Alas for Lucas, THX 1138 had already bombed before it was released to the Temple Theatre. For Warner Brothers furiously cancelled their five film deal with American Zoetrope after seeing THX 1138 for the first time, a cancellation on Thursday, November 19, 1970 known forever after as Black Thursday to Coppola and Lucas. Warner Brothers also asked for all of their development money back, money that had already been spent buying equipment for the new studio, making THX 1138 and developing the four other films in the deal. Thus, Coppola and Lucas found themselves not only not successful and without the nurturing support of Warner Brothers, but in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt at the beginning of the new decade. And willing to work on anything to desperately raise money, no doubt explaining why Lucas was listed amongst the cameramen and THX 1138 co-writer and sound designer Walter Murch amongst the sound crew in the closing titles of the allegorical Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin film, GIMME SHELTER (1970).
Another ominous film, as another cameraman captured the murder of a black concertgoer by a Hell’s Angel ‘security guard’ during the performance of the Rolling Stones at free concert at the Altamont Speedway outside San Francisco at the end of the film, linking Lucas and Murch to real death captured on film twelve years before the TZ disaster. In fact, as at one point early in the day of the fateful Stones performance, a young man who resembled Coppola was seen being clubbed by an irate Hell’s Angel ‘security guard’, it was possible that Coppola was also linked to real death captured on film in GIMME SHELTER. Ominously, this trouble with Warner Brothers again forewarned of bigger and more nightmarish trouble ahead with the TZ disaster (Maxford 11-2 and Pollock 79-106).
Significantly, audiences also did not enjoy the implicit and satirical farewell of Lucas very much. This dislike of THX 1138 was perhaps increased by the fact that the film masterfully combined traits of underground film like innovative sound and visual f/x, disharmonious, disjointed and discordant editing and framing and inspired but bizarre acting to implicitly affirm that Lucas was blasting the doped up youthful underground. Thus, as with METROPOLIS, THX 1138 influenced the look of future allegorical sly fi film art, but was a box office flop when the film was finally and reluctantly released by Warner Brothers on March 11, 1971, fully earning Lucas the Coppola nickname of the Stinky Kid. The greater public also no doubt did not understand that it was blasting Kubrick and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, or connect with its strange imagery, difficult to decipher story and weird characters.
It probably also did not help that when the Charles Manson ‘Family’ trial concluded in L.A. two weeks after the release of the film, Manson and his ‘family’ showed up for his sentencing sporting weird, shaven, white cueball heads that were prominently featured in newspapers and on television. This weird shaven sight may have led audiences to associate the equally shaven white heads of the subterranean denizens of THX 1138 with the ‘Family’ and their murders-including that of model and film actress, Sharon Tate-and convinced them that not only too freaky, but too Squeaky, was THX 1138, causing them to shun the film. Curiously, this Squeaky fear of THX 1138 may have been increased by the odd fact that a Location Sound Technician named Jim Manson was listed in the depressed and downward falling opening titles of the film. Thus, with the failure of THX 1138, the dream of Coppola and Lucas that they could succeed on their own with American Zoetrope and a little help from their friends artistic was almost over before it began.
Not surprisingly, given that other film artists had already began roasting the rebel American Zoetrope dream of Coppola and Lucas, the roasting implicitly continued in the form of bungling and implicitly Lucas and Coppola linked indie New York police detectives, Buddy Russo and Popeye Doyle-played by Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman, respectively-in the allegorical William Friedkin film, THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971). Monte Hellman also implied that he was blasting Coppola and Lucas and their determined attempt to take on and take out Old Hollywood in the symbolic form of the grim and unnamed form of the implicitly Scarecrow linked Driver and implicitly Tin Man linked Mechanic-played by James Taylor and Brian Wilson, respectively-of a Wicked, stripped down, souped up and greyish-black ’55 Chevy and their determined but inconclusive attempt to beat the implicitly Huston linked, tall tale telling and Great Oz and Old Hollywood linked driver of a Yellow Brick Road evoking 1970 Pontiac GTO-played by Warren Oates-in a cross-country race along the Yellow Lined Road from the southwest United States to Washington, D.C. in his openly Ozian themed film, TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971).
Significantly, TWO-LANE BLACKTOP implicitly had an enormous effect on the ex-speed racer Lucas, as its open Ozian theme, its duelling racers-one of them in another Yellow Brick Road evoking car, another in another Wicked black ’55 Chevy-its pentultimate drag race and even its young associate producer, Gary Kurtz, would return in the next allegorical film of Lucas, strongly implying that Lucas was using his second feature film to respond on one level to TWO-LANE BLACKTOP. A film that also brought the world of film art closer to the TZ disaster, as Oates had a bit part as an unnamed soldier driving a Jeep in the allegorical Richard L. Bare directed season one telefilm, ‘The Purple Testament’ (1960), and as Corporal Richard Langsford in the allegorical Alan Crosland jr. telefilm, ‘The 7th Is Made Up Of Phantoms’ (1963), in season five of the TWILIGHT ZONE telefilm series. Curiously, Oates would also go on to be linked forever to the twilit and disastrous year of 1982 by his death on April 3, 1982.
Significantly, the collapse of the Warners deal and the implicit film roasts that Coppola and Lucas received as a result were not entirely bad, as it made the two young film artists more aware of the ruthless and cutthroat nature of the film business and of the major Hollywood film studios. In fact, it was likely that these implicit roasts and the treatment of the two young film artists by Warner Brothers became the subject for a film, for the ruthless and cutthroat nature of New York Mafia families evoked the Hollywood film studios in Coppola’s righteously furious and allegorical film, MARIO PUZO’S THE GODFATHER (1972). This interpretation of this ‘CITIZEN CAIN’ film was underlined by the murder of Lenny Montana’s Luca Brasi, and the failed attempt on the life of Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone, for the scenes evoked Warner Brothers’ attempted destruction of the hopes and dreams of brash Lucas and Coppola, the Don of American Zoetrope. That Lucas was sympathetic to the implicit meaning of these scenes and the film as a whole was underlined by the fact that he created the montage of newspaper articles and images that followed the attempted hit on Don Corleone.
