chapter  8
American Grafti (1973)
Pages 20

At one level, George Lucas’s American Graffiti (1973) is a representative example of a widespread preoccupation with defining – and recovering – ‘Americanness’ in the immediate aftermath of the social and political crisis of the late 1960s. Nostalgic, eulogistic, often cynical, sometimes plain maudlin, American Graffiti also recognizably foreshadows the reaffirmation of a transvalued Americanism that would characterize US culture under the New Right. In fact, the film elaborates key terms in the establishment of a new historical imaginary as a point of departure/point of return for a disenchanted present. A concern, even an obsession, with the images and meanings of ‘America’ typifies many of the films of the Hollywood New Wave, or Hollywood Renaissance, of the late 1960s and 1970s – the period of stylistic experimentation Geoff King (2001) has termed ‘New Hollywood, Version I’ to differentiate this first post-classical era of American cinema from the blockbusterdriven multiplex-orientation contemporary corporate Hollywood. By setting American Graffiti in the context of the ‘critical Americanism’ practised in many of the other most highly regarded New Hollywood films of the 1970s, we can identify both those elements the film shares with its contemporaries, and those it importantly – and influentially – does not.