We are looking back 40 years ago to the events of Summer 1979: Los Angeles passed its Gay Civil Rights bill, the Susan B. Anthony dollar was introduced and Michael Jackson released his breakthrough album Off The Wall. Don’t buy into the idea that Hollywood’s recycling of past hits is a new trend made just for our own 21st century tastes. It was all about sequels and remakes 40 years ago, Summer 1979. There was the continuation of American Graffiti, Rocky and James Bond stories; and another version of the world’s most famous vampire tale.
Summer movie season got bigger over the years, by the 1980s every weekend featured at least one huge event film, but four decades ago, box-office records weren’t busted every week and the biggest films didn’t disappear within a few weeks. One of the biggest hits of the 1979 summer season was More American Graffiti.
Two years after Star Wars, George Lucas decided on sequel to the 1973 film that launched his career, this time letting Bill L. Norton direct. Most of the original cast returned, including Ron Howard and Harrison Ford, who became big stars after American Graffiti, plus Candy Clark, Paul Le Mat, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips, and Charles Martin Smith. Richard Dreyfuss was the only principal cast member from the original film not to appear in the sequel. It was the last film where little Ron Howard played a credited, named character, before he moved on to other things.
This story takes place on four consecutive New Year’s Eves from 1964 to 1967, depicting scenes from each of these years, each with a distinct cinematic style. For example, the 1966 sequences echo the documentary film Woodstock (1970) using split screens and multiple angles of the same event simultaneously on screen; the 1965 sequences, set in Vietnam, are shot hand-held on grainy super-16 mm film designed to look like war reporters’ footage. The film attempts to memorialize the 1960s with sequences that recreate the sense and style of those days with references to Haight-Ashbury, and includes the important elements from the period, including drugs, the Women’s Rights movement and the Vietnam War.
The soundtrack, with tracks from the period covering the genres of Surf, Rock & Roll, Pop Rock, Soul, and Garage Rock, is awesome. There is darkening and deepening of the themes and characters from the first film, with stoned mumbling giving way to a long shot of helicopters in Vietnam against the majestic backdrop of Martha And The Vandellas’ Heat Wave. The film is still juxtaposing pop music and cars, only this time the context is a more ominous. That sequence is sort of like one from another Summer 1979 film Apocalypse Now, a film that began as a directorial project for Lucas.
More American Graffiti is like a drive-in theatre simultaneously running a light-hearted drag-racing exploitation movie, a dark, satirical war comedy, a swinging rock comedy about the counterculture, and another, the culture-clash collision comedy between the squares and long-haired hippies. These disparate films don’t always come together, but that’s kind of the point: More American Graffiti is about the fracturing of culture, and the exciting and terrifying freedom of that came from that splintering.