12/31/2013

MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI

year: 1979 cast: Paul LeMat, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, Cindy Williams, Ron Howard rating: ***
The George Lucas retro classic AMERICAN GRAFFITI showed seven kids cruising a busy Central California boulevard the night of the last day of high school, 1962 – and the sequel spends an entire day and night during New Year’s Eve two years later. 

Since it’s reported at the end of the original that Paul LeMat’s cool cat John Milner – the hot rod James Dean type with the fastest car in town – was killed by a drunk driver in 1964, the sequel’s starting point has all the main characters except Richard Dreyfuss (now a writer in Canada) meeting at a drag race course to cheer on Milner at the tail end of that fateful year.
The gang reuniting in 1964
Thus we follow the surviving characters in other New Year Eve’s throughout the sixties: Terry Toad Philips in Vietnam, 1965; Debbie in San Francisco, 1966; and Steve and Laurie Henderson in 1967.

Let's start with the most conventional characters of the original – Steve and Laurie, played by Ron Howard and Cindy Williams, who were both, at that point, known for their roles on HAPPY DAYS and the successful spin off LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY, are still a bickering couple with kids and a hellish relationship going nowhere but down, down, down.

The unhappily married duo have only wedding rings in common. Laurie wants to work but Steve, an insurance salesman, forces her to stay at home with their bratty kids. This was before Women’s Rights and Laurie wants her independence.
Laurie (Cindy Williams) and Steve (Ron Howard) circa 1967
Speaking of independence, her little brother is a college hippie radical. The campus is part of a violent protest and he calls Laurie to bring his driver’s license, without which he can’t leave the campus and might be shipped off to war.

Laurie, like Jane Fonda in COMING HOME, is unrealistically oblivious to the counter-culture peace movement: at one point she even mentions that the kids should back the President.
Suburban mom Laurie (Cindy Williams) learns about being a hippie
It's quickly obvious the entire purpose of this segment is the predictable character arc of both Laurie and Steve (who eventually has to rescue her): the cops are bad and the students are good.

The only thing truly worthwhile here is the music – the rest is an overly preachy agenda, proving that hippies aren’t very interesting characters: they all look the same, have similar motivations, and don’t stand apart from each other. 

Actually, one hippie does stand apart...
Debbie (Candy Clark) and boyfriend Lance arrested by Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) circa 1966
Candy Clark’s 1966 "Winter of Love" segment is bit more entertaining...

Her jerk musician boyfriend is cheating and the ever-smiling bleach-blonde Debbie accidentally winds up hanging out with a rock band: touring a cowboy bar and other venues throughout a comically hectic day and night.
Split-screen showing Candy Clark and Scott Glenn
A long-haired Scott Glenn plays the lead guitarist, and Debbie only needs to realize: he’d make a much better boyfriend. There’s some decent action sequences involving the bus crashing into a building, and the music here, like Steve and Laurie's tale, is also of the psychedelic genre.

Aesthetically, the use of multi-screen (popular in 1960’s films like MEDIUM COOL, THE THOMAS CROWNE AFFAIR and the WOODSTOCK documentary) attempts to dress up a non-story. 

And Mackenzie Phillips' Carol is all grown up, now named Rainbow and appearing only sporadically: the epitome of a "guest starring" role.
Terry The Toad Philips in Vietnam circa 1965
The best story has Terry "The Toad" Philips in Vietnam. The visual gimmick is seeing everything through what looks to be a grainy 16 millimeter film stock (liken to news reels), with only a box filling the inside of the screen with black surrounding it.

Toad and the former lead Pharaoh Little Jo, played by Bo Hopkins, hang around the muddy barracks or fly around in Hueys, dodging death at every turn (the film opens with helicopters soaring to the song HEAT WAVE).

But Toad just wants to go home through being injured and he just can’t catch a break, literally.
Bo Hopkins partners up with Toad in Vietnam
The copters look cool and are reminiscent of APOCALYPSE NOW, the blockbuster that came out the same year, 1979. 

Perhaps George Lucas, who executive produced this sequel written and directed by Bill L. Norton (director of GARGOYLES), wanted a piece of what he missed out from the Francis Ford Coppola Vietnam War venture, which he was originally connected with.
Huey Copters skim the river
The use of Motown hits (circa 1965) works well during the Vietnam story, jovially contrasting with the bloody battles while the cinematography captures the deep dark green colors of 'Nam. The theme song of John Wayne's THE GREEN BERETS also serves as a caustic anthem for the anti-war proceedings.

Most of the storyline is more befitting M*A*S*H than APOCALYPSE NOW: it’s all about Toad first trying to find a shortcut home and then teaming with a Gung Ho soldier (James Houghton), who eventually realizes war is a living/breathing hell: something Toad knew all along.
John Milner's yellow dragster
Last but not least is the John Milner drag racing story, taking place on and off the crowded and colorful California race grounds...

Milner is a good driver but can’t get a sponsor, and has to win a few quick jaunts in order for corporate-backed teams to take interest.
John Milner with dream girl Eva (Anna Bjorn) circa 1964
Here’s where the best (and really, the only) love story resides. Gorgeous blond model Ana Bjorn plays a naive foreign exchange student named Eva from Sweden… no, Iceland… that hangs around Milner like a lost puppy.

Eva doesn’t speak a lick of English but they have sparks. Ken Place (the cop in THE BIG CHILL and brother of Mary Kay Place, who has a small part) is a worthy antagonist as Milner’s drag strip rival, filling in the shoes of Harrison Ford’s Bob Falfa (turning up as a cop in the Candy Clark segment).
The dragsters prepare to race
The drag strip races aren’t very exciting since the sleek speedsters for a total of five seconds before crossing the finish line, lacking the freewheeling spontaneity of the hot rods in the original.

Plus, Milner doesn't have his entire reputation to lose this time. His character, although very likable, is somewhat pointless throughout, especially since we know his hours are numbered.   

But this is still the second best story, ending with JM's famous yellow Deuce Coupe cruising down the midnight highway towards a pair of oncoming headlights – his death immanent.
John Milner's Deuce Coupe heads for an implied disaster
In many ways this is an unnecessary sequel but it’s nice to see the characters together again, even though they’re mostly apart.

The soundtrack (highlighted by Donovan's "Season of the Witch" followed by Cream, The Grateful Dead, a live appearance by Country Joe and the Fish and concluding with Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone") stands out more than the actual film, and the acting makes it a more than worthy viewing.

So while this visual experience is basically an “eight-foot ballerina,” there are times she can actually dance.
Naomi Judd (far left) sings "Baby Love" with Cindy Williams
Delroy Lindo as an Army Sergeant barking orders at Toad
Mary Kay Place as Eva's friend Teensa
Eva (Anna Bjorn) covers her ears from...
The roar of the dragsters warming up
Paul LeMat as John Milner
Antagonist driver Ken Place with Anna Bjorn
Anna Bjorn's Eva watches Milner race
Mary Kay Place with Anna Bjorn
BUY MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI ON AMAZON

2 comments:

  1. I never thought about Coppola's influence on American Graffiti. Fascinating James

    ReplyDelete
  2. I always thought this movie was never appreciated by the critics,and one of the reasons why is the same reason that a lot of my friends mentioned as well,IE, the movie was confusing because it was hard to follow due to the plot taking place on different New Year's Eve nights. When you think about it though, this movie is easier to grasp as you watch it than Quintin Tarantino's classic Pulp Fiction, where the opening scene is also the ending, followed by the rest of the movie where John Travolta gets killed and then is "reborn", yet PF gets no negative comments. At least in "More" the "N" word isn't bantered about like the typical QT movies are.

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