American Graffiti is a 1973 coming of age comedy-drama film co-written and directed by Modesto, CA native George Lucas, and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Bo Hopkins, Kathleen Quinlan and Harrison Ford. The story is based upon George's own experiences growing up in Modesto, attending Thomas Downey Hi School and cruisin' the streets of downtown Modesto in the summer while listening to Wolfman Jack spin the vinyl discs hits of the day on one of the Mexican Border blaster radio stations.
Set in Modesto, California, American Graffiti is a study of the cruising and rock and roll cultures popular among the Post-World War II baby boom generation. The film is a nostalgic portrait of teenage life in the early 1960s told in a series of vignettes, featuring a group of teenagers and their adventures in a single night in August 1962.
"Graffiti Night" was held on the first Saturday after graduation day which was sometime in the middle of June. The genesis of American Graffiti was in Lucas's own teenage years in the early 1960s in Modesto where the original crusin' took place in downtown Modesto on 10th street between G and K street. Eventually with improvements to McHenry Ave. (State route 108) regular cruisin' moved out on four lane McHenry Ave. The result was Graffiti Night became so popular it attracted cruisers from all over the state many with their restored period cars. The mix of hot June nights, hot vehicles, women and plenty of drinking led to numerous disturbances, including a shooting, forcing law enforcement concerns which finally led to an ordinance prohibiting crusin' in the city.
American Graffiti was released to universal critical acclaim and financial success, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Produced and marketed on a $775,000 budget, the film turned out to be one of the most profitable movies of all time despite being dismissed as ‘a disgrace’ and ‘unreleasable’ by the suits who knew the movie business at the time. American Graffiti not only grossed millions and spawned a wave of pale imitations, but earned a pair of Oscar nominations for George Lucas as both writer and director. Since its initial release, American Graffiti has garnered an estimated return of well over $200 million in box office gross and home video sales, not including merchandising. In 1995, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film culturally significant and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Initially Lucas was unsuccessful in pitching the concept to financiers and distributors, but finally found favor at Universal Pictures after United Artists, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Paramount Pictures turned him down,
Many people have commented on the ingenious use of top rock-n-roll hits that Lucas incorporated into the fabric of the film. But did you know that the reason this was done was because the budget on the film was so small that the filmmakers literally could not afford an original score.
"American Graffiti" was more than just a box office hit - it was a critical hit as well. The film went on to earn five Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Story & Screenplay (based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published) and Best Editing. Candy Clark, by the way, did win the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Debbie.
The American Film Institute selected "American Graffiti" as one of the best 100 films ever made. Other notable awards include a Golden Globe Award for Best Picture and Most Promising Newcomer (male) for Paul Le Mat; a Bronze Leopard awarded by the Locarno International Film Festival to George Lucas; the National Society of Film Critics gave Williard Huyck, Gloria Katz and George Lucas their award for best screenplay; and the National Film Preservation Board added "American Graffiti" to the National Film Registry in 1995.
Director George Lucas; Producer Francis Coppola, Gary Kurtz; Writer George Lucas, Gloria Katz, WIllard Huyck;
Camera Haskell Wexler
Editor Verna Fields, Marcia Lucas;
Music Karin Green (sup.)
Art Dennis Clark.
Reviewed at Directors guild of America, L.A., June 15, '73. (MPAA Rating: PG.)
Curt - Richard Dreyfuss
Steve - Ronny Howard
John - Paul Le Mat
Terry - Charles Martin Smith
Laurie - Cindy Williams
Debbie - Candy Clark
Carol - Mackenzie Phillips
Disc Jockey - Wolfman Jack
Bob Falfa - Harrison Ford
Gang Members - Bo Hopkins, Manuel Padilla Jr., Beau Gentry
Rock Band - Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids
Local radio station KHYV (originally KBOX) sponsored Graffiti-Fest '88 (1988) bringing Chuck Berry, Sha-Na-Na, Freddy Cannon, The Shirelles, The Rivingtons and Wolfman Jack to Modesto for music and fun. The station was playing oldies at the time. The concert was held at Modesto Junior College's football stadium.
Lucas Plaza Statue - Providing a beautiful entrance to the downtown area at "five points" (the intersection of Downey, 17th Street, McHenry Avenue, J Street and Needham Avenue) this bronze statue, dedicated July 11, 1997, features two teenagers from the early 1960s leaning against the fender of a '57 Chevrolet. The plaza is a tribute to Modesto's "most famous son," film director/producer George Lucas, who based his first hit film, American Graffiti on his experiences as a teenager in Modesto.
George Walton Lucas, Jr.
(Click on photo to watch a recent video interview.)