Thursday, January 27, 2011


American Graffiti

American Graffiti

Film poster by Mort Drucker
Directed byGeorge Lucas
Produced byFrancis Ford Coppola
Gary Kurtz
Written byGeorge Lucas
Gloria Katz
Willard Huyck
StarringRichard Dreyfuss
Ron Howard
Paul Le Mat
Charles Martin Smith
Cindy Williams
Candy Clark
Mackenzie Phillips
Harrison Ford
Suzanne Somers
CinematographyJan D'Alquen
Ron Eveslage

Haskell Wexler
Editing byVerna Fields
Marcia Lucas
StudioUniversal Pictures
The Coppola Company
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date(s)August 11, 1973
Running time108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Gross revenue$118,000,000
Followed byMore American Graffiti
American Graffiti is a 1973 coming of age film co-written/directed by George Lucas, and starring Richard DreyfussRon HowardPaul Le MatCharles Martin SmithCindy Williams,Candy ClarkMackenzie Phillips and Harrison Ford. Set in 1962 Modesto, CaliforniaAmerican Graffiti is a study of the cruising and rock and roll cultures popular among the Post-World War II baby boom generation. The film is a nostalgic portrait of teenage life in the early 1960s told in a series of vignettes, featuring the story of a group of teenagers and their adventures within one night.
The genesis of American Graffiti was in Lucas's own teenage years in early 1960s Modesto. He was unsuccessful in pitching the concept to financiers and distributors, but finally found favor at Universal Pictures after United Artists20th Century FoxColumbia PicturesMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Paramount Pictures turned him down. Filming was initially set to take place in San Rafael, California, but the production crew was denied permission to shoot beyond a second day. As a result, most filming for American Graffiti was conducted in Petaluma.
American Graffiti was released to universal critical acclaim and financial success, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Produced on a $775,000 budget, the film has turned out to be one of the most profitable movies of all time. Since its initial release,American Graffiti has garnered an estimated return of well over $200 million in box office gross and home video sales, not including merchandising. In 1995, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film culturally significant and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.


High school graduates and longtime friends Curt Henderson, Steve Bolander, John Milner, and Terry "The Toad" Fields meet at the local Mel's Drive-In parking lot. Despite receiving a $2,000 scholarship, Curt is undecided if he wants to leave the next morning with Steve to go to the Northeastern United States to begin college, while Milner plans on staying in Modesto. Steve lets Toad borrow his 1958 Chevy Impala for the evening and while he will be away at college. Steve's girlfiend Laurie, who is also Curt's younger sister, is unsure of Steve leaving, to which he suggests they see other people while he is away to "strengthen" their relationship.
Curt, Steve and Laurie go to the local sock hop, while Toad and Milner begin cruising. En route to the hop, Curt sees a beautiful blonde girl in a white 1956 Ford Thunderbird. She mouths "I love you" before disappearing down the street. After leaving the hop, Curt is desperate to find the mysterious blonde, but is coerced by a group of greasers ("The Pharaohs") through an initiation rite that involves hooking a chain to a police car and successfully ripping out its back axle. Curt is told rumors that The Blonde is either a trophy wife or prostitute, which he immediately refuses to accept.
Steve and Laurie break up after a series of arguments, and Milner inadvertently picks up Carol, an annoying teenybopper. Toad, who is normally socially inept with girls, meets a flirtatious and somewhat rebellious girl named Debbie. Meanwhile, Curt learns that DJ Wolfman Jack broadcasts from just outside of Modesto, and inside the dark, eerie radio station, Curt encounters a bearded man he assumes to be the manager. Curt hands the manager a message for The Blonde to call him or meet him. As he walks away, Curt hears the voice of The Wolfman and realizes he had been speaking with him.
The other story lines intertwine until Toad and Steve end up on "Paradise Road" to watch Milner race against the arrogant Bob Falfa, with Laurie as Falfa's passenger. Within seconds Falfa loses control of his car and plunges into a ditch. Steve and Milner run to the wreck, and a dazed Bob and Laurie stagger out of the car before it explodes. Distraught, Laurie grips Steve tightly and tells him not to leave her. He assures her that he has decided not to leave Modesto after all. The next morning, Curt is awakened by the sound of a phone ringing in a telephone booth, which turns out to be The Blonde. She tells him she might see him cruising tonight, but Curt replies that is not possible, because he will be leaving. At the airfield, he says goodbye to his parents, his sister and friends. As the plane takes off, Curt gazes out of the window, seeing the white Ford Thunderbird, which belongs to the mysterious Blonde.
Prior to the end credits, an on-screen epilogue reveals that John was killed by a drunk driver in December 1964, Terry was reported missing in action near An Lộc in December 1965, Steve is an insurance agent in Modesto, California, and Curt is a writer living in Canada.