Clearly, Coppola and Lucas were scarred but wiser for the trouble with Warner Brothers, and would treat the major studio families with a more knowing and cautious cunning in the future. Indeed, the sight of Pacino’s college educated Michael Corleone and the returning Duval’s Tom Hagen orchestrating the murders of various Mafia players at the end of the film implied that Coppola and Lucas now aimed to defeat the Old Hollywood studio families at their own game. In fact, Coppola had already indicated that he was committed to attacking and defeating Old Hollywood at its own game by co-writing with Edmund H. North the Oscar winning screenplay for Franklin J. Schaffner’s embattled and indomitable allegorical film, PATTON (1970), which saw George C. Scott’s possibly Huston linked General George C. Patton jr. triumph in battle in the Second World War-and, curiously, be linked to DEMENTIA 13 and Landis via Bart Patton, who played Psycho Billy Haloran.
A link to Landis increased by the fact that Patton’s opening address to the camera at the beginning of PATTON anticipated the fourth wall crashing films of Landis, linking the violence and war loving Patton to the irreverence and chaos loving Landis three years before he arrived on the scene with his first allegorical feature film-and the fatal violence that erupted on a recreated Vietnam War village on the Landis set of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Clearly, the Star Director Wars had begun, and when Coppola and Lucas triumphed like Patton, they would force the Old Hollywood studio families to accept an offer they could not refuse (Kline 61). Just as clearly, with the success of MARIO PUZO’S THE GODFATHER, Coppola and Lucas now had to be careful to avoid being swallowed up by the insatiable and slavering blockbuster beast, as Screamin’ Stephen Edwin King presciently warned in his ominous and allegorical weird tale of terror, ‘The Mangler’ (1972), about an unstoppable, insatiable and implicitly demon possessed blockbuster machine. An insatiable blockbuster beast linked to the Vietnam War and the Twilight Zone, as an allegorical weird tale of terror from King called ‘Battleground’ (1972), from earlier in ’72 had featured a hitman’s desperate battle against a platoon of Vietnam War toy soldiers, a battle that evoked that of Agnes Moorehead‘s unnamed woman against some dimunitive astronauts from Earth in the allegorical Douglas Heyes telefilm, ‘The Invaders’ (1961), from season two of the original TWILIGHT ZONE telefilm series.
As Coppola and Lucas implicitly declared war on the Hollywood studios, Woody Allen implicitly lampooned the surreal oddness of THX 1138 in his allegorical film, SLEEPER (1973), and implicitly threw a few jabs at 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, BARBARELLA and PLANET OF THE APES. Indeed, the robocops of THX 1138 returned in SLEEPER as bumbling robot butlers, an allusion Lucas would return in the Classic Trilogy with the bumbling robot butler form of Anthony Daniels’ famous protocol droid, C3PO. Michael Crichton also implicitly and furiously blasted the hi-tech inhumanity of THX 1138 and Lucas in the personified form of Yul Brynner’s out of control and THX 1138 evoking chrome dome android gunslinger in his allegorical film, WESTWORLD (1973), and with the help of a supportive cast and crew pulled it off, despite being a writer with no training in film. Significantly, like THX 1138, WESTWORLD did have some of the world’s first CGI in the form of ‘…automated image processing’ provided by Information International Inc. and John Whitney jr, setting the stage for the explosion in CGI enhanced film art after the TZ disaster.
With its many allusions to THX 1138, Friedkin also implicitly blasted the film and Lucas that same year in his allegorical film, THE EXORCIST (1973), implying that the first feature film of Lucas was so strange that it had to be exorcised from the Temple Theatre with another allegorical film lest its diseased spirit linger and scare audiences away…forever. Indeed, the fact that the first victim of Linda Blair’s Devil possessed Regan was Jack MacGowran’s film director Burke Dennings implicitly confirmed that Friedkin tried to exorcise the Temple Theatre of cinematic disharmony in THE EXORCIST. Only Sidney Lumet implicitly supported Lucas and THX 1138, favourably likening the uncompromising film art for film art’s sake stance of Lucas to the equally uncompromising refusal of Al Pacino’s NYPD undercover detective Frank Serpico to accept bribes in his allegorical film, SERPICO (1973), underlining his approval with all sorts of nods to THX 1138, and by having Pacino look, talk, act and dress like Lucas throughout the film.
Significantly, as Coppola and Lucas struggled on, another twilit player in the TZ disaster was having his own problems. For, tragicomically, Spielberg had allowed himself to be led away from his last semester of UCLA film school and off into the world of television direction at Universal Studios-then run by notorious and intimidating reputed gangster, Lew Wasserman-by Sid Sheinberg, then head of television production at Universal. Unfortunately, allowing himself to be lured off into the world of commercial and money obsessed television sent a clear message to serious film artists and audiences that Spielberg was more interested in fortune and glory than serious film art, a black cloud that has followed him ever since. Determined to prove audiences and film artists wrong, he threw himself at each of his television assignments, determined to make them so good and so artistic that not only would everyone change their opinion of him, Wasserman would have no choice but to move him to the film art division at Universal.
