[AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was my one and only attempt at writing a movie review. Rex Reed I wasn't. However, I was moved tremendously by American Graffiti, and dashed this off as soon as I got home from seeing it. It saddens me that George Lucas could get performances like these at the beginning of his career (American Graffiti was his second movie and Star Wars was his third), but seems to have lost the knack over the years.]
The Way We Were is the title of another movie about another age, but it could so easily fit American Graffiti. If you were a teenager between 1957-1965, if you ever went to sock hops, drive-in burger stands, or drag races, this is your life.
Gone are the plastic, manufactured teenagers of an Alan Freed movie, there are none of the rebels with or without causes with which we were inundated in the late 50s, the surfers have all gone down for the third time, and there wasn't a teenage werewolf in sight (except, of course, "Wolfman" Jack).
The music, ranging from the Spaniels to the Beachboys, is non-stop and is the undercurrent of the movie. Everyone, everywhere is tuned in to Wolfman Jack, who seems to be on the air for about 12 hours. The music is depicted as being something akin to Linus' security blanket - it is omnipresent, enveloping, the common denominator of reality.
There is none of the parody of our era that is found in Grease (which I enjoy) nor the boy-did-you-all-look-silly-way-back-when attitude of Dick Clark (which I don't). The characterizations are superb - these are Real kids doing Real things. The performances are flawless - from the stars to the extras at the high school dance (who did the lindy and the stroll as if they'd been doing them for years and not as if they'd learned them the night before the filming).
The plot is fairly loose. (Do our lives have plots?) Then again, Alan Freed's plots were just excuses to bring you the music. (In neither case am I complaining.) The theme of the movie is not to further the cause of Rock and Roll and anyone who sees it under that delusion will be very disappointed. The music was there, just as brushing our teeth was there. (Although one was undeniably more enjoyable than the other, they were both acquired habits and the movie does not blow the music out of all proportion to our lives.)
I felt throughout the movie that this was, not as adults saw it - almost pure anarchy - but an ordered, structured society into which I, and my friends of old, could fit with little adjustment. The only part that was a bit alien was the auto racing, which was unknown in my circles. To this day I've never seen a Deuce Coupe outside of a movie. Where did I go wrong? Did mass transportation destroy part of my cultural heritage? No matter. You can go home again this time, and the homecoming will be quite pleasant.
If you were a pre-Beatles and post-Korea teenager, then you owe it to yourself to see American Graffiti. If not, see it with someone who was - and compare your reactions. By the way, there is a "message" in the picture; don't try to beat the crowd out of the theater, and think about it.