John Milner (Paul Le Mat) is confronted by Officer Holstein (Jim Bohan)



During the production of THX 1138 (1971), producer Francis Ford Coppola challenged co-writer/director George Lucas to write a script that would appeal to mainstream audiences.[1] Lucas embraced the idea, using his early 1960s teenage experiences cruising in Modesto, California. "Cruising was gone, and I felt compelled to document the whole experience and what my generation used as a way of meeting girls," Lucas explained.[1] As he developed the story in his mind, Lucas included his fascination with Wolfman Jack. Lucas had considered doing a documentary about The Wolfman when he attended the USC School of Cinematic Arts, but dropped the idea.[2]
Adding in semi-autobiographical connotations, Lucas set the story in 1962 Modesto.[1] The characters Curt Henderson, John Milner and Terry "The Toad" Fields also represent different stages from his younger life. Curt is modeled after Lucas's personality during USC, while Milner is based on Lucas's teenage drag racing and junior college years, and hot rod enthusiasts he had known from the Kustom Kulture in Modesto. Toad represents Lucas's nerd years as a freshman in high school, specifically his "bad luck" with dating.[3] The filmmaker was also inspired by Federico Fellini's I Vitelloni (1953).[4]
After the financial failure of THX 1138, Lucas wanted the film to act as a release for a world-weary audience:[5]
"[THX] was about real things that were going on and the problems we're faced with. I realized after making THX that those problems are so real that most of us have to face those things every day, so we're in a constant state of frustration. That just makes us more depressed than we were before. So I made a film where, essentially, we can get rid of some of those frustrations, the feeling that everything seems futile."[5]

[edit]United Artists

After Warner Bros. abandoned Lucas's early version of Apocalypse Now (1979) (during the post-production of THX 1138), the filmmaker decided to continue development on Another Quiet Night in Modesto, which he eventually changed to American Graffiti.[2] To co-write a fifteen-page film treatment, Lucas hired Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, who also added semi-autobiographical connotations to the storyline.[6] In attempting to use the treatment to attract financing, Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz began pitching American Graffiti to various Hollywood studios and production companies,[1] but they were unsuccessful. Financiers believed music licensing issues would distract the film's budget. Alongside Easy Rider (1969), American Graffiti represents one of the first films to avoid a traditional film score approach and successfully rely on scenes specifically synchronized to an assortment of songs.[7]
THX 1138 was released in March 1971[1] and Lucas was offered opportunities to direct Lady Ice (1973), Tommy (1975) or Hair (1979). He turned down the offers, determined to pursue his own projects, despite his desperation to find another film to direct.[8][9] During this time, Lucas conceived the idea for an untitled space opera, which would later become the basis for his Star Wars franchise. At the May 1971 Cannes Film FestivalTHX was chosen for the Directors' Fortnight competition. There, Lucas met David Picker, then president of United Artists, who was intrigued by American Graffiti and Lucas's as-yet-untitled space opera. Picker decided to give Lucas $10,000 to developGraffiti as a screenplay.[8]
Lucas intended to spend another five weeks in Europe and hoped that Huyck and Katz would have a screenplay by the time he returned, but they were about to start on their own film, Messiah of Evil (1972),[6] so Lucas hired Richard Walter, a colleague from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Walter was flattered, but instead tried to pitch Lucas a screenplay called Barry and the Persuasions, a story of East Coastteenagers in the late 1950s. Lucas held firm - his was a story about West Coast teenagers in the early 1960s. Walter was paid the $10,000, and he began to adapt the Lucas/Huyck/Katz treatment into a screenplay.[8]
Lucas was dismayed when he returned to America in June 1971 and read Walter's script, which was written in the style and tone of anexploitation film. "It was overtly sexual and very fantasy-like, with playing chicken and things that kids didn't really do," Lucas reasoned. "I wanted something that was more like the way I grew up."[10] Walter's script also had Steve and Laurie going to Nevada to get married without their parents' permission.[4] He redrafted the screenplay, but Lucas fired Walter over creative differences.[8]
After paying Walter, Lucas had exhausted his development fund with United Artists. He began writing the script, completing his first draft in just three weeks. Drawing upon his large collection of vintage records, Lucas wrote every scene with a musical backdrop in mind.[8] The cost of licensing the 75 songs Lucas wanted was a contributing factor in United Artists' ultimate rejection of the script, which the studio also felt was too experimental - "a musical montage with no characters." United Artists also passed on Star Wars, which Lucas shelved for the time being.[9]