Ominously for Spielberg, however, his first television assignment was the allegorical telefilm, ‘Eyes’ (1969), the second of three segments of an hour and a half pilot episode for Rodman Edward ‘Rod’ Serling’s new NIGHT GALLERY television series, eerily linking him to Serling and the Twilight Zone from the start. Significantly, the Serling written segment saw Serling and Spielberg dismiss 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY as a desperate attempt by MGM to prop up Old Hollywood, as symbolized by the equally desperate attempt by Joan Crawford’s old, blind, wealthy, wicked and Old Hollywood linked Mrs. Menlo to gain the ability to see by having the eyes of Tom Bosley’s young and Kubrick evoking Sidney Resnick surgically removed from him and surgically implanted in the sockets of Menlo. The fact that this desperate attempt failed miserably and led to Menlo falling to her doom through her apartment window as she struggled to embrace a round blur of the morning sun that evoked the round red eye of HAL throughout 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY made it clear that Serling and Spielberg both believed that 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was a lemon-an anagram of Menlo-that would not help MGM or prevent the collapse of Old Hollywood-or perhaps even the inevitable triumph of television, given that both men chose to use television to make their statement. Indeed, the fact that ‘Eyes’ was filled with nonstop allusions to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY-including a closing shot of the morning sun rising up behind the two towers of the original World Trade Center that evoked the sight of the sun rising over the early man and lunar monolith sentinels in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY-made the satirical and dismissive point of the segment clear.
Unfortunately for Spielberg, however, Barry Sullivan’s Dr. Frank Heatherton, the old doctor with the Hollywood evoking surname who betrayed his Hippocratic oath and broke the law to perform the surgeries on Resnick and Menlo, did so for the sake of money. This reminded audiences and New Hollywood that Spielberg had also betrayed and abandoned film art for fortune and glory at Universal, defeating his allegorical purpose and implying that he would also go down to defeat with a ‘lemon’ of an episode just like Menlo. Indeed, the fact that Serling, who wrote ‘Eyes’, not only chose Spielberg for the assignment but gave Frank Heatherton the same syllable cadence as Steve Spielberg, made that implication clear. Even worse, the RX 7426 on the license plate of the car of Dr. Heatherton almost linked Heatherton and Spielberg-and Serling-to another eerie and ominous memory of the future of the TZ disaster. Curiously, after his telefilm debut in ‘Eyes’, Spielberg implied his support for Lucas in his allegorical telefilm of the week, DUEL.
Indeed, he likened the film long battle that Dennis Weaver’s David Mann had with an intimidating blockbuster monster of a big rig on the desert highways east of L.A. with the battle that Lucas was then currently waging with Warner Brothers over THX 1138. So much so, that DUEL was like a film long version of the desperate chase that ended THX 1138, with Mann in his tiny Cowardly Lion orange box of a 1970 Valiant in the place of THX 1138 in his rocketing white race car, and the monstrous Warner Brothers truck replacing the flying monkey robocops on their pursuing motorcycles. A battle that Spielberg implicitly hoped that Lucas would win by succeeding as a film artist, as Mann used his wiles to triumph over the big rig by luring it off a cliff, in the end. A triumphant ending leading to a sunset as beautiful, humbling, sobering and thought provoking as the sunset that ended THX 1138. A soothing sunset that also reassured Lucas that his fears were groundless, as the truck was found to have no driver in the cab after the fatal plunge.
Ominously for Spielberg, DUEL sent him barrelling full throttle towards a fateful collision with the Twilight Zone. For DUEL was written by ex-TWILIGHT ZONE episode writer Richard Matheson, based on his short story, ‘Duel’ (1970). The massive truck also had an ominously twilit trio of license plates-2471 on the right bumper, 5321 on the left bumper, and WM 3227 on the back bumper-that eerily anticipated the TZ disaster. Weaver also reiterated the twilit link via his appearance as Adam Grant in the allegorical John Brahm directed telefilm, ‘Shadow Play’ (1961), a season two episode of the TWILIGHT ZONE series. Ominously, a year before DUEL, Weaver also appeared as Ward in the allegorical Morrow film, A MAN CALLED SLEDGE (1970), another film that eerily anticipated the TZ disaster and its aftermath.
For the film began with a stagecoach driver accidentally getting his head shot off by a dropped shotgun, anticipating the decapitation of Morrow. In addition, after pulling off a blockbuster gold heist, a group of indie outlaws led by the implicitly Richard Rush linked Luther Sledge-played by James Garner-fought and killed each other over the gold in a way that anticipated the blockbuster jousting amongst the film artists of New Hollywood that preceded the TZ disaster-and the dread allegorical Zone Wars afterwards. In addition, with Claude Akin’s Hooker amongst the gang of outlaws, A MAN CALLED SLEDGE was very twilit, indeed. For Akins played Steve Brand in the allegorical Ron Winston season one telefilm, ‘The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street’ (1960), and Commander William Fletcher in the allegorical William Claxton season three telefilm, ‘The Little People’ (1962), of the original TWILIGHT ZONE series.
As if the links of DUEL to the Twilight Zone were not enough, Spielberg was also ominously linked to future to death and mayhem that year by the allegorical telefilm, ‘Murder By The Book’ (1971), one of the pilot telefilms he directed for the COLUMBO series, starring Peter Falk as the Dante resembling and crime solving, Lt. Columbo. For the murder of Mrs. Melville mystery series writer, James Ferris-played by Martin Milner-by his writing partner, Ken Franklin-played by Jack Cassidy-eerily anticipated the death of Morrow in the TZ disaster-and the death of the reputation of Lucas when he continued to work with Spielberg after the TZ disaster. As for Sam Peckinpah, he implicitly warned the short, slight, bespectacled and clean cut and shaven Spielberg that he was going to have to fight hard to be accepted by the New Hollywood wild bunch in his allegorical and DUEL evoking film, STRAW DOGS (1971).
