[1973] American Graffiti

Nostalgia is a hell of a marketing technique. It, as a concept, can be sufficiently disaggregated so that each person’s experience is both universal and personal. Lots of new media relies on the unreachable past. There exists, as I’ve written about before, a term called sonder, which means nostalgia for a time not one’s own. Midnight in Paris captures this feeling to the letter, and commodifies it so that its message can be bought and sold by the very people it aims to placate with dreams of subservience to the artistes de La Belle Époque. Nostalgia is also overwhelming. Instead of inspiration, nostalgic media inspires selective memory, further confusing past narratives. Drowning in nostalgia is akin to a drug-induced coma. Here’s the trick for those who insist on capitalizing on it: rinse and repeat. People will become nostalgic of their own nostalgia.

That’s where, in 1973, George Lucas sold middle-aged Boomers on a “better” time, some ten years earlier, before fake war and realpolitik took generations of Americans to dirt futures. The concept is bizarre, because presumably these very Boomers lived this era, perhaps not as wantonly as the four underdeveloped kids, but they very much existed and had formed their own memories of 1962. Remember, 1962 was the apex year of postwar prosperity for an average American kid. The question for Lucas and his producer, somehow Francis Ford Coppola, is not what they should write the movie about, it’s who is this movie for, exactly? Was it a dopamine insult for Americans who couldn’t stand having family and friends napalming Cambodians and systematically picked off near Hanoi? Was a movie going to suddenly placate the hippies? The answer, in short, is totally, absolutely, and exactly. Here’s a mind-blowing number: in 2019 dollars American Graffiti would have made $800 million on a budget of just over $4 million. This movie made an overwhelming amount of money selling a truly empty version of American Life. Continue reading

[1977] The Goodbye Girl

The film everyone (everyone) remembers from 1977 is Star Wars, the film that launched a thousand nerds. Nerdity has come into vogue in the 2010s, an epoch when it’s cool to be smart and high schoolers are emulating Elon Musk, not Justin Bieber (my god, I’m guessing – hoping). Star Wars was everything science fiction both was and wasn’t. Still camp – echoing for eternity Bill Shatner’s Star Trek saga, but Star Wars added the concept of high-stakes adventure and characters with which the everyman could identify in unlikely hero, Luke Skywalker, chip-on-the-shoulder Han Solo, strong, reasonable Princess Leia and for some, hairy and loyal Chewbacca. The story has lived on nearly four decades and five-plus(!) sequels, not to mention thousands of syndications and millions in product opportunity. The film most perfectly reflected the tail end of the Second Golden Age Of Filmmaking (1969-1977) and most succinctly represented the ethos of the late 70s.

But Star Wars did not win Best Picture in 1977. Instead the honor belongs to Annie Hall, a Woody Allen comedy that may have accomplished what Star Wars did – but brought the concepts down to Earth, rather than to Tattooine. Annie Hall reminds us of the humorous side of the late ’70s. Julia provided the drama and the boundary push and The Turning Point is mostly irrelevant. The Goodbye Girl had the unfortunate circumstance of landing smack in the middle; humorous and relatable, but relatively tame and un-challenging. This predicament – the average among the best – is not unique, but it has left many films in relative obscurity…some great, some not. Besides Dreyfuss’ wacky, inspired performance, this movie should stick its way as the one of best average films to have been nominated for Best Picture. Continue reading