[edit]Universal Pictures

Lucas spent the rest of 1971 and early 1972 trying to raise financing for the American Graffiti script.[9] During this time, 20th Century Fox,Columbia PicturesMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount Pictures all turned down the opportunity to co-finance and distribute the film.[11]Lucas, Huyck and Katz rewrote the second draft together, which, in addition to Modesto, was also set in Mill Valley and Los Angeles. Lucas also intended to end American Graffiti showing a title card detailing the fate of the characters, including the death of Milner and the disappearance of Toad in Vietnam. Huyck and Katz found the ending depressing and were incredulous that Lucas planned to include only the male characters. Lucas argued that mentioning the girls meant adding another title card, which he felt would prolong the ending. Because of this, Pauline Kael later accused Lucas of chauvinism.[11]
Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz took the script to American International Pictures, who expressed interest, but ultimately believed American Graffiti was not violent or sexual enough for the studio's standards.[12] Lucas and Kurtz eventually found favor at Universal Pictures, who allowed Lucas total artistic control and the right of final cut privilege on the condition that he make American Graffiti on a strict, low budget.[9]This forced Lucas to drop the opening scene, in which the Blonde Angel, Curt's image of the perfect woman, drives through an empty drive-in cinema in her Ford Thunderbird, her transparency revealing she does not exist.[13]
Universal initially projected a $600,000 budget, but added an additional $175,000 once producer Francis Ford Coppola signed on. This would allow the studio to advertise American Graffiti as "from the Man who Gave you The Godfather (1972)." However, Lucas was forced to concede final cut privilege. The proposition also gave Universal first look deals on Lucas's next two planned projects, Star Wars (1977) andRadioland Murders (1994).[12] As he continued to work on the script, Lucas encountered difficulties on the Steve and Laurie storyline. Lucas, Katz and Huyck worked on the third draft together, specifically on the scenes featuring Steve and Laurie.[14]
Production proceeded with virtually no input or interference from Universal. American Graffiti was a low-budget film, and executive Ned Tanenhad only modest expectations of its commercial success. However, Universal did object to the film's title, not knowing what "American Graffiti" meant;[14] Lucas was dismayed when some executives assumed he was making an Italian movie about feet.[11] The studio therefore submitted a long list of over 60 alternative titles, with their favorite being Another Slow Night in Modesto[14] and Coppola's Rock Around the Block.[11] They pushed hard to get Lucas to adopt any of the titles, but he was displeased with all the alternatives and persuaded Tanen to keep American Graffiti.[14]



The film's lengthy casting process was overseen by Fred Roos, who worked with producer Francis Ford Coppola on The Godfather.[6]Because American Graffiti's main cast was associated with younger actors, the casting call and notices went through numerous high school drama groups and community theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area.[3] Among the actors was Mark Hamill, the future Luke Skywalker in Lucas' Star Wars trilogy.[13]
Over 100 unknown actors auditioned for Curt Henderson before Richard Dreyfuss was cast. George Lucas was impressed with Dreyfuss' thoughtful analysis of the role,[3] and, as a result, offered the actor his choosing of Curt or Terry "The Toad" Fields.[13] Roos, a former casting director on The Andy Griffith Show, suggested Ron Howard for Steve Bolander. Howard reluctantly accepted the part in attempting to avoid his typecasting as a child actor.[3] Bob Balaban turned down The Toad out of fear of typecasting, a decision which he later regretted. Charles Martin Smith was eventually cast in the role.[15]
Although Cindy Williams was cast as Laurie Henderson, the actress hoped she would get the part of Debbie Dunham, which ended up going to Candy Clark.[6] Mackenzie Phillips, who portrays Carol, was only 12 years old, and under California law, producer Gary Kurtz had to become her legal guardian for the duration of filming.[13] As Bob Falfa, Roos cast Harrison Ford, who was then concentrating on a carpentrycareer. Ford agreed to take the role on the condition that he would not have to cut his hair. The character has a flattop haircut in the script, but a compromise was eventually reached whereby Ford wore a stetson to cover his hair. Producer Francis Ford Coppola encouraged Lucas to cast Wolfman Jack as himself in a cameo appearance. "George Lucas and I went through thousands of Wolfman Jack phone calls that were taped with the public," Jack reflected. "The telephone calls [heard on the broadcasts] in the motion picture and on the soundtrack were actual calls with real people."[14]
Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith were the only two real teenage principal actors of the film. Being 19 and 18 respectively.


