60s, is a particular pleasure, especially when it is American Graffiti. In films deemed classics, which you see much after they were made, you can read meaning into scenes which the filmmaker did not intend, but here director George Lucas meant every single scene to be exactly what it is, and the whole adds up to a brilliant combination of pop culture signifiers, young desires and dreams — an ode to lost innocence, and an era gone for ever. When the choice is whether to leave town for college or stay back in Modesto, Calif. in 1962, and that is the hardest choice that the just-finished-with-high-school lads have to make, you know that that was a time.
Lucas made American Graffiti as a tribute to his own youth spent on the West Coast of the US, in which cruisin' was a big part of life. Practically right through the two hours of the film, you do not see any adults (and if they do come on, it is briefly, and definitely not to cover themselves with glory): what you do see is a night in small town California, teeming with teenagers in cars, crisscrossing the roads. All night long. It is a ritual that never happened anywhere else in the world, just America with its mile-long automobiles, gas that was cheaper than water, and an explosion of baby boomers for whom life was good, and that is all that it was.
Richard Dreyfuss, Ronny Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charlie Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark. These are young adults still struggling with the insecurities that some of us never really manage to banish: am I loved? Will I ever be loved? Should I leave? And most importantly, if I do leave, will I ever come back again? The locations in the film are American staples: a drive-in burger joint that operates all night long, which is popular enough to operate like a post-office for the kids when they have to find each other, a hall the size of a barn hosting a farewell party for the young people graduating, with a live band and whirling, twirling dancers, a radio station playing the pop singles that were the precursors to the harder music that followed. There is also a radio show host who was like a best friend because you spent your entire day listening to him, and of course, cars, cars, cars.