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Thursday, September 10, 2009

American Graffiti as the Boiler Plate For High School Movies

Even though the "High School" movie really didn't take off until the 80s with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the now late John Hughes' immaculate The Breakfast Club, George Lucas', yes George Lucas' American Graffiti is the one that started them all. I always feel uncomfortable when I say something nice about him after what he's done to my childhood memories. For now, I'll just be thankful there were no extra Imperial Walkers chasing around Opie Cunningham added into this one.

Some of the most rewatchable movies are those that have no plot, and it's just watching characters make it through a day, and if you look at all the great high school movies, they all follow the path this one led. The characters have some experiences throughout a day or two and maybe something big happens at the end, as in this case, there was a race. You don't watch this movie for that race though, so it's hard to call it a climax. Some may frown on a movie with no climax, but watch how all these high school movies work.

The next major one is Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and again, it's a fantastic character study. Some characters go throughout some changes their senior year and there's a big dance at the end. Again, the dance isn't the major climatic event, nor is the store robbery or that nerdlinger falling in love. Woah, there though, I forgot ... climatic scene ... Phoebe Cates ... coming out of the pool ... I'll be back in 10 minutes.

The Breakfast Club doesn't have one either, and it's especially not that dancing/Emilio Estevez shouting down a mirror scene. That part is the exact opposite experience that I ever had getting high growing up. I've never understood why that had to happen. At the end of the movie, Anthony Michael Hall writes a smart ass essay, and that's really it. People may or may not find a prom date, but whatever relationships start at the end of that movie I guarantee don't last long. Unfortunately now that John Hughes has died, I guess we'll never know how long Claire and Bender stayed together in The Breakfast Club 2, but hats off to a filmmaker who makes a mockumentary on where the characters are now (not the actors ofcourse because who cares?)

Dazed and Confused (which is a TOTAL ripoff of American Graffiti, but somehow still great) has a big kegger in the park party. You have that kid who can't act, Jason London I believe, who crumples up paper and throws it at his coach. That's the big topper in that one, that and Aerosmith tickets. No climax. Again some people get laid, some don't. That punk kid never gets it, though it's nice to see that Ben Affleck does. That's it though.

Lastly, the most recent great high school film that came out would be Superbad. They try to make the final party that scene, but it's not. The first hour of this movie is so intelligently written, yes intelligently (it's a A+ script for the most part), that by the time the dark of night arrives, the movie loses some momentum, so it never attains that "OH SHIT" moment.

All of these though are fantastic films, and they owe it all to George Lucas (vomit vomit vomit).

The only part of American Graffiti I don't like, is when it's over and they tell you where the characters are "now", and two of them end up dying tragically. One dies in a car accident and one dies in Vietnam. Way unnecessary. A movie that doesn't have any drama in it can't have post-ending tragic moments. When Fast Times at Ridgemont High tried it, Spicoli ended up having Van Halen play at his birthday party, not getting eaten by a shark during a surfing contest. Jonathan Bender wasn't doing 20 for holding up a liquor store at the end of The Breakfast Club, even though that was the most likely outcome for him. Wooderson doesn't die of a coke overdose at the end of Dazed and Confused and McLovin doesn't die in the War on Terror in Superbad. Even though many may make sense in a realistic sort of way, they're just not that movie.

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