Although American Graffiti is set in 1962 Modesto, California, Lucas believed the city had changed too much in 10 years and initially choseSan Rafael as the primary shooting location.[13] Filming began on June 26, 1972, however, Lucas soon became frustrated at the time it was taking to fix camera mounts to the cars.[16] A key member of the production had also been arrested for growing marijuana,[11] and, in addition to already running behind the shooting schedule, the San Rafael City Council immediately became concerned about the disruption that filming caused for local businesses and had therefore withdrawn permission to shoot beyond a second day.[16]
Petaluma, a similarly small town approximately 20 miles north of San Rafael, became more cooperative and American Graffiti moved there without the loss of a single day of shooting. Lucas convinced the San Rafael City Council to allow two further nights of filming for general cruising shots, which he used to evoke as much of the intended location as possible in the finished film. Shooting in Petaluma began on June 28 and proceeded at a quick pace.[16] Lucas mimicked the filmmaking style of B movie producer Sam Katzman in attempting to save money and authenticated low budget filming methods.[13]
The San Francisco Mel's Drive-In restaurant used in the film had been closed and was reopened specifically for filming. It was demolished after American Graffiti was completed.[13]
In addition to Petaluma, other locations included Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco,SonomaRichmondNovato and the Buchanan Field Airport in Concord.[17] More problems ensued during filming. Paul Le Mat was sent to the hospital after an allergic reaction to walnuts. Actors Le Mat, Harrison Ford and Bo Hopkins were often drunk between takes and had conducted climbing competitions to the top of the localHoliday Inn sign. One actor set fire to Lucas' motel room. Another night, Le Mat threw Richard Dreyfuss into a swimming pool, gashing his forehead on the day before he was due to have his close-ups filmed. Dreyfuss also complained over the wardrobe that Lucas had chosen for the character. Ford was arrested one night while in a bar fight and kicked out of his motel room. In addition, two camera operators were nearly killed when filming the climactic race scene on Frates Road outside Petaluma.[18]Principal photography ended on August 4, 1972.[17]
The final scenes in film, shot at Concord Field, feature a Douglas DC-7C airliner of Magic Carpet Airlines which had previously been leased from owner Club America Incorporated by the rock band Grand Funk Railroad from March 1971 to June 1971.[19][20][21]


Lucas considered covering duties as the sole cinematographer, but dropped the idea.[13] Instead, he elected to shoot American Graffiti using two cinematographers (as he had done in THX 1138) and no formal director of photography. Two cameras were used simultaneously in scenes involving conversations between actors in different cars, which resulted in significant production time savings.[16] After CinemaScopeproved to be too expensive,[13] Lucas decided that American Graffiti should have a documentary-like feel, and shot the film usingTechniscope cameras. He believed that Techniscope, an inexpensive way of shooting in 35 mm film and utilizing only half of the film's frame, would give a perfect widescreen format resembling 16 mm. Adding to the documentary feel was Lucas's openness for the cast to improvisescenes. He also used goofs for the final cut, notably Charles Martin Smith's (Toad) arriving on his scooter to meet Steve outside Mel's Drive-In.[22] Jan D'Alquen and Ron Eveslage were hired as the cinematographers, but filming with Techniscope cameras brought lighting problems. As a result, Lucas commissioned help from friend Haskell Wexler, who was credited as the "visual consultant".[16]


Lucas wanted to have wife Marcia edit American Graffiti, but Universal executive Ned Tanen insisted on Verna Fields, who had just finishedSteven Spielberg's The Sugarland Express (1974).[18] Fields worked on the first rough cut of the film before she left to resume work on What's Up, Doc? (1972). Following Fields's departure, Lucas struggled with editing the film's story structure. He had written the script so that the four (Curt, Steve, John and Toad) storylines were always presented in the same sequence. The first cut of American Graffiti was three-and-a-half hours long; and, in removing an hour and a half, numerous scenes were cut and many others were shortened and combined. The film became increasingly loose, with the result that the presentations of scenes no longer resembled Lucas's original "ABCD structure."[22] At 112 minutes, Lucas completed his final cut of American Graffiti in December 1972.[23] Walter Murch assisted Lucas in post-production for audio mixing and sound design purposes.[22] Murch suggested making Wolfman Jack's radio show the "backbone" of the film. "The Wolfman was an ethereal presence in the lives of young people," said producer Gary Kurtz, "and it was that quality we wanted and obtained in the picture."[18]