For the short, slight, bespectacled and clean cut and shaven Jewish mathematician, David Sumner-played by Dustin Hoffman-had to fight to defend himself and his young and attractive blonde wife, Amy-played by Susan George-from an attack on their isolated house in Cornwall by a group of young English thugs who resembled the Monty Python troupe. How fitting that the young Sumner had retreated to the house in Cornwall to get away from the riotous campus life in the Vietnam War protesting U.S. to work on a book about computers, given that Spielberg would join Lucas as a leading proponent of CGI to prevent future set fatalities after the TZ disaster. Old Hollywood veteran John Huston also implicitly blasted the leading New Hollywood whippersnappers the following year in the form of the young yahoos led by Newman’s implicitly Coppola linked Judge Roy Bean who took over and imposed a raucous New Hollywood evoking ‘order’ that was just as bad as the Old Hollywood evoking order on a small and Hollywood evoking Western town in his sarcastic allegorical film, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN (1972).
Thus, the Old Hollywood Masters who learned their trade on set and from the school of Life began to blast the post-secondary film school graduates of New Hollywood, and New Hollywood began to fight amongst themselves. And so the failure of THX 1138 and the collapse of the five picture deal with Warners caused Lucas to remain in miserable poverty and return anxiously to the drawing board. When Lucas was unable to arouse interest in his preferred next allegorical project, APOCALYPSE NOW-a film that was originally his before the movie was appropriated by Coppola-Coppola used his newfound Oscar fame and fortune from MARIO PUZO’S THE GODFATHER and PATTON to drum up some money from Universal Studios. This magic money helped Lucas team up again with Marcia Lucas-production assistant on THX 1138-Terrence ‘Terry’ McGovern-a Los Angeles DJ who voiced some announcements for THX 1138-Walter Murch-co-writer and sound montagist on THX 1138-and Johnny Weismuller jr.-who played a Robocop in THX 1138-seek refuge from the failure of THX 1138 in nostalgic memories of his small town hot rod roots in the Coppola executive produced, Kurtz produced, brooding and allegorical sadolescent film, AMERICAN GRAFFITI (Maxford 22-30 and Pollock 104-09).
‘I’m as harmless as a baby kitten.’
Not surprisingly, given the failure of THX 1138, this bittersweet sophomore effort also revolved around the question of whether it was better to leave town for post-secondary education in the hope of greater success in life, or to give up the dream and stay home to avoid failure. However, in order to ensure the success of this second feature and to not repeat the frustrating embarrassment of the THX 1138 debacle, Lucas avoided the ambiguous, claustrophobic, confusing, depressed, strange and unbalanced style of his first intriguing ode to artistic independence by making AMERICAN GRAFFITI a much more upbeat, human and balanced movie. Significantly, he also openly linked AMERICAN GRAFFITI’s characters and story to the triumphantly healing and harmonious structure of THE WIZARD OF OZ for the first time, and, hence, to television. Of course, this healing Ozian structure linked the films of Lucas to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and to THE WIZARD OF OZ. As such, it was necessary to understand the Baum and Fleming versions of Oz to have a better understanding of the film art of Lucas.
Significantly, the implication was that both Baum and Fleming used their fantastic tales to lambast notorious contemporary women. In Baum’s case, the Wicked Witch of the West who plagued Dorothy and her four elemental Ozian companions-the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Great Oz-in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz appeared to be a satiric roast of the British Empire’s Queen Victoria. Indeed, the western direction associated with the dread Wicked Witch reminded us that Western European imperialism still callously exploited and robbed much of the world in 1900. This wicked direction also reminded us that the British Isles were located to the west of Europe, and home to the most powerful empire in Europe and the rest of the world and its ruler, Queen Victoria, at the time of the publication of Baum’s tale. This continued a tradition of blasting Western European imperialism in allegorical American fiction, perhaps most famously seen prior to the arrival of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the doomed quest of indomitable and freedom loving American Captain Ahab and his foreign legion crew of seafarers-representing all of the nations of the world controlled by imperialists-on the valiant Pequod and their quest to defeat the great white whale of Western European imperialism in Herman Melville’s allegorical classic, Moby-Dick (1851). Baum underlined the Wicked Witch of the West’s link to Queen Victoria by making the Witch a funny and solitary old woman with one eye in his tale, reminding us that Queen Victoria was also a funny, widowed and solitary old woman by 1900. Indeed, so old and solitary that she died a year after the publication of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz in 1901. This also continued a tradition of lampooning Queen Victoria in fantastic children’s tales, for Lewis Carroll’s tyrannical Queen of Hearts in his allegorical classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1870), also appeared to be a satirical look at Queen Victoria, an impression reinforced by the tale’s original illustrations by John Tenniel. The four fantastic lands of Oz-the lands of the Gillikins, Munchkins, Quadlings and Winkies-also reminded us that the four lands of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales still made up the United Kingdom at that time, implicitly reaffirming Baum’s allegorical intent in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
However, while Baum’s tale implicitly roasted Queen Victoria and the United Kingdom, the four lands and nations of Oz and the four companions of Dorothy also evoked the four elements, the four directions, the four great winds, the four phases of the moon, the four seasons and the four ages of a person’s life. Indeed, the Scarecrow was the perfect high spirited symbol of the eastern wind, the new moon, the Earth and youthful Spring; the Cowardly Lion evoked southern winds and Summer Fire, the waxing moon and young adulthood; the Great Oz was an Airy and garrulous and waning middle aged figure linked to dying western winds and the Fall; and the Tin Man was a frozen Water personification of the Wintry north and its frigid northern winds, the dying moon and old age. These additional qualities of the four Ozian companions increased Dorothy’s harmony when she was centred between them, emphasizing the healing nature of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Palace of the Great Oz also emphasized this centring and harmonizing nature of the four Ozian companions and of Baum’s tale. For the Palace of the Great and Powerful Oz was located in the centre of the Emerald City, a city located in the centre of the four lands of Oz, a country itself centred between the Deadly Desert, the Great Sandy Waste, the Impassable Desert, and the Shifting Sands. These deserts in turn supported the fact that Oz symbolized the United Kingdom, for the four deserts reminded us that the United Kingdom was surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel, the Irish Sea, and the North Sea.
