While George Lucas carried out his youthful love of serials and Flash Gordon famously in Star Wars, his true love of his teenage years were cars and he for a short time was famously known for that in his breakthrough film American Graffiti. It's easy to write off the film as simply sentimal and nostalgic, which it is, but what made it the most profitable film to date at the time was that it reflected back quite truly, so much so that it seems that much nostalgia of the time period now reflects the look of Mel's Diner and the rest of the production design of the film.

It goes without saying that the film's most obvious and lasting impact is/was with it's use of music within the film's context. It's present almost throughout the entire film and is used as an effective editing tool used to link the intertwining stories of the recent or soon to be high school grads together. While it's almost a cliche now, this film is what not only started the oldies/classic rockcompilation soundtracktrend, but probably is as successful as any film in using it to reflect the moods and story on screen. Wolfman Jack's role as his mythicial self lends an authenticity that adds that much more to the film as well, and his scenes with Richard Dreyfuss I find to be some of my favorites.

I think there is no doubt that Lucas could never make this film now and it clicked so well because he at the time wasn't that much older than the cast he was soon to make stars of. It's timeless feel makes it pretty much universal to each generation that sees it and can relate to one of it's characters and the eventual decisions they are forced to make.
American Graffiti. A true American classic. Ranked number 77 on AFI's best films list.

Wolfman Jack
Comments pending.
this was a fun movie for me.
Now is the time
:fresh: :fresh: :fresh: :fresh: :fresh: This film was a classic before it was even released. It was made in 73, about ten years after its' setting. They did a really good job captureing the look and feel of the early 60's. It was the first really sucsessful film from George Lucas. According to legend the dice that can be seen in the car that Harrison Ford drives, are the same dice that can be seen hanging in the cockpit of the Millineum Falcon in "STAR WARS - A New Hope"
These two films are as good as I heard they were, which is to say very good.

Dancer in the Dark
Musicals intrigue me; they really do. Here is this artform where affect & energy are achieved through choreographed song and dance numbers. For the devotees of realism and naturalism, this sort of fantasy is anathema. Lars Van Trier, with his Dogma 95 ideology of making film more natural, seems the least likely director of a musical. This makes DitD an extremely interesting film. Added to this is the fact that the lead is Icelandic pop chanteuse Bjork.

Van Trier negotiates the demands of his naturalist approach to film and the unnatural demands of a musical deftly. Most of the film is characterized by his adherence to natural lighting and steady cam with actors giving understated performances. Bjork, who leads the cast, gives a stunning performance as a Czech emigre to the US, Selma, who is going blind and is working hard to save for a surgery for her son to prevent him from going blind, too. Selma is a lover of musicals -watching them and rehearsing in a local production of the Sound of Music; they are one of the few indulgences she allows herself. This makes her loss of vision even more unfortunate: now she can't see the dances or dance herself. The melodramatic story concerns a pathetic landlord who takes advantage of Selma's naivete. A violent and absurd death occurs and so too an execution.

For me, the point when song and dance breaks out is incredibly interesting in musicals. How does the director navigate this drastic shift in modes, from the real to the fantasy? How do the actors transition from one type of performance to another? The best musicals are the ones that make these transitions seem as organic as possible (Singing in the Rain, White Christmas, Sound of Music) or exaggerate this transition for comic effect (like Monty Python films). For Von Trier, the musicals take place in Selma's imagination. She takes the organic sounds around her and from this latent music takes off on her own flights of fancy. Bjorks unconvential voice and Van Triers unconventional story are married excellantly.

American Graffiti
This Pre-Star Wars George Lucas film aims to capture the mood of a generation and to a small degree succeeds. Set on a summer night in the late 1950s (I think), Lucas tells the story of youth at a crossroads. His main characters are on that cusp between adolescence and adulthood and have to decide who they want to be. We have two friends ("Ronny" Howard and Richard Dreyfuss) who are about to "go east" to college. One is doubtful as to whether this is what he wants, the other can't wait to go. Add to this a relationship crisis, a geek, and a tough guy who is growing tired of being the tough guy and there's the movie.

This is small small 'd' drama: none of these stories has much of an ark and the small changes in the characters from start to finish are nominal, yet at the same time what you would expect to occur over just one night. The lack of plot (and any climax of note) is not missed, however, because the actors are given solid dialogue - sometimes humourous, sometimes insightful - and act competantly. And of course there's the soundtrack, overloaded with pop hits of the era and the coarse and distinctive vocals of "Wolfman Jack."

Rebel Without a Cause is a much better representative of this type of teen movie: the drama is a bit more focused, the cast better equipped. The Breakfast Club also comes to mind in this category. Again, it is better than AG because it's more focused.A film that borrows heavily from AG, Dazed and Confused, about a later generation of teenagers, is similarly low impact yet interesting. While I'm at it, Almost Famous is my favorite representative of this type of film. It has incredible characterization and the benefit of being a bona fide coming of age story.
...and, while it probably won't do it literally, it just might do it figuratively. It's a fossil of a movie and I'm sure it's been reviewed hundreds of times, but it's one of my favorites, so I simply have to insert what I think about it...

Screw Star Wars. George Lucas's finest moment (as a director, if not with regard to how much cash he rakes in on a movie) has to be American Graffiti. Basically, American Graffiti is an allegory of what life was like for Lucas as he grew up in Modesto, California in the early 60's. While the movie was released only eleven years after the time period in which it was set (a depiction of the summer of '62, released in '73), the passage of time since then has given it an even greater nostaligic feel. From the old school hot rods to the sock hops to the drive-ins to the music playing on the radio, it's a great glimpse in to what that era was like for those who never got to experience it (myself included). And speaking of the music, this movie's soundtrack blends itself into the movie perfectly, and it especially sets the mood for the "cruising the main drag" scenes. Also, the script has a great sense of humor, and the fact that a lot of the lingo is outdated adds a little unintentional humor as well.

Between the cruising scenes and exploring the main characters' love lives, there isn't exactly a deep plot, but there doesn't need to be. It's a movie that brings back memories if you are old enough to remember the '60's, and if you're not, it makes you wish you could experience life in those days. If you've seen this movie, in a way you already have.

Bottom line: This is the movie George Lucas should be known for, not the Star Wars series. It has a wonderfully nostalgic feel to it, and hey, it's just a cool story. If you haven't seen it, you should.