American Graffiti was a coming of age film produced in the 1970’s giving a nostalgic view of the easy early 1960’s. When cars were boss, chicks were found crusin’ and life was a gas. Set to a 70’s score of Surfer Rock and Doo Wop this film painted a picture of America in the calm before the storm. Shot oddly close to Altamont Racetrack, which would later be a deadly icon of turbulent 60’s, the film traces the lives of young privileged youth on their last night of summer before they have to move forward into adulthood.
The themes in George Lucas’s first major film conjure up for me an innocence that has gone meandering in search of feeling something or transitioning into something. The Lucas as Writer – Director crafted characters reflect a time when Americas are unsure of themselves because that generation has never had to make tough decision before.
They push themselves into causing havoc based on the law enforcement pestering they have received the last few years. They see cars as a status symbol and sex symbol. Drag racing is the culmination of those feelings into a power – articulated through a 454 four barrel loaded into a little deuce coop. With the headers unplugged.
The story pokes fun at lust while only slightly seriously talking about love. They courtship of youth is manifested and supported by radio DJ’s who controlled the airways of the cars. The test of love, patience, friendship and manhood are done through pranks. The button down madras shirts and the above the calf skirts show that sexuality is still a kid’s game.
The evils of alcohol are comically played up while the adults seem oblivious. The gangs of faux toughies mock the 1950’s style where the type of jackets on their backs is more important than having each other’s backs. And all the while they sit by waiting to see the revolution be televised. Not knowing that Kent State, Yippies, deaths of John, Martin & Bobby, Woodstock, Vietnam and Nixon will have them all chanting – the whole world is watching, the whole world is watching.
Tommy is a rock opera, where all the script is sung lyrics did not just come to age, they launched out of the womb and into our faces. The irreverent and aggressive nature of British have and have not’s society, captured the 1970’s perspective of the decadent late 60’s with perfection. Director Ken Russell’s first major film created a feeling of music as the mind-altering substance that could set people free of the rules of society, which bound them to be a proper Englishman and women.
Performed as rock opera, writer, composer and The Who lead guitarist Pete Townsend was able to articulate the innocence of British youth, profiled in the lead character, being pummeled by drugs, sex, TV, fame and fortune making them grow up faster because they had to. Society was racing ahead in the baby boom of a warm coastal southern England. Tommy pulled no punches when articulating that rock and roll music was power. Concerts were fuses to mayhem and roadies took pride in bashing those, which did not follow the rules or had an infatuation with the star.
The provocative wardrobe of musicians, side kicks, celebrity parents and back stage floozies were visualized in stripped down madness and titillating leather, spandex and leopard print. When societies fascination with Pinball as a drug was explored and exploited, it made the game a landscape even for all competitors – where the deaf, dumb and blind could succeed. The game, as a script point, was inspired by a mutual love of the game by the composer and an influential rock critic. So even the creation of Tommy displayed the decadent using of people to get what they want. For The Who it was fame and fortune and artistic recognition.
The decadent late 60’s era displayed how drugs and alcohol begin the brake down the sanctity of marriage. Where the loyalty and oaths of commitment were brushed aside for the gratuitous sexual activity that became rampant in the early 1070’s. Where the deviance of peep shows, homosexuality and bondage began to brake down the cultural barriers of normalcy.
The dichotomy of the 60’s generation broadened greatly just within 1965 to 1969, in the time a student could graduate from high school or college. Money was paramount in Tommy where even the messiah like lead character was over commercialized but the honored scholarship in American Graffiti was almost ignored. Fame was exploited through live telethons in one film but secretly hidden in out of way radio station in the other. The sexual revolution was televised with full frontal in Tommy but in American Graffiti it was fumbled with in the back seat. Champagne and limos outdid the hard liquor and hot rods. The gangs in Tommy were brutes and killers for fun and sport, compared the gangs of American Graffiti were in gangs just for the jackets.
American Graffiti was one of the first films to eschew a traditional film score and successfully rely instead on synchronizing a series of popular hit songs with individual scenes. Its soundtrack mirrored the themes, feelings, attitudes, hopes and dreams of society. Tommy crafted a mind-expanding experience of music and art thanks to The Who’s innovative approach. Combining major music stars to augment the showcasing of Roger Daltrey begat a cultural commentary in chords and measures. The Rock Opera genre became a vehicle for bands to express their passion, fears, rage and lust. Rock and roll became an instigator of and a reflection for the youth of the 60’s. As Danny and Juniors put it:
“Rock ‘n roll is here to stay,
It will never die
It was meant to be that way,
Though I don’t know why
I don’t care what people say,
Rock ‘n roll is here to stay.”