Significantly, the elemental trio of the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman also evoked some of the great trios of allegorical fiction prior to 1900, particularly Great Serpent, Bounding Elk and Hawkeye the Ranger in The Last Of The Mohicans, the three indomitable musketeers Aramis, Athos and Porthos-their names evoking the three Greek Fates, Lachesis the allotter, Atropos the cutter and Clotho the spinner-in The Three Musketeers, and Conseil, Captain Nemo and Ned Land of Jules Verne’s openly anti-British imperialist and Moby-dick influenced neo-Odyssey, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870). Thus, the implication was that the liquefying, healing and centring elemental triumph of the orphan Kansas waif Dorothy, her indomitable dog Toto, and her four Ozian companions over the Wicked Witch of the West, and her journey back from Oz to Kansas, symbolized Baum’s hope that Lady Liberty and the people of the United States and its commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness-and its own unique literature-would best Ahab and Nemo and finally triumph over European monarchs and imperialism and liberate the world in the Twentieth Century after the death of Queen Victoria.
This implied triumph clearly pleased North American audiences, for American and Canadian theatregoers thronged to see the first Baum approved musical adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that appeared on stage in 1902, the year after the death of Queen Victoria. Indeed, that North American audiences were celebrating the end of the Victorian age was implied by the fact that the Wicked Witch of the West did not appear in this first theatrical production. In her place was an evil King named Pastoria, whose name evoked Victoria, and whose presence evoked Victoria’s son King Edward VII, the monarch who succeeded Victoria. In fact, the Wicked Witch of the West did not appear in any film or stage adaption of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz until THE WIZARD OF OZ. Until 1939, the Wicked Witch of the West was always replaced with an evil King in North American film and stage productions, just as a succession of Kings followed the death of Queen Victoria (Swartz 27-158). This emphasis on wicked Kings ended in North America with the arrival of a homegrown Wicked Witch of the West, an American woman with an unsavoury reputation by the name of Bessiewallis Warfield Simpson.
The Wicked Simpson was the brash American woman who stole the heart of King Edward VIII-some said with twisted sexual magic!-and caused him to abdicate from the throne of England in 1936 in order to marry and live with her as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, despite her attempt to end the relationship in mid September of 1936 (Bloch 232-37). To say that Simpson was not liked and that this was an embarrassing situation indeed, for the people and governments of the Empire, the United Kingdom and the United States, was really putting it mildly. In fact, Simpson aroused such popular loathing at the time, it was not surprising that Margaret Hamilton’s wicked spinster Mira Gulch in the Depression era prologue of THE WIZARD OF OZ and her famously green and diseased reappearance in Oz as the Wicked Witch of the West both looked like the Duchess of Windsor. In fact, ‘Mira’ was a diminutive of ‘Almira’, a name that could be translated as ‘princess’, underlining Mira’s link to the Duchess (Fields 120). ‘Gulch’ for that matter meant a steep ravine, implying that the makers of THE WIZARD OF OZ felt that ‘Princess’ Simpson had dragged the reputation of the United States down into a deep and difficult depression, indeed. Philip Ziegler’s excellent book, Edward VIII: the official biography (1990), confirmed the link. For the bioygraphy featured several pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor with cairn terriers like Toto, pictures that would have been widely seen at the time and which would have prepared viewers for the arrival of another cairn terrier named Toto-played by Terry-in THE WIZARD OF OZ. These were not the only pictures that were seen at the time, for newsreel footage of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor visiting the Third Reich in 1937 and bowing to Hitler as they shook his hand infuriated the people and governments of the Empire, United Kingdom and the United States. Indeed, public outcry was so great in the United States after these submissive photographs were released, that the wicked pair were forced to cancel a tour of the United States shortly after their visit to Nutzi Germany (Ziegler 386-401).
As Hamilton resembled the Wicked Duchess and THE WIZARD OF OZ appeared only two years after this cancelled visit, MGM clearly sided with the people and their governments against the Wicked Simpson and Edward, her enslaved Nikko monkey King and head flying monkey. Indeed, David, the last of the seven names by which King Edward VIII was known by his royal circle, had the same number of letters and the same syllable cadence as Nikko, in an implicit confirmation of Nikko’s link to David. In addition, the Kansas prologue to the film took place in Depression era Kansas and not the late Nineteenth century of the Baum tale, underlining the link of the film and of Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West to contemporary events. Thus, the centring and healing elemental triumph of Dorothy Gale and her four Ozian companions-the Scarecrow, the Great Oz, Jack Haley’s Tin Man, and Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion, allowed to talk, sing, and dance like the others for the first time in a film or theatrical version of the Baum tale-was not just a triumph over her wicked and diseased spinster side that healed and centred the poor orphan waif who had been knocked out and sent down into the dreaming and healing inner spiritworld of Oz by flying tornado debris at the beginning of the film, allowing her to accept lonely farmhand Hunk Andrews as her Scarecrow man, in the end. It was also a triumph over the Wicked Duchess that allowed the United States to distance itself from the Wicked Simpson and her link to the Third Reich, to reassert its more virtuous, Lady Liberty qualities, to reassure England and its Empire that it had not been led astray by the Wicked Simpson or by Nutzi Germany just in time for World War II and the final showdown with wicked global imperialism and fascism, and to optimistically hope to win that showdown and to return safely home.
