Sunday, June 1, 2014

Flick Pick: American Graffiti

American Graffiti
(Universal, 1973)

"Nobody in this business knows nothing." - William Goldman, screenwriter

In the early 1970s, a young would-be filmmaker was struggling. Warner Brothers had turned down his treatment of an idea for a Vietnam movie called Apocalypse Now; United Artists had given him $10K which he'd used to hire a friend from film school to write a screenplay based on cruising and picking up girls in his youth in Modesto. The friends' screenplay was an atrocious exploitation film, and our hero fired him, but not before the screenplay had soured United Artists on his idea for the film, and any chance of funding his backburner idea for a sci-fi space opera. So he wrote the screenplay himself in three weeks, writing the scenes as he listened to his vintage record collection from back in the day (summer of 1962, in fact), and convinced Universal to give the story and the soundtrack idea a shot. It lacked the sexuality and violence they were looking for, but when Francis Ford Coppola signed on to produce it, they coughed up a bare-bones budget of less than $800K, and George Lucas directed only his second feature (of a career total of six feature films), American Graffiti. The rights to the soundtrack songs cost $90K of the budget, precluding a separate score. Originally arguing that it needed a new title, and had to be re-cut, and even planning to dump it off as a TV movie, Universal eventually relented to pressure from producer Francis Ford Coppola and director Lucas, and opened the movie in limited release at the end of the summer. It raked in $55M. And launched three hit TV shows, the adult acting careers of Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Suzanne Sommers, and the old man of the cast, the then 30-year-old Harrison Ford. In re-releases and video sales (when they came along a few years later), it eventually grossed over $190M, and Lucas was nominated for Oscars for writing and directing, and the film for Best Picture, winning none, but becoming the original summer teen movie, and a watershed glimpse into the last moments of innocence for an entire generation.

Thus we kick off Summer Movies.

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