Tuesday, October 27, 2015

American Graffiti and Looking Back Again

If you have never seen the movie "American Graffiti" then I am going to suggest that you do not see it until you have seen it's sequel, "More American Graffiti" and I will explain why. American Graffiti came out in 1973. At that time we were still in Vietnam and Nixon was still in office. During that year the Watergate scandal was just beginning to gain ground. To kids growing up then it seemed like we were a lost generation that was vastly outnumbered by people only a few years older as the baby boom had ended in the late 50s or early 60s depending who you want to believe.

The 1970s seemed boring, the music wasn't as good; but, there was something more. It was if the 60s generation of kids had all the fun and the 70s teenagers were more controlled. At least it seemed that way to the people I knew at the time. In the 60s there were strong marriages, in the 70s divorce exploded and most people had both parents working. Drugs were no longer an experiment, it was just getting high. The kids in the 70s wanted things that just belonged to us; but, what we got was disco, corporate rock and practically no focus on our generation. Heck, it wasn't till video games that we really got something of our own.

One thing we had was B movies that were actually aimed at us. Movies like "The Pom Pom Girls", "Drive in" and "Heavy Metal" along with "Fritz the Cat". These were stupid exploitation movies aimed specifically at teenagers in the early to mid 70s. Then came "American Graffiti" which was more about the 50s than the 60s. It wasn't about hippies, it was about kids growing up in the suburbs who thought that getting beer was naughty. We longed for that as our families were coming apart. All my friends came from homes of divorce. We didn't want to change the world, it was already changing to fast for most. We wanted some fun that wasn't a complete rejection of society but maybe a call to the past and the 50s fit that perfectly.

American Graffiti takes place in 1962 before the Beatles arrived in the United States and before President Kennedy died, it took place before this nations loss of innocence. That is why the show it spawned, "Happy Days" took place in the 50s and was so successful with my generation. We grew up while the world was losing it's innocence and felt cheated. We grew up I a world that both catered to and took advantage of the 60s generation. The only thing that we did inherit from the 60s was the chance to die in Vietnam and the draft was still in effect.

Think about the other really big films that kids loved in the 70s, "Grease" and "Star Wars". We were looking for a return to simple and innocent fun. Heck, the films they made about kids in the 70s that were big budget were depressing, "Aloha Bobby Rose" and "Little Foxes" had horrible endings and were about the depressing nature of growing up then. Heck one of the biggest films was the first Rocky film and at least that was one about succeeding in a depressing situation, it was what we felt.

"American Graffiti" wasn't about riots and protests, it was about racing and girls and innocent fun. It was escapism from the 70s and a wish for what we felt we had missed out on. Now blacks in America may not have seen it the same way at the time and that makes sense. They were watching movies like "Superfly" and "Cooley High" and tv shows like "Good Times". These were shows and movies about dealing with poverty and hard times. America was still very much racially divided and the biggest show that dealt with that issue was "All in the Family" and that always had a depressing backstory. It was nothing but conflict, though, it did have some great jokes, it was still sad in the end.

"American Graffiti" was made for pennies using mostly unknowns and at that time even Ron Howard was no longer a star, he was just an ex-child star. George Lucas' previously film was THX1138, a depressing futuristic film and not a favorite with most kids. "American Graffiti" was a film for 70s kids and had happy music from beginning to end. The story was simple, a bunch of kids just graduated from high school and were going to move into the rest of their lives. They decided to have one last good time before leaving the comfort of their homes and moving out into the real world, the future. It was their last chance to have innocent fun. It resonated with us. It was made for pennies and was never expected to do particularly well, it was the kids from the 70s that made it big, not the people who grew up during that time. It certainly wasn't aimed at ex-hippies, they had rejected that time and longed for the late 60s.

Now I want to talk about "More American Graffiti". At the time everyone I knew hated it. It has not only a depressing ending; but, the story itself is depressing. It is not a hopeful film, it is instead about the victims of the mid to late 60s. I won't give away the plot details too much for those who have not seen it. Suffice it to say that the film is about what happened to the characters in "American Graffiti" after they grew up and the party was over and real life became their life. I hated it, it had no hope for the future in it.

Looking back on "More American Graffiti" now, I see the film from a different perspective. You see the second movie wasn't made for the same people as the first movie, it was made for the children who grew up in the 60s, not the ones who grew up in the 70s. Lucas didn't understand who made the first film so popular, he was still writing to his generation and they didn't care about the 50s and early 60s. It was people who grew up in the 50s and their children who watched "Happy Days", not the ex-hippies.

By accident I happened to see large parts of "More American Graffiti" again today and you know, it is a fitting end to the saga. It is not however a teen film and the first one was.

Where are the teen films today, what films talk to the current generation. I am not talking about action films or big films, I am talking about small films that they can call their own and address their hopes? I don't see it. Then again what do they have to look forward to? Oh year, living at home with a hundred thousand dollars in debt if they go to college or maybe just a film about having fun while working at McDonalds or WalMart. Wait, wait, what about working until they die?


You know what, it just occurred to me what the biggest films aimed at young teenagers today are. "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games" They may have grown up on "Harry Potter"; but as teenagers they are given a different perspective. I guess they also have superhero shows and comics (graphic novels); but, those are not about teenagers except maybe "Heroes". What is realistic in media about the teen experience today?

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