However, while THE WIZARD OF OZ was well received after its release-and frequently compared to the allegorical and implicitly live action film art thrashing Walt Disney animated film, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937), whose evil, self absorbed and jealous Queen-voiced by Lucille La Verne-convinced that she was the fairest of them all most likely evoked the equally evil and self absorbed live action Hollywood film art that was resentful about the appearance and popularity of Disney animated film art (implicitly symbolized by the Adriana Caselotti voiced Snow White) and the head Disney animators (implicitly symbolized by the Seven Dwarfs, with the Eddie Collins voiced Dopey implicitly standing in for Disney) rather than an allusion to the Duchess of Windsor-the film was not financially successful. Indeed, the film cost $2,777,000 to make and needed nearly one million dollars for advertisement, distribution and print costs, but grossed only $3,017,000 (Harmetz 288). However, the main problem for the film was not its subject matter, but its August 15, 1939 release date in Los Angeles. For only two weeks after its debut, Germany invaded Poland and kicked off the European theatre of the Second World War. The film was quickly overshadowed by the war, and the more riveting spectacle of the ancient Rome-like imperial age of Western Europe being swept away yet again by the latest Germanic hordes. Not surprisingly, the rival Fleming directed allegorical film, GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), was the monster hit of the year. For its stirring saga of an imperialist and white supremacist Southern world swept away by the forces of freedom in a huge and transformative war was perfectly in tune with the fascist and imperialist beating mood of the times, a mood that bode well for the end of American isolationism and the beginning of American involvement in World War II.
Curiously, while not a success on its initial theatrical release, THE WIZARD OF OZ was a resounding success with post-WWII Boomer audiences upon its debut on television in 1956. Perhaps restless and exuberant Boomer kids saw the triumph of young Dorothy over the Wicked Witch of the West as a triumph of equally young television art over film art, or of sanity over the insanity of Mutally Assured Destruction in a nuclear apocalypse, or over endemic racism and sexism, or simply over all of the issues that boomers wanted to defeat. At any rate, Boomer kids turned the healing film into an universally recognizable pop phenomena whose healing and harmonizing nature, irresistible characters, look and story were ideal for sincere, satirical and humourous allusions in advertising, film and television. Indeed, such Ozian themed allegorical films as BARBARELLA and Hitchcock’s television and THE WIZARD OF OZ roasting allegorical film, VERTIGO (1958), and the embattled and Ozian themed allegorical Akira Kurosawa film, HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958)-which implicitly annoyed Kaneto Shindo, causing him to urge Kurosawa to get back on the good and uncompromising Japanese path in his allegorical film, THE NAKED ISLAND (1960).
The allusions to THE WIZARD OF OZ had continued in Robert Mulligan’s gentle and innocent teenage coming of age allegory, SUMMER OF ’42 (1971), and in TWO LANE BLACKTOP. Interestingly, a definite Wicked Witch of the Witch character was never met or destroyed in TWO LANE BLACKTOP, resulting in an inconclusive cinematic allegory that never healed its viewers like THE WIZARD OF OZ. This inconclusive nature of TWO LANE BLACKTOP recalled the ambiguity of THX 1138, and was wisely not repeated by Lucas in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Indeed, Lucas broke new ground in AMERICAN GRAFFITI by introducing a definite Wicked Witch of the West character whose pentultimate defeat definitely healed a definite Dorothy character and her audience. Thus, by giving AMERICAN GRAFFITI a more satisfyingly healing and harmonizing Ozian structure and revolving the film around youthful Boomerkin hot rodders in the halcyon days of the summer of ’62 in Modesto, Lucas fused THE WIZARD OF OZ with SUMMER OF ’42 and TWO-LANE BLACKTOP.
AMERICAN GRAFFITI also continued the transformation of characters from one elementary Ozian character to another already seen in THX 1138. In addition, Lucas continued his tradition of making allusions to other films in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, in order to confirm and strengthen the meaning of his film. While mostly avoiding the emphasis on unbalanced and off centre framing seen in THX 1138, Lucas continued his even more idiosyncratic interests in climatic and transformative car crashes, characters without strong ties to parents, quirky and innovative sound design and soundtrack, a stiff and immobile camera, and a purposeful, fast paced, and almost television commercial like editing style mixed with loose and spontaneous performances that again gave this film a mise-en-montage style as in THX 1138.
Curiously, AMERICAN GRAFFITI began with darkness and a radio playing just like DUEL, creating a sense that the viewer progressed from sleeping to waking when the darkness disappeared as in DUEL, and openly linking Lucas to Spielberg years before they worked together on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Significantly, Lucas then underlined the link of AMERICAN GRAFFITI to THX 1138 by having AMERICAN GRAFFITI begin at sunset outside Mel’s Drive-in, a sunset beginning that evoked the sunset ending of THX 1138. This sunset beginning in reality reminded us that THE WIZARD OF OZ also began in everyday Kansas reality. While this scene was filmed in San Francisco, it was supposedly set in Modesto, the hometown of Lucas.
Mel’s also formed the backdrop for the film’s opening titles. Significantly, these credits remained level and did not fall into the depths as in THX 1138, implying a steady strength and resolve in Lucas despite the THX 1138 disaster. Including a determined resolve to truly break free as an independent and idiosyncratic film artist, as these opening titles also quickly indicated that AMERICAN GRAFFITI was not an American Zoetrope production but a ‘Lucasfilm Ltd./Coppola Co. production’, making it clear that the THX 1138 disaster had convinced both film artists to head off in their own directions. This was a quietly seminal moment, as it was the first time that a Lucas film was a Lucasfilm Ltd. Production.
