Monday, September 16, 2013

More American Graffiti (1979)

More American Graffiti is a follow-up to the George Lucas/Francis Ford Coppola classic American Graffiti (1973).  Released six years after the original on which it's based, this movie continues to tell the story of some of the characters we had last seen on that fateful summer night of 1962.  More American Graffiti was written and directed by Bill Norton, although Lucas did co-produce it and almost the entire cast returned to reprise their roles.  Considering that I've claimed American Graffiti to be my favorite film of all time for a few years now, it took me a long time to get around to seeing this thing.  Although nowhere near as timeless or original as its predecessor, I found More American Graffiti to be a thoroughly enjoyable movie which had a lot more going for it than I expected it to have.

While for its time American Graffiti was ambitious to simultaneously follow the paths of four characters and the intertwining adventures they have in one night, More American Graffiti goes even further and simultaneously tells four different stories that occur on subsequent New Year's Eves (1964, 1965, 1966, and 1967).  This approach may sound strange, but it works surprisingly well.  There's also a lot of experimental directing in regards to switching between camera ratios for certain scenes and even piecing together up to three separate frames.  The effectiveness of these camera choices is up to interpretation.  In my opinion, sometimes they suck, and sometimes they look pretty cool and provide a nice psychedelic effect to go along with the late '60s soundtrack.  While I already knew and liked a lot more of the songs I heard in the soundtrack of More American Graffiti than American Graffiti, I still prefer the original's soundtrack because it blended into the setting much more effectively, providing the feel that the songs were playing on the Wolfman's station all night long.  This is just one example of why the loose sequel is not as tightly packed as the original, but for what it is More American Graffiti explores the only logical option it could have: the mid to late 1960s, and it does a pretty decent job at that.

With the exception of Rick Dreyfus and Suzanne Somers, every actor from the original returned to reprise his or her role as either a main character or at least a cameo.  Seeing Debbie followed as a major character in place of Curt was really disappointing at first, but her arc surprisingly maintained my interest.  With the exception of John Milner's drag racing plot, the three other plots delve into the political and social aspects of America's decision to station military in Vietnam.  Yes, Vietnam was officially one of the inspired undertones for the theme of "coming change" and "end of an era" expressed in American Graffiti.  Like it or not, More American Graffiti shows Toad and Joe the Pharaoh stationed in 'Nam, Steve and Laurie unintentionally caught in a war protest, and Debbie and Carol living in a country that has certainly seen dramatic change in the past five years.  The film explores American motivation for invading Vietnam, the backlash of anti-war protesters, police brutality, and the role of an individual citizen within a large-scale democracy.  Nothing new in this regard for Vietnam movies (I think it's all been done before and probably had already been by 1979), but once again the parallel between the youth of the characters and the youth of the nation they live in is part of what gives their struggles such validity and power to engage viewers.

A lot of movie sequels or spiritual successors satisfy both the criteria of being not only unnecessary but also liable to detract from the purity of the original works on which they're based.  Think Stayin' Alive (1983) or S. Darko (2009) for a more modern example.  In the case of More American Graffiti, while I think that it was definitely unnecessary I did really enjoy seeing the lives of these characters I've grown to love a few years down the road.  For me it didn't detract in any way from my view of the original and also made that epilogue after the plane takes off less random and perplexing.  While it substantiated that small afterthought with which American Graffiti concludes and was enjoyable overall, I'd only recommend More American Graffiti if you've seen the original multiple times and really love the characters or for some reason just can't get enough Vietnam movies.

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