Lucas's choice of background music was crucial to the mood of each scene, but he was realistic about the complexities of copyright clearances and suggested a number of alternative tracks. Universal wanted Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz to hire an orchestra for sound-alikes. The studio eventually proposed a flat deal that offered every music publisher the same amount of money. This was acceptable to most of the companies representing Lucas's first choices, but not to RCA - with the consequence that Elvis Presley is conspicuous by his absence from the soundtrack.[9] Clearing the music licensing rights had cost approximately $90,000,[18] and as a result there was no money left for a traditional film score. "I used the absence of music, and sound effects, to create the drama," Lucas later explained.[23]



Despite unanimous positive praise at a January 1973 test screening, which was attended by Universal executive Ned Tanen, the studio threatened to re-edit American Graffiti from George Lucas's original cut.[23] Lucas and producer Francis Ford Coppola began conflicting with Universal, to which Coppola offered to literally "buy the film" from the studio, insisting he was prepared to reimburse Universal's $775,000 budget.[17] 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures also gave similar offers to the studio.[2] The conflicts between Lucas and Universal only led to the studio threatening to have William Hornbeck completely re-edit American Graffiti.[24]
When Coppola's The Godfather (1972) won the Academy Award for Best Picture in March 1973, Universal decided to cut only three scenes (about four minutes) from Lucas's cut. This included Toad's encounter with a fast-talking car salesman, an argument between Steve and his former teacher Mr. Kroot at the sock hop, and Bob Falfa's effort to serenade Laurie with "Some Enchanted Evening". However, Universal believed that American Graffiti, in its edited form, was only fit for release as a television movie.[17]
Positive word of mouth came from various employees at Universal[17] and the studio dropped the TV movie idea and began securing theaters in Los Angeles and New York for a limited release.[7] However, Universal presidents Sidney Sheinberg and Lew Wasserman found out about the critical praise in LA and New York, and the marketing department rejuvenated their promotion strategy for American Graffiti,[7] by investing an additional $500,000 in marketing and promotion.[2] The film was released in the United States on August 1, 1973 to sleeper hitreception.[25] American Graffiti, which cost $1.27 million to produce/market, yielded a worldwide box office gross that topped $55 million.[26]Outside America, however, the film had only modest success, but acquired cult film recognition in France.[24]
Universal reissued Graffiti in 1978 and earned an additional $63 million, totalling $118 million for the two releases.[2] The reissue includedstereophonic sound,[26] and the additional four minutes that the studio had removed from Lucas's original cut. All home video releases also included these scenes.[17] At the end of its theatrical run, American Graffiti had one of the lowest cost-to-profit ratios of a motion picture ever.[2] Producer Francis Ford Coppola regretted having not financed the film himself. Lucas recalled, "He would have made $30 million on the deal. He never got over it and he still kicks himself."[24] It was the thirteenth-highest grossing film of all time in 1977,[25] and, adjusted for inflation, is currently the forty-third highest.[27] By the 1990s, American Graffiti had earned more than $200 million in box office gross and home video sales.[2] In December 1997 Variety reported that the film had earned an additional $55.13 million in rental revenue.[28]
Universal Studios Home Entertainment first released the film on DVD in September 1998,[29] and once more as a double feature with More American Graffiti (1979) in January 2004.[30]
Aside from the four minutes originally deleted from Lucas' original cut retained, the only major change in the DVD version is the main title sequence, particularly the sky background to Mel's Drive-In, which was redone by ILM.

