My father passed away over a year ago this last August. There have been a few of these posts that have been difficult for me. “The Cowboys” and “Blues Brothers” come to mind.
This one will be another challenge.
Every time I think of this next movie, I think of my dad. We were only able to watch it together one time, unfortunately. I think that the reason being was that it was hard for him to watch it with other people.
He was a man that had a hard time letting go of his past self. I might be reading into this (I’m sure I’m going to hear it from my sister if she happens upon this), but it is how I feel.
Make no mistake, even though we only saw it one time together, my father L-O-V-E-D this movie.
My mom and my uncles used to tell me stories about my dad’s 67 cherry red GTO that he used to “rod” and race when he was in high school. It had a 400 in it and he had a pair of brass knuckles for the handle of the manual gear shift.
I was told he loved it.
My father was a man of few words and if someone else was willing to talk about it while he was in the room, he’d let them. I used to look over at him when other people were telling his stories. He always had a mischievous grin under his big beard as he listened sitting in his chair with his arms crossed.
He used to talk about what a mistake it was to ever let that GTO go.
“Man, I could kick myself,” he’d say.
As it pertains to “American Graffiti” I always felt that my dad was reliving his own life when that VHS was spooling through the machine that projected those images of the cars driving around that town in that movie.
It wasn’t just the racing that brought him back (there’s really only one quick scene). It was the culture that was relived in that movie. I can’t think of a movie off hand that knew it’s own tone better than this one, and it never surrenders that message throughout.
The dialogue alone gave my dad flashbacks:
“Don’t you think the Beach Boys are boss?”
“Hey, man, who cut the cheese?”
“…it only took me one night to realize if brains were dynamite you couldn’t blow your nose.”
People don’t talk like that any more. The “assumed innocence” that oozed from the 1960s bled out all over the screen after George Lucas created “American Graffiti.”
For my father, this was as nostalgic for him as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “War Games,”Back to the Future,” etc. (you all know where to find the list) 😉 were for me.
I think that as much as he enjoyed it, he wanted to watch it alone where he could reminisce in his own mind.
I remember randomly taking some looks back at my father as he would watch on and he had some tears in his eyes, in moments through the film that seemed out of place. I think that the movie just moved him very closely and “took him back”…and he knew he really couldn’t “go back.”
Later I remembered asking my dad why he got rid of his red GTO.
“Well son, I wanted to get married and have a family. That wasn’t a family car and as much as I miss it, I’d never keep that damn thing if it meant I couldn’t have you guys.”
As I sit writing this and choking back some tears, I remember thinking how corny that sounded to me when I was in junior high. All it does is make me want to cry now. Looking back, it was a rare moment where my father was trying to have an honest conversation with me about how he felt. Now that I have a son of my own, I understand it.
At the end of the day, “American Graffiti” is a great movie that I will watch hopefully many more times before I pass.
I love the atmosphere, the dialogue, and the “young” actors (Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Charles Martin Smith, and Harrison Ford) that had the energy and zeal that this 1960s portrayal needed.
Trying to explain scenes and plot points in this movie would not only do it injustice, it would confuse the hell out of everyone.
I remember when my parents first rented it. I asked them what it was about and they couldn’t really explain it. They just kept saying, “It’s about the 60s,” and “You’ll just have to watch it.”
We did watch it…
…and they were right.
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