Maybe what will keep this film a perennial classic is that it breaks down its own attempt at indulging nostalgia while at the same time rejoicing in a time and way of living in America's history.
That's a great phrase: "breaks down its own attempt at indulging nostalgia". That's exactly what Lucas and the Huyck's had in mind, I think (or maybe not) and the actors execute this concept brilliantly. Later films and TV (Happy Days, Grease
and even Back to the Future
) indulge themselves too deeply, but Graffiti
treads the historical tightrope with aplomb, which is much harder to do with past decades than it is with past centuries. Woody Allen's, Radio Days
also has this sublime quality, though it is slightly more stylized, but not to its detriment.
Upon reflection it seems that, like Casablanca, it's a film that goes beyond its historical context by serving as both a reminder that life requires a constant moving forward, but at the same time we needn't forget what was good about a time in history.
Yes! Magnificent stuff! To borrow a term from Nietzsche, Casablanca
, Radio Days
and American Graffiti
are "supra-historical" works of 20th century art. To be supra-historical is the goal that artists (all exceptional people, really) have for their work, but that is the hardest of tasks. And with films set in the past, the risk of mythologizing events and individuals is run - even something seemingly easy like Gandhi
was botched, as I see it - so to have subtle, poignant films of key eras in American history is something of a triumph, I feel. It's easy to develop a skewed view of recent American history - in fact, most of us still live in the 20th century, metaphysically, so trying to get a grip on it is still very difficult and most of what historians (serious and pop historians) highlight (the wars, scandals, most celebrities) is not of real value for the people of the 21st century. How people lived, their culture, their art, their ideas, their geniuses
are only what really matters, ultimately and that is the supra-historical view of "the Past" and is the healthiest way to view things, I feel. Chronologies should always be avoided, as that is not how anything of value ever seems to progress, ie. there was about 600 years of useless philosophy before Descartes came along and rejuvinated it, yet in the interim, men had the same eyes, ears and brains, so something was obviously amiss. So, if you look at America in the 20th century from a certain perspective, it definitely appears as a glorious and exotic era for mankind. In more simple terms, viewing "History" a
politically can have striking results. Indeed, why ought we always pour politics - or more precisely, "the State" into the mix of History? I have found that it holds together fairly well without it.
In context: The country known as "the United States of America" has an amazing landscape; the people of it (aboriginal included) produced great art, great thinkers, great technology. But, of late, something has gone awry. Look to the past to rectify the future.