So, there are a couple of things I do, that, uncharitably, annoy me when other people do them.
It drives me crazy when someone is talking about a well-known book/movie/etc. and someone else just has to bring up a related but (relatively) more obscure book/movie/etc. and tries to pass it off as "better" than the better known work in some way - more authentic, more complex, more direct, more accomplished, etc. "Who has the more obscure taste?" is a game that gets played with unfortunate frequency within pop-crit circles. Like: you're trying to talk about Pet Sounds but I can't shut up about Surf's Up.
I bring this up because I am about to do just that and I want to let you know that I know how irritating this can be.
I first saw American Graffiti over 12 years ago. I enjoyed it, but I wasn't blown away by it and I remembered it as being limp: George Lucas's nostalgia was a little too sticky and his characters a little too nice.
But I never really gave the movie much more thought, until I (much later) saw The Hollywood Knights, which I fell in love with in that special way I reserve for thoroughly disreputable movies. I mean, for most movie buffs, Hollywood Knights would be, at best, a kind of guilty pleasure. For me, though, Hollywood Knights is a desert island movie.
Hollywood Knights is - pretty shamelessly - an American Graffiti rip-off. But (and here it is) from the first time I saw it, I couldn't help but feel that this movie was American Graffiti done right. The whole early 60s, SoCal teenage scene in Hollywood Knights seemed more lively and more specifically observed and drawn - more true-to-life - than the way Lucas mythologized it in American Graffiti.
But as time passed, I started wondering if my memory was trustworthy on this movie. I mean, although my admiration and appreciation of Hollywood Knights was genuine, I didn't know if I was making out American Graffiti to be worse then it really was in order to prop up an obscurity I clicked with at the expense of a popular near-classic.
Was my mind playing tricks on me?
Well - I decided to record American Graffiti on my DVR a few weeks ago because (1) my girlfriend had never seen it and I thought it was something she might like and (2) I had grown suspicious of my memory of the movie. Maybe I had just started telling people I thought it was "overrated" as part of the contrarian pose I often like to take to stir up argument, er, discussion.
If anything, I remembered a better movie than what I saw.
(I think) Hollywood Knights really is a livelier movie and one that has a stronger sense of time and place, without pandering (all that much) to its audience's nostalgia. Knights is raunchier and funnier, too.
I was unimpressed by the performances in American Graffiti. Paul Le Mat would later play the same role better in another Mutrux flick, Aloha, Bobby and Rose, and Dreyfuss, electric playing the unlikeable lead in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, is just cute and smug here.
But here's the Big Thing That Bugged Me:
Now, I know George Lucas is a car nut (the one and only conversation I ever had with him was about race cars), but he shoots the cars in this movie like they're parading down Main Street on the way to a classic car show. None of the driving - except (maybe) for the final showdown between Le Mat and Harrison Ford - seems real.
So, I'm tempted to draw a comparison to Lucas's later Star Wars efforts: he sets up all these pretty toys that he seems to care about a lot, but he struggles when he tries to do anything interesting with them. Or maybe: he doesn't even care if he does anything interesting with them - for him showing the cars/spaceships/aliens/etc. might just be enough.