"American Graffiti" is coming to Hitching Post Theaters.
From Sept. 17-21, you can see "American Graffiti," from 1973 (Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard). Written and directed by George Lucas, filmed up in the north valley, this was the surprise hit of 1973. In fact, Universal let this completed movie sit on its shelf for six months sure that with no stars in it, it would flop. But it didn’t.
And its effect on the future was considerable. Without it, there would be no “Happy Days” TV series, probably no Harrison Ford, and certainly no "Star Wars." But, believe me, this fun and meaningful look at those last precious days of summer before we head off to college or real life stands very much on its own. What’s more, this particular classic in the Hitching Post’s current list stands here, in Tehachapi, better than any of the others. Instead of Mel’s Drive-in we have the Sonic, but other than that difference, it could have been filmed right here — or in any number of other small San Joaquin Valley towns.
But location isn’t the only familiar thing — familiar in a good way. Most of the characters are to, and again, in a good way. They have the warm spark of reality burning inside. And for good reason, many of the main characters represent different stages of George Lucas' younger life. Curt is modeled after his personality during USC, while John Milner is based on his teenage street racing and junior college years, and the hot rodders he had known from the Kustom Kulture in Modesto. Terry "The Toad" Fields represents his nerd years as a freshman in high school, specifically his dating miseries. That, then, is the point of this movie. We can all relate. As the film unfolds, we can all find ourselves in at least one of the characters. I was Steve, the Ron Howard character, wanting to leave home, have great adventures, but then, at the last minute … well, you’ll see. And, of course, in my bedroom at night I definitely related to Wolfman Jack, especially when I was trying to grow a beard.
Some might argue against the film’s relevance. They might say these were simpler times. They were. There was no Vietnam yet, drugs weren’t the invasive problem they are now, when kids got home from school there was a family there, generally, and we got more exercise — we had to get up to change the channel on our black and white TVs. The times may have been simpler, but there were still risky decisions to make, futures to grab at, and dreams to pursue — or not.
We see all that here, and we see it all with real humor and warm humanity.
We also see more — cars, lots of cars. When George Lucas made a call to the local car clubs to help out with vintage cars and hot rods, more than a thousand (along with their drivers, of course) showed up. George had the pick of the litter, and believe me, you’ll have a great time experiencing those beauties on cruise night. George and crew had a great time filming them, too. At one point George and another cameraperson were literally strapped to the sides of two cars, each filming their side of a driver to driver rant — and a thrown water balloon that actually missed its mark and led to a great adlib moment for a young actress.
There’s a drag race, too, and lots of other hijinks — my favorite is the police car and pop goes the axle. When you leave the theater you’ll be laughing, because this is a genuinely funny film. But when you get home, and the movie has had time to work its magic on your heart, you’re going to have a very warm feeling there. You will love this movie — its characters, its respect and love for them, and it’s respect and love for you, its audience. There’s a real reason this little movie (it only cost $777,000 to produce) made the equivalent in 2017 dollars $550 Million dollars in the U.S alone — it found the heart of America as it beats in towns like ours.
Take time to experience it. You’ll be very glad you did.
Bill Kritlow is a Tehachapi movie buff.