A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1973 – American Graffiti
“Where were you in ’62?”
That says it all.
The Sting may have been the highest grosser of the year, and the film that won all the awards (and be my favorite film of the year), but American Graffiti was the choice. Because, while The Sting looked back to the ragtime era, American Graffiti looked back to the era that all the 70s filmmakers grew up in (50s and 60s). The baby boomer generation. It might be one of the first pure nostalgia films, evoking the sights and sounds of the era (and having a badass soundtrack to boot).
Rebel Without a Cause was the Hollywood version of the 50s. This is the 70s version of the 50s.
It’s a great film. Because, essentially, there is no story here. It’s just a bunch of characters hanging out over the course of a night. And you’re hanging out with them. And that’s what makes it great.
All of these 70s movies also always seem to have great stories about their release. Most great movies seem to have stories about their release. Because undoubtedly, the studio doesn’t see potential in them, and they want to reedit them and they want to dump them on TV or not release them wide, and the filmmakers have to fight for them, and then they start making money, and the studio goes, “Oh, well I guess we should just put it out,” and then they go on to become classics, and somehow the studios never take the hint that, “Maybe we should allow different things to be made.”
Here, with American Graffiti, they wanted to reedit the movie after it was done. Francis Ford Coppola, who produced it, as well as Fox AND Paramount, told Universal they’d just buy the film outright for the price they paid to make it. Universal said no, they were going to reedit. Then The Godfather won Best Picture, and they went, “Well, maybe this Coppola guy knows what he’s talking about.” So they just cut like four minutes from the movie. But then they said, “It’s really only fit to be a TV movie.” So then word of mouth started happening around the studio, and they said, “Fine, we’ll go limited release.” The entire film cost about $2 million total, and made about… 25-30 times that.
The most important thing it did was get people interested in the 50s and 60s. All these TV shows and movies about the era started springing up. (Happy Days, anyone?) This was also one of the movies that helped bring about the blockbuster. Not the film, of course (we’ll get to that one), but one of the early forbearers.
The other thing I love about these 70s movies is that everyone who came out of them went on to become crazy famous. I mean… Charles Martin Smith is in this movie!
And any film with Charles Martin Smith in it is clearly the choice for its year.