[edit]Critical analysis

American Graffiti went on to receive universal critical acclaim. Based on 33 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 97% of the critics enjoyed the film with an average score of 8.3/10. The consensus reads: "One of the most influential of all teen filmsAmerican Graffiti is a funny,nostalgic, and bittersweet look at a group of recent high school grads' last days of innocence."[31] Roger Ebert praised the film for being "not only a great movie but a brilliant work of historical fiction; no sociological treatise could duplicate the movie's success in remembering exactly how it was to be alive at that cultural instant."[32]
Jay Cocks of Time magazine wrote that American Graffiti "reveals a new and welcome depth of feeling. Few films have shown quite so well the eagerness, the sadness, the ambitions and small defeats of a generation of young Americans."[33] A.D. Murphy from Variety feltAmerican Graffiti was a vivid "recall of teenage attitudes and morals, told with outstanding empathy and compassion through an exceptionally talented cast of unknown actors."[34] Dave Kehr, writing in the Chicago Reader, called the film a brilliant work of popular art that redefined nostalgia as a marketable commodity, while establishing a new narrative style.[35]


The 1962 setting represents an end of an era in American society and pop culture. The musical backdrop also links between the early years of rock and roll in the mid-late 1950s (i.e. Bill Haley & His CometsElvis Presley and Buddy Holly) and the early 1960s British Invasion. The setting is also before the outbreaks of the Vietnam War and the John F. Kennedy assassination.[6] American Graffiti evokes mankind's relationship with machines, notably the elaborate number of hot rods and teenagers' obsession with radio. The inclusion of Wolfman Jackalso adds a mysterious and mythological analysis of teenage life in 1962. American Graffiti depicts multiple characters going through acoming of age, such as the decisions to attend college or reside in a small town.[6]


American Graffiti was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, but lost to The Sting (1973). Further nominations at the 46th Academy Awards included Best Director (George Lucas), Best Original Screenplay (Lucas, Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz), Best Supporting Actress (Candy Clark) and Best Film Editing (Verna Fields and Marcia Lucas).[36] The film won Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) at the 31st Golden Globe Awards, while Paul Le Mat won Most Promising Newcomer. Lucas was nominated for Best Director and Richard Dreyfuss was nominated for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.[37] More nominations included Cindy Williams by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for Best Actress in a Supporting Role,[38] Lucas for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing,[39] and Lucas, Huyck and Katz by the Writers Guild of America for Best Original Comedy.[24]


Internet reviewer MaryAnn Johanson acknowledged that American Graffiti rekindled public and entertainment interest in the 1950s and '60s, and influenced other films such as The Lords of Flatbush (1974) and Cooley High (1975) and the TV series Happy Days.[40] Alongside other films from the New Hollywood era, American Graffiti is often cited for helping give birth to the summer blockbuster.[41] The film's box office success made George Lucas an instant millionaire. He gave an amount of the film's profits to Haskell Wexler for his visual consulting help during filming, and to Wolfman Jack for "inspiration". Lucas's net worth was now $4 million, and he set aside a $300,000 independent fund for his long cherished space opera project, which would eventually become the basis for Star Wars (1977).[17]
The financial success of Graffiti also gave Lucas opportunities to establish more elaborate development for LucasfilmSkywalker Sound, andIndustrial Light & Magic.[26] Based on the success of the 1977 reissue, Universal began production for the sequel More American Graffiti(1979).[2] Lucas and writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz later collaborated on Radioland Murders (1994), also released by Universal Pictures, for which Lucas acted as executive producer. The film features characters intended to be Curt and Laurie Henderson's parents, Roger and Penny Henderson.[26] In 1995 American Graffiti was deemed culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.[42] In 1997 the city of Modesto, California honored Lucas with a statue dedication of American Graffiti at George Lucas Plaza.[1]
In 1998 the American Film Institute (AFI) ranked it as the seventy-seventh greatest film ever in the 100 Years... 100 Movies list. When the10th Anniversary Edition came in June 2007, AFI moved American Graffiti to the sixty-second greatest film.[43] The movie was also listed as the forty-third funniest.[44] Director David Fincher credited American Graffiti as a visual influence for Fight Club (1999).[45] Lucas's Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) features references to the film. The yellow airspeeder that Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobiuse to pursue the bounty hunter Zam Wesell is based on John Milner's yellow deuce coupe,[46] while Dex's Diner is reminiscent of Mel's Drive-In.[47] Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of MythBusters conducted the "rear axle" experiment on the January 11, 2004 episode.[48]
Given the popularity of the film's cars with customizers and hot rodders in the years since its release, their fate immediately after the film is ironic. All were offered for sale in San Francisco newspaper ads; only the '58 Impala (driven by Ron Howard) attracted a buyer, selling for only a few hundred dollars. The yellow Deuce and the white T-bird went unsold, despite being priced as low as US$3,000.[49] The registration plate on Milner's yellow deuce coupe is THX 138 on a yellow California license plate, slightly altered, reflecting Lucas's earlier science fiction film success.

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As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.

"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.

Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.

He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.

Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."

Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.

Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


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