March 17, 2007

 

Movie Madness commentary

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Why should American Graffiti be Champion?

By O'Tim, special correspondent to Movie Madness



I could be wrong, but with my champion pick heading into the second round against the Scorsese masterwork Raging Bull, it’s likely I will not see one of my lifetime Top 5 films emerge on top for this one. American Graffiti is a picture that is just about the complete opposite of Raging Bull (which I love), but I’m a comedy man, so this one here was my underdog pick of the tournament. Bull is an “important” film, but on the suggested criteria of “which one would you watch if both were on TV?” I’d go with Graffiti. And it’s one that I’d watch again and again.

Kos has without a doubt presented us all with the toughest of contests. It was tough for me to eschew Some Like It Hot, easily in my lifetime Top 10 comedies and deserved of its high ranking in the opening round. But AG has for me that connection to a time, just three years before I was born, of teen frolic, fun, lust and, most of all, angst. In terms of my personal tastes in American culture, I have always felt like I was born about 15-20 years too late, so AG (and its heavy influence on that prepubescent stalwart of my life, Happy Days which, in retrospect “jumped the shark” long before Fonzie actually jumped the shark) really brings home a strong taste of what growing up American was all about. Of course in 1973 I was too young to go see AG in the theater, and I really don’t remember the first time I saw it – it may have been as late as in my college years.

Still, I felt the impact of the film and the way it pieces together several quasi-related situations that its characters face into one coherent experience of humor and uncertainty. Aside from how it relates to me, I think AG is a film that resonates with millions of average American teens who have a good head on their shoulders and play it mostly straight. There are lots of great movies for the serious rebel bound for tragedy, but in AG we see no background of family dysfunction like Rebel Without A Cause or The Outsiders. It ever-so-deftly scratches the surface of peer pressure, rebellion and ill-advised risk, revealing them in the terms of what they are more often than not – something to look back on and laugh about.

The key to AG’s mastery is the chronology. It takes place from sunset to sunrise on the last night of summer vacation - a thoroughbred bolt of teen angst right out of the gate if ever there was one. A then-mostly-unknown ensemble cast glides the film from scene to scene with hilarity and wit. And the characters – oh man, the characters! My favorite has got to be Terry “Toad” Fields, played by the awesome Charles Martin Smith:
Toad (protecting Debbie): Hey now, buddy, look. The lady obviously doesn't want to have...
Tough: Look, creep. You want a knuckle sandwich?
Toad: Um, uhh, no thanks. I'm waiting for a double Chucky Chuck.


The spirit and much of the concept of American Graffiti is aptly duplicated in the 90s-look-back-at-the-70s film Dazed And Confused, another of my top comedies on the again & again list and itself already a classic.



The fact that AG is the work that propelled George Lucas to fame speaks a lot to the overwhelming success of his career beyond it. Of course rubbing shoulders with Lucas was also instrumental to the massive success of Ron Howard’s directorial career. On the acting side, we see great fledgling performances from Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Suzanne Sommers and Mackenzie Phillips. Wolfman Jack as (or not as) himself provides the requisite voice over for the film’s awesome soundtrack, not to mention one of my favorite scenes with him and Curt (Dreyfuss) at the radio station.



American Graffiti won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy and was nominated for five (four major category) Oscars - Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress and Film Editing.



So I may lose points for my dedication to this great movie, but that's okay. I told Kos before this began that I am determined to see something besides Casblanca or Citizen Kane take the crown, so here it is. Don't forget that I'm also a Cubs fan.

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Comments:
I love AG, too, but it just couldn't beat out Curtis, Lemmon, Monroe, and Joe E. Brown. It was so close, though, for all the reasons you love AG. I still use "piss yellow" and "puke green" when referring to colors.
 
It was tough to put off "Hot", nat, but I think AG is funnier and importanter.
 
Gasp! Did you just say "importanter"?? :)

I gotta admit that I've never watched AG....shame on my head, I know.

You briefly mentioned The Outsiders...the movie, while good, is out shadowed by the book, imo.
 
Well it's a date, then Tams!

And yeah, it's hard to find a movie adaptation that surpasses its source.
 
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