American Graffiti

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Think Dazed and Confused set in The Fifties (or pre-hippie era Sixties if you want to be technical about it.)

American Graffiti is a 1973 Coming of Age film based on director George Lucas' memories of growing up in The Fifties (actually the very early Sixties, which had much more in common with The Fifties than The Sixties) and he thus manages to cram in as much Popular History as possible. Of course, he was one of the first to do this. The film was produced by Lucas's friend and fellow filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, who was just coming off his success with directing The Godfather. It follows a bunch of High School kids as they spend the night after their graduation goofing around, getting into trouble and contemplating their futures all while listening to Nothing but Hits. No, there really is no plot. Get over it.

The movie has a lesser-known sequel, More American Graffiti, which was set in The Sixties and supposedly "made all of ten cents".


Tropes used in American Graffiti include:
  • American Title
  • Anachronic Order: Extreme aversion, as Lucas actually filmed all of the scenes in chronological order. Ron Howard took this as a slur on their professionalism until Lucas explained that he wanted the characters to look increasingly tired as the night went on.
  • As Himself: Wolfman Jack.
  • Auto Erotica
  • Cool Car: Pretty much all of them. Even Curt's Citroën, which is sort of presented as The Alleged Car in the context of the film, looks impossibly boss at this late date.
  • Cool Big Sis: Horribly averted with Carol's big sister Judy. Seriously, who let's their younger preteen sister ride off with some strange older guy?
  • Cool Old Guy: The omnipresent DJ Wolfman Jack, who gives Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) some advice towards the end.
  • Date Rape Averted: Variation. John Milner wasn't interested in Carol. But in order to get her address so he could bring her home, he faked coming on to her.
  • Dawson Casting: The only exception is for Mackenzie Phillips, who was 12 at the time of filming and played a 13 year old girl.
  • Don't Do Anything I Wouldn't Do: Terry jokingly tells Curt this when seeing him off at the airport at the end.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Terry "Toad" Fields.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The whole film takes place over the course of a single night.
  • The Fifties: Set in 1962, but the fashions, music, etc. reflect the 1950s, since real-life aesthetics and attitudes of course don't follow actual decades.
  • Freudian Slippery Slope:

Debbie: That's bitchin' tuck-and-roll! You know, I really love the feel of tuck-and-roll upholstery.
Terry: Yeah? Well, get in and I'll let you feel it...I mean, you know, you can touch it...uh...I'll let you feel the upholstery.

  • Hassle-Free Hotwire: Toad attempts one of these to retrieve Steve's stolen car, but it backfires when the thieves catch him in the act.
  • High School Dance: Choreographed by Toni Basil, no less.
  • If We Get Through This: In More American Graffiti, Joe tells Toad he's going to make him a Pharaoh when they get back home from Vietnam. Then he's killed by a sniper's bullet.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Curt distracts an arcade owner with small talk while the Pharaohs take the money from his pinball machines. After they leave:

Joe: You just might make it as a Pharaoh yet, boy!
Owner: Someday he'll make a fine Moose.

  • Life Will Kill You: John Milner in More American Graffiti.
  • Magnum Opus: George Lucas thought this award-winner would be his. After this movie's success gave him official cred as a real movie producer, Star Wars was a fun "throw-away" project nobody (including him) expected to have more than a niche audience. The narration in original trailer for A New Hope called Lucas "the man who brought to you American Graffiti".
  • Malt Shop: Mel's Drive-In
  • The Merch: There's a line of American Graffiti die-cast model cars. Selections include a Dodge Aries.
  • Mooning: A young woman flashes her bare ass at Toad while out on the strip.
  • No Name Given: The official, credited name of Suzanne Somers' character is "Blonde in T-Bird".
  • Nostalgia Filter
  • Nothing but Hits: The whole movie is scored from end to end with Fifties pop hits. Notably absent is Elvis, whose licensing proved too expensive. (As it was, a large chunk of Lucas' budget for the film went toward acquiring music rights for the soundtrack.) Later Lucas would finally afford the rights to use an Elvis song, "Hound Dog" in the fifth Indiana Jones movie, set in 1957.
    • Possibly to compensate for the fact that the film took place in the early sixties, but pretty much was the fifties; The Beach Boys (who came to prominence in the early '60s) are heard on the radio and even discussed by John and Carol. Showing the changing attitudes of the early '60s, the jaded and older John hates their surf music and bemoans what is happening to rock after the 1959 death of Buddy Holly, while the younger Carol thinks they are "boss".
      • Ironically, that had the opposite effect. Many people now think of surf music (and by extension, all music from before 1964) as '50s music (when in reality there were only 3 surf songs released prior to 1960, and they were more like doo-wop anyway).
  • Popular History
  • Random Events Plot
  • Seemingly-Wholesome Fifties Girl
  • Shout-Out: Milner's license plate number: "THX 138".
  • The Sixties: When the movie really takes place. It's just the style of the New Frontier has yet to replace the cruising culture in that part of the country and it's too early for Beatlemania.
  • Spiritual Successor: Happy Days, kind of.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: With Dreyfuss opting out of More American Graffiti, we're introduced in that film to Curt and Laurie's previously-unmentioned younger brother Andy.
  • Teacher-Student Romance: It is implied at the school's dance that one of these is occurring between a male teacher and a female student, but since the characters aren't really important, it's never delved into.
  • What a Drag: The greaser gang known as the Pharoahs talk about tying Curt to the bumper of their car and dragging him around for the crime of sitting on the hood.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue: Given some of the characters' fates, it's a Downer Ending as well. All these events are shown, in detail, in the sequel:
    • John Milner ends up having a car crash on New Year's Eve (originally June) 1964.
    • Terry "Toad" Fields joins the Army and is reported missing-in-action in December 1965.
    • Steve Bolander is still living in Modesto, and is an insurance agent.
    • Curt Henderson is now a writer living in Canada.
  • White Gang-Bangers: The Pharaohs appear to be a mixture of white and Latino kids.