Curiously, these opening titles were accompanied by the allegorical Bill Haley and the Comets rock and roll hit, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ (1955). Significantly, this song and stationary credit arrangement evoked and linked the film to the violent and sexually disturbed allegorical Richard Brooks film, BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955). This linked Lucas to Morrow for the first time by way of his sadolescent character Artie West, troubled leader of the X gang in the film, in another ominous anticipation of the TZ disaster in the films of Lucas. This allusion to West and BLACKBOARD JUNGLE also prepared us for the teen angst and sexual tension to come in AMERICAN GRAFFITI and the Classic Trilogy, and for the climatic showdown with teen evil at the end of the film. After the credits ended, we quickly met all of the real life, adolescent ‘Kansas’ characters who would go on to shed their humdrum everyday Modesto lives in Ozian fashion in order to become magical spiritworld heroes when the sun went down behind Mel’s in the Wicked West to begin the healing nighttime dream.
The first of the these Ozian heroes to appear outside Mel’s was Ronny Howard’s Steve Bolander, who resembled the auburn haired and mischievous face of MAD magazine, Alfred E. Neuman, with his perennial gap toothed grin. Bolander was met waiting for his friends near his virtuous and shining white ’58 Chevrolet charger, a gleaming white rocket car that evoked the similarly gleaming white rocket car of THX 1138 at the end of THX 1138. Ominously, the appearance of Howard as Bolander brought Lucas another step closer to the Twilight Zone, for like Duval, Pleasance and Wolfe in THX 1138, Howard had appeared in the original TWLIGHT ZONE telefilm series as the Wilcox boy in the allegorical Robert Stevens season one episode, ‘Walking Distance’ (1959). However, the ominous twilit ambience of Howard’s new character was offset by some healing Ozian characteristics, for Steve Bolander’s first name started with an ‘S’ and his last name sounded like a fusion of the surnames of Scarecrow actor Ray Bolger and his farmhand character Hunk Andrews-a fitting fusion, as Bolander eventually triumphed as the Earthy Scarecrow hunk with his Dorothy bride, in the end.
The first friend of Bolander to arrive in an unexpected crash of his boss Vespa moped was Charlie M. Smith’s nerdy Terry ‘the Toad’ Fields, complete with what looked like a little boy Odysseus sailor shirt, thick horn rim glasses, dark brown hair and more prominently outthrust Lucas ears. Significantly, Terry the Toad resembled Robert Crumb, the Sixties underground comix legend who had been inspired by MAD magazine and whose gleefully salacious character, Fritz the Cat, had been transformed into the equally gleefully salacious and satirical animated allegorical Ralph Bakshi film, FRITZ THE CAT (1972). Thus, Lucas implied that he was addressing FRITZ THE CAT on one level in AMERICAN GRAFFITI.
Curiously, this unplanned and spontaneous crash of Terry’s moped by Smith was fitting, for the crash underlined the comical nature of Toad and acted as a visual bridge that linked the beginning of AMERICAN GRAFFITI to the two crashes that befell the two pursuing flying monkey robocop motorcyclists at the end of THX 1138. A fitting allusion, as the three letter name of Mel’s also reminded us of the three letter first names of THX 1138 and the rest of the lost souls of THX 1138. Of course, the nickname Toad evoked Toto, and the ‘T’ of Terry and Toad evoked the ‘T’ of Twicker and Tin Man. These last were appropriate allusions, for in this flowing and fluid hot roddin’ Western town, poor old Toad had no wheels, making him the symbolically frozen Water and impotent Tin Man of AMERICAN GRAFFITI.
Richard Dreyfuss’ Curtis ‘Curt’ Henderson was the next to show up in his blue Citreon Deux Chevaux, an idiosyncratic French car that evoked the Italian Fiat Bianchina driven by Lucas as a teen and totalled in the Great Crash of ’62. Steve eagerly talked to Curt about leaving Modesto for college the next day, revealing a Dorothyish desire to leave home for adventure and romance that initially branded Bolander the Dorothy and Luke character of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, rather than the Scarecrow. But Curt surprised Steve by suddenly revealing he had changed his mind about going to college. This confirmed that Curt, the shortened form of his name, sounded like the Bert of Bert Lahr and started with a ‘C’ because he was the film’s Fiery and Cowardly Lion, with the orange shirt to prove it. Thus, the elemental, healing and heroic Ozian trio emerged right at the outset of AMERICAN GRAFFITI in the same order as in THE WIZARD OF OZ, needing only a Dorothy to centre, harmonize and heal.
Of course, Curt’s automotive link to Lucas and his decision not to leave for college immediately placed Lucas’ own doubts about the wisdom of leaving Modesto for USC front and centre, underlining that Lucas was indeed uncertain about his life after the failure of THX 1138 at the time of the filming of AMERICAN GRAFFITI. This sudden decision not to leave Modesto also ‘killed’ Curt as a significant player in Steve’s plans, symbolically transforming him into the Wicked Witch of the East and opening the gates to the healing spiritworld dream. Curt’s decision also confirmed his link to THX 1138, as Steve implicitly made clear when he angrily responded to the decision not to leave Modesto that Curt wanted to crawl back into his cell after escaping from high school the previous June, reminding us that THX 1138 had just managed to escape his imprisoned subterranean existence at the end of THX 1138. Indeed, Steve’s complaint established a link between the suffocating monotony of small town pod people life in Modesto and the mindless monotony of the subterranean labyrinth seen throughout THX 1138, implying that the underground labyrinth also symbolized the early life of Lucas as well as his young adulthood at USC film school in Los Angeles on one level. Curt’s symbolic ‘death’ was also the first change from THE WIZARD OF OZ, leading to the first significant change from THX 1138.
