Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April Blind Spot: American Graffiti

Whenever I choose my Blind spot films, I usually have certain thought behind them. Since I had a pretty late start to serious movie watching, there are so many great films I haven’t seen yet. So when I choose, I try to choose films from as many decades, genres, languages as possible while trying to justice to those glaring omissions as well. And obviously, they cater to my own tastes as well though I do try to use this opportunity to broaden them. So when I get to them, even though I don't go too much into details,  I do know few things about them; things that somewhat assure me that there is a good chance of me at least liking these films. I do this so that I would know what I am getting myself into, at least when it comes to blind spots. These spots are too precious for me and I try not to waste them as much as possible.

But sometimes, even after all this whittling, I do get a curve ball that I don’t know how to handle. I am getting into this entire preamble because this month’s selection, American Graffiti(1973), is one such occasion. I have been writing this blog for almost three years now and, however poorly I might be doing it, you would expect I would know how to get myself out of such situation. Don't worry! It isn't as plain and simple as I didn't really care for this movie. With Barry Lyndon(1975) last year, I have tasted those waters but here I was into something deeper. What, you ask? Well, you will know soon enough!

So why did I choose American Graffiti? In all honesty, I knew nothing about it walking in, except for the fact that certain George Lucas directed it. I don’t have any particular affinity towards this man (or you can say that’s my way of saying “I pretty much hate him”). I don’t even have any interest in Star Wars film, original trilogy or abomination of three more films that followed them, which basically made him whatever he is now. Again, that’s my way of saying “I don’t understand why people like them so much” and we can all see what this guy has turned into now. But I added Graffiti to the list because I have seen many people say something on the lines of – I wish he went back to making films like American Graffiti. That’s it! All my defense stands on that single line. Flimsy, eh?

Wait! There is more. Film is about two high school graduates leaving their small town to go to college in some big city. I don’t like these films. Sure, I haven’t seen all of them and sure, there are 1 or 2 I even liked. But mostly, I don’t like high school movies and more they are about last fateful day or nostalgia it brings with it, more I stay want to away from them. Maybe I am not just that kind of guy but I don’t get Dazed and Confused(1991) (See what I did there? and honestly, it should have been called American Graffiti 2 because that’s what it is). I have had enough last days of my own and surprisingly, I have even spent them in a similar way people do in these films but something about them never connects with me when it is put on screen.

You do realise I am leading you up to something, right? because we are almost there! What I am trying to tell you through all this blabbering is against all odds American Graffiti somehow got to me. Don't worry, I ain't head over heels in love with it and I still don't get how anyone just abandons their car and get into someone else's? Sure, it is just a strip but what if they don't drop you back to where your car is? How are you gonna get back to your car? Have you thought about that? and BTW how in hell do these cars start? because I will be damned if I see a single key in whole film. BUT... main point is I still like this film somehow.

I am sure people connect with this movie because of how authentic it feels. I am sure it reminds viewers of their teenage years and how they went about spending those fateful moments. Even though it is very distinctly '60s with its authentic rock-n-roll and suburban look, it is easy for anyone who has been there to get nostalgic about it. I haven't and that's why I usually don't get them. Maybe it is me back in my hometown, back to those hangouts and back with friends that I spent those times with had its effect but the fact that it did lure me in counts more than it would for any other film.

I like that most of the characters are not obnoxious or at least because I like the film and hence don't think they are. I like that they all have their own stories and they all get their own arcs, sometimes crisscrossing through each other to get to one common end. I liked how it got me invested in them, even those I didn't much care about initially. I knew Ron Howard had his career in front of camera before he got behind it but I liked seeing him and young Richard Dreyfuss. I can't believe this is the same guy in Close Encounters of Third Kind(1977). How much can a man age in 4 years? But most of all, I loved Cindy Williams.

By now, film's tumultuous production is as legendary as film is. One of the six films Universal sanctioned after success of Easy Rider(1969) to let young filmmakers make semi-independent films for low budget, this film hit the rocky road from start. With limited budget and time, Lucas often printed first take he would get even if they weren't necessarily according to the script. It all worked for good though as probably spontaneity of those scenes is what made it such a hit. Technical misfortunes were abundant and it is filmed almost exclusively at night but it looks as well-lit as any suburban strip can be. Apparently Universal deemed it unreleasable and shelved for six months and when they released it, it quickly became third highest grosser of the year.

We all know where Lucas went after this but now I understand why people want him to go back to him before Star Wars. Given his track record, this might be a colossal waste as he did go back to his glory days in 1997 and made what I called above an abomination of trilogy. But still, if he can make anything remotely close to this, it can be worth an attempt. How much worse can it be than Star Wars 7?

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