If you’ve lived in Modesto for any length of time, chances are you’ve seen or been told you should see “American Graffiti.”
The movie that started it all – “it” being the now city-supported celebration of car culture – gets its annual downtown Modesto screening at the State Theatre this weekend. For the showing, prices are rolled back to $3, to commemorate the movie’s 1973 release. The seminal coming-of-age film from Modesto’s own George Lucas holds a special place in many a Valley resident’s heart, and for good reason.
The film garnered accolades and awards at the time, including the Golden Globe for best motion picture musical or comedy and the nomination for best picture by the Academy Awards. Since then, it has spawned the monthlong classic-car and cruising nostalgia fest throughout the city known as Graffiti Summer.
But, the question remains: What does the movie mean to non-Modestans and newcomers to Graffiti mania? And, for those like me who haven’t seen the film in years, how does it hold up on a repeat viewing?
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First, there was some confusion about what “American Graffiti” actually was. When I mentioned we’d be watching it, the response was, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that movie. And the musical.” A very perplexed pause and scowl from me followed, until I figured out they meant “Grease.” Right, so, possibly we’re not off to the best start.
While shot primarily in Petaluma and some in San Rafael, the Central Valley references are easy to spot. The first, and possibly most unmistakable, is a discussion early in the film as recent high school graduates Steve (played by Ron – then billed as Ronny – Howard) and Curt (played by Richard Dreyfuss) discuss their impending college plans.
“We’re finally getting out of this turkey town, and now you want to crawl back in your cell,” bellows Steve at a reluctant-to-leave Curt.
Oh, George, you know how to hurt us.
But then other, less cutting, Valley touchstones emerge.
“Cut over to G Street!” demands character Curt.
“You new around here; where you from?” inquires Paul Le Mat’s racer John. The girl replies, “Turlock.”
There’s mention of “the JC” and a “canal” and “Paradise Road.” The band came “all the way from Stockton.”
Each new mention makes me point a little excitedly at the screen. But, alas, for those not from here, they proved a tad less thrilling.
They responded more positively, though, to news that Candy Clark, who played blond babe Debbie, and Bo Hopkins, who played Joe, the enforcer of the Pharaohs, return to town each year to be part of the North Kiwanis American Graffiti Car Show, Festival and Parade the weekend of June 10. Hey, everyone loves to see celebrities.
Another thing everyone loves to see is baby-faced celebrities. And this movie has a boatload – or, more accurately, carload – of them. Harrison Ford, Suzanne Somers, Cindy Williams and Mackenzie Phillips, all looking so young and fresh you’d definitely check their IDs before selling them liquor.
What I’d forgotten, and they were keenly aware of, is how slowly the movie tells its story. At almost two hours, “American Graffiti” truly feels like one of those endlessly hot Valley nights. You can practically feel the asphalt radiate as the cruisers circle around in their chrome and steel.
So, what was the verdict? Are they Graffiti crazed like the rest of us? Well, maybe not quite as much as the rest of us. But they sure did like the cars. And, in the end, isn’t that kind of the point?
Catch “American Graffiti” again yourself at 4 p.m. Saturday, June 4, at the State.
Elsewhere around the Scene:
Cafe Shalom, the annual celebration of Jewish culture and food, has been scaled back this year.
The event, which will be called Shalom Deli instead, will be Sunday, June 5, and offer visitors eat-in or takeout lunches. Kosher pastrami sandwiches and deli sides will be available for $15. There also will be a bake sale, and the gift shop at Congregation Beth Shalom will be open. The congregation plans to come back next year with a new and improved Cafe Shalom, its annual Hebrew School fundraiser.
Shalom Deli will be from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Congregation Beth Shalom. For more information, call 209-571-6060.