Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the film sequel More American Graffiti.
More American Graffiti, starring Paul LeMat, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Universal Pictures, 1979
Like a lot of commercial ventures, cinematic or otherwise, success can make one hunger for more, more of the same. Sometimes things work out with sequels, and sometimes not. That latter is the case here with, More American Graffiti, the sequel to the 1973 generation of ’68 coming of age classic American Graffiti. The premise of the former was simple enough; evoke to a then just slightly older version of that generation of ’68 images (sometimes painful, sometimes comic) from a collective past. Such classic early 1960s milestone events as cruising (car cruising, of course, in California, and even in my Podunk hometown), looking for the heart of Saturday night, or looking for something, the eternal school dance looking for that certain he or she, the bouts down lovers’ lane, the first fumbling attempts at underage drinking and the always permanent teen angst of trying to figure out where you stood and why in a world you didn’t create and didn’t look like you were going to have any say in. And it did not have to be reflections on the last night before heading off to college (the subplot of the original) to have experienced all those things.
Enter, More, which has a far more diffuse plot spread out over four New Year’s Days beginning in 1964 and in four far flung locales following the exploits of most of the original cast of characters as they try to stake their claims to adulthood. This is far, far less effective than the original and the reason is kind of obvious. Those latter experiences have no collective glue to hold them together like those high school years did. If one were to take a survey, I would hazard to guess, of the central forming experience and the one looked back at most fondly (even if it was actually hell going through) high school would top the charts. That was the premise behind the old (ancient now) Classmate. com concept where one could note that even people with advanced degrees choose to group first with their long ago high school class. Go figure.
Beyond go figure though this film, the details of which I will not bore the reader with, the four alternating segments that make up the film actually represent important experiences for my generation, that self-same generation of ’68. Every town, including my old home town of Olde Saco up in Maine had a Johnny Car, a guy whose whole existence revolved around making his souped-up car go just a little bit faster on those late night deserted back roads “chicken runs,” where once and for all it was decided who was king of the golden age of the automobile night. In our town in my time it was Jeanbon LeClerc whose 1964 green Mustang could not be beat until it was one foggy October night by another guy who’s’57 Chevy just blew old Johnny away. Hell, he never got a chance to get over it. He died later than night going 120 MPH (clocked by the pursuing police on that one) just over the town line. RIP Jeanbon.
Every town, certainly every working class town, as was the case with Olde Saco filled with grateful immigrant French-Canadians who worked in the town’s dying textile mills, had its share of young couples fresh out of high school, not going to college but just eager to get out from under the family’s thumb (the hard Gallic Roman Catholic mother enforced thumb, you tell your own mother version, okay) and eager to set up their own household. Just like my friend’s sister, Lorraine LaCroix and Lauren D’Amboise, who had a child after they had been married six months (oops, I was not supposed to write that so forget I said it)
Every town, certainly every working class town, had it draft-eligible, non-student, non-objector, non-essential industry young men eager (yes, eager in the early days, the Green Beret warrior-hero days) or forced (court house forced either go “in the service” or go do a year in somewhere like Shawshank Prison) to go to Vietnam to protect home and hearth from the “commies.” Yes there is a memorial in Olde Saco with more than enough names on that granite slab to testify that, F-C or old-time Yankee, Olde Saco had done it bit. That list includes my best high school friend, Jean Jacques, and, no tears, my younger brother, Prescott.
And every town, although during the time frame of the movie, clearly not every working class town, had its contingent of those who I have called elsewhere the seekers of the great American West night. Those who were influenced, second- hand and late (news didn’t travel very fast to the back roads then even with television) by the “beats” (beloved on the road Jeanbon Kerouac above all) and by being just slightly different. Those who found themselves on the great acid-etched psychedelic hitch hike highway seeking, well, seeking. And winding up flush against the Pacific Ocean rim of the world in San Francisco in the summer of love, 1967 version, and “on the bus” with Captain Crunch’s magical mystery tour yellow brick road adventure. That was the fate of one Joshua Lawrence Breslin then known as the Prince of Love and by no other name.
So yes the collective experience of the generation of ’68 can be explored in film but not in such far-flung spots as drug-addled San Francisco, death hole Pleiku (Vietnam), home town Olde Saco, or some bloodied back road highway one. For that more collective glue is necessary.