Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Johnny California: AMERICAN GRAFFITI

 by JB

Let us now praise Fathom Events... and once again grow soggy with nostalgia.

I cruised to the drive-in, uh... multiplex last week in my 1962... make that 2012 Chevy, well, Mercedes, to see the latest Fathom Event screening, American Graffiti.

NOTE: This was not the monthly “Movie Classics” screening hosted by Leonard Maltin. That was Enter the Dragon for the month of August and played two weeks ago.

This was a bonus Fathom Events screening, celebrating the film’s 50th anniversary.

JOHN GOODMAN: “So many social engagements, so little time.”
I have noticed that in my newly adopted home of Modesto, ah, er... Oxnard, California, more people actually attend these screenings than back in the suburbs of Chicago. Just two weeks ago in my theater of choice, Enter the Dragon had a large appreciative audience of about 50 patrons, some of them whistling and humming the film’s main theme on their way out of that screening. Last week, I’d say my screening of American Graffiti was attended by between 30 and 40 people. This may explain why Fathom has been leaning in on the classic screenings lately. This is a positive trend. More on that later.

THE PLOT IN BRIEF: Four young men, freshly out of high school (Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Paul LeMat, and Charles Martin Smith) spend one more summer night trying to decide the rest of their lives before fate takes them to a variety of destinies.

I must say that I felt acute “Old Codger Syndrome” while watching this film on the big screen the other night. I first saw it the night it opened in 1973; I was eleven years old, and the film presented a tantalizing glimpse into the adventures that the post high-school world had to offer. Now, I am 61 years old, more than 40 years removed from my own summer following high school. My first reaction after the screening was, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” I was bowled over by the film’s originality, freshness, humor, poignancy, and beauty. I laughed, I cried, I kissed 10 Bucks goodbye.
I have always been impressed by the film’s script, penned by Gloria Katz and Willard Hyuk. It’s a kind of “Teen Odyssey,” where the four storylines are allowed to wander and intersect in a seeming random fashion, until the end of the film when the astute viewer will notice just how clever and controlled the wanderings and intersections have been. This is, after all, a George Lucas film; he is not known for his improvisational looseness.

Like most classic films, this one contains a dozen delightful turns by great character actors in supporting parts: Bo Hopkins, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Philips, Harrison Ford, Terence McGovern, Kathleen Quinlan, Del Close, Kay Lenz, Joe Spano, Debralee Scott, Suzanne Somers, and of course, the howlin’, prowlin’ Wolfman Jack.

The jokes still work. The big “stunt” sequence with the police car still wows modern audiences. The performances are still fresh. In fact, Fathom treated movie audiences to a helping of audition footage after the film proper. The unlucky actor who was not cast as Terry the Toad had his face blurred during an extended improv with him, Dreyfuss, Howard, and LeMat. The highlight though, was seeing Cindy Williams’ audition. It’s the scene where she begrudgingly dances with Ron Howard at the high school hop. There’s Cindy Williams, all of 26 and still holding her script. She is magnificent and plays the scene exactly as she would later when filming began. I could see George Lucas on set, telling Williams, “Just do what you did in your audition.” It’s that close.
NOTE: When the lights came up after the audition footage ran, I discovered that just one other gentleman and I had actually stayed for the bonus materials. What, were the other members of our audience bonus-phobes? Did they all have 9:00pm dinner reservations? Did a preponderance of them have to relieve the babysitter? Sheesh.

Fathom has a full slate of deliciousness planned for the rest of the year. I am glad that these ersatz reparatory screenings are popular enough to continue.

NOTE: Some theaters don’t play every Fathom offering. I wish my local theater of choice would just show every single one, but they don’t. I must sometimes go forth to such exotic locales as Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, and Ventura... in order to see them.

They Live, Tomorrow Night, September 6
Christine, September 10 and 13
Stop Making Sense in IMAX, September 11*
Rain Man, September 17 and 20
The Exorcist, October 1 and 4
House of 1000 Corpses, October 8 and 11
The Funhouse, October 21, w/ Patrick Bromley at the Elk Grove Cinema, IL*
The Birds, October 22 and 23
The Tingler, October 26, Music Box Theater, Chicago*
Phantom of the Paradise, Oct. 26, w/ Patrick at the Tivoli Theater, Downers Grove, IL*
Scarface (1983), November 12 and 15
A Christmas Story, December 10 and 13

I will see you at the movies.

*= not Fathom


  1. Great write-up! Any time someone brings up AG I am legally obligated to state how I've never identified more with a film character than I do with Curt Henderson.

  2. I wonder if it’s a litmus test of some kind to see which character you identify with… or does everyone identify with Curt? Would anyone who identifies with Toad or Falfa admit it?