The first coming-of-age ensemble comedy in American movies? George Lucas’s sublime evocation of a midwestern 1962 of cars, rock ’n’ roll radio, and lost subadults, American Graffiti certainly established the timeless stereotypes of that post-graduation summer night that everyone experiences, from the high school sweethearts (Ron Howard and Cindy Williams) confronting college and separation, to the itchy smart kid (Richard Dreyfuss) who doesn’t know if college is what he wants, to the hopeless dweeb (Charles Martin Smith) looking only to score, to the cool dropout hood (Paul LeMat) who cannot adjust to the real world. Roaringly funny and bittersweet.
If you were there, in the theaters in the summer of 1975, you’ve got Jaws in your DNA. Stephen Spielberg‘s film was the last truly communal movie experiences—everyone saw it, twice, and afterward everyone had a new relationship with the beach. But put the man-eating giant monster shark aside for a moment, and you’ve got full-on, real-to-the-touch Atlantic beach community life, back when people listened to transistor radios in the sand and used suntan oil. The actors’ clothes even seem creased with sand and salt air.
The year 1962 was still the 1950s in George Lucas’s small California burg, where, for some, Buddy Holly’s death marked the end of something grand, and the looming threat of the draft and Vietnam meant that something else entirely was on its way. How could the antiseptic overlord of the Star Wars industry have thunk up something so charming, spontaneous, idiosyncratic, and humane? A 1970s masterpiece, this film marks the beginning of an entire culture phenomenon: retro cool.