Curt’s sister-and Steve’s girlfriend-Laurie Henderson-played by Cindy Williams-was the next to drive up to Mel’s, allowing the viewer to leave behind the impersonal and family-less labyrinth of THX 1138. Her sickly green car evoked the Emerald City and the Wicked Witch of the West, and also symbolized sick rage and jealousy before the healing and moonlit Ozian dream was through. The arrival of the Dorothy and L.A. linked Laurie also confirmed Steve’s status as resident Scarecrow, despite his Dorothy affectations. Indeed, although Laurie initially supported Steve’s decision to leave for that Eastern college, she revealed that there was no place like home for her and her favourite Scarecrow hunk as the magical night wore on, confirming her status as the film’s Dorothy. The arrival of Laurie Henderson also established the first definite brother/sister duo in the films of Lucas. This was a significant new direction, reminding us that it was difficult to tell if THX 1138 and LUH 3417 were brother and sister, boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife-or even boyfriend and boyfriend or girlfriend and girlfriend-in THX 1138, an uncertainty that had given their sexual relations a strange and even incestuous ambiguity. The definite status of Curt and Laurie Henderson as brother and sister seemed to end that ambiguity, and also anticipated the arrival of Luke and Carrie Fisher’s Leia Skywalker in the Classic Trilogy. Indeed, the names Curt and Laurie Henderson had the same sound and syllable cadence as Luke and Leia Skywalker, underlining the link between the four characters. However, incestuous THX 1138 undercurrents continued to haunt Curt and Laurie in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, incestuous undercurrents that returned to haunt the Jedi twins of the Classic Trilogy. Indeed, seeing Curt with his younger sister Laurie reminded us of the close link that existed between Lucas and his younger sister Wendy as they grew up in Modesto. This implied that the incestuous undercurrents surrounding THX 1138 and LUH 3417 and Curt and Laurie had a base in reality, given that Curt and THX 1138 were the implicit cinematic alter egos of Lucas.
The last compadre to cockily drive up in his bitchin’ Yellow Brick Road coloured 1932 deuce coupe hot rod racer and complete the healing elemental conjunction around Laurie was the teens’ older mutual friend, John Milner-played by Paul Le Mat. Significantly, John Milner had a Walt Disney cadenced name, implying that Milner was linked to Disney. Indeed, his Dirty Thirties car and the pack of Camel cigarettes rolled up in the left sleeve of his white undershirt reaffirmed his implicit link to Disney, reminding us that Disney came to prominence in the Thirties and that Dis was fond of cigarettes. Thus, Lucas implied that he was indeed replying to Bakshi, Crumb and FRITZ THE CAT on one level in AMERICAN GRAFFITI.
In addition, Milner evoked Marlon Brando’s character John ‘Johnny’ Stadler, the loner leader of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in Laslo Benedek’s allegorical classic, THE WILD ONE (1953). A fitting allusion, for Paul Le Mat’s Milner fit the loner leader description, being a confident, experienced, tough, and virile older drag racer. However, unlike Stadler, Milner was disciplined and smart as well as tough, making him not only the local hero but the naturally Forceful precursor of Ben Kenobi in the Classic Trilogy. Indeed, as this Ozian dream cruised on, Milner revealed himself to be the small Western town’s resident law abiding-and law enforcing-dragslinger, with a quick draw to rival that of the best Western gunslingers and of Kenobi. For while Milner’s Ray Bolger sounding name and his scarey reputation for beating competitors in ironically illicit drag races implied that he was the virile Scarecrow of the piece, Milner was actually the implicit Great Oz of the piece.
Indeed, the ‘M’ of Milner evoked both Professor Marvel and Frank Morgan, the actor who played the crystal ball reading Marvel and the Great Oz. This connection to the old humbug was emphasized by the colour of Milner’s boss rod. For the little ’32 deuce coupe was not only the same orangey yellow colour of the Yellow Brick Road-making his car the Yellow Brick Roadster-this bitchin’ coupe was also the same colour as the 1970 Pontiac GTO in TWO LANE BLACKTOP, driven by the tall tale telling Great Oz of that film, and of the rocket car of the allegorical Lucas student film, 1:42:08.
With all of the principal Ozian elemental characters now centring Laurie ‘Dorothy’ Henderson harmoniously between them outside Mel’s, the journey down the Yellow Lined Road had clearly begun on this last night of the summer of ‘62. And the tornado struck again, with the second shock revelation that Steve wanted to break up his relationship with Laurie so he could pursue other women in college while she finished her last year in high school. The announcement evoked the married Coppola’s philandering ways, implicitly reaffirming Bolander’s link to Coppola. This shocking revelation also rivalled Curt’s decision not to go to college, and acted like a symbolic piece of flying debris to floor Laurie and send her and the rest of the exuberant teenaged quintet on the verge of adulthood down into the Ozian dreamworld when the sun finally set on this small Western town. For the setting sun pulled characters and audience down into the dreaming Ozian depths of the inner healing spiritworld, down like the falling house of Dorothy and the inexorably falling credits of THX 1138.
And when the black blanket of Wicked darkness fell on the land, Modesto transformed into both a teen Munchkinland filled with young revellers, and into the fantastic, neon and streetlight lit labyrinthine streets of big Emerald City. The seductive streets of bright lights, big Emerald City were also filled with bright and shining cars driven by exuberant Munchkin teen drivers, horse powered rods of many colours that cruised up and down the Yellow Lined Road. The teen cruisers of this youthful underworld were accompanied by the constant rock and roll music and omnipresent voice of the film’s other mysterious and mischievous Great Oz-Robert Smith’s DJ Wolfman Jack, who evoked Cleavon Little’s blind but all seeing and sensing KOW DJ Super ‘Duper’ Soul in VANISHING POINT-an omnipresent soundscape that evoked the constant muzak and voice of OMMRICK heard throughout THX 1138.
A fitting allusion, for the teen rocket cars evoked the rocketing white car of THX 1138 at the end of THX 1138. This linked the rocketing cars to freedom and virile independence, and also evoked the accidents that plagued SRT and THX 1138, underlining the adolescent perils of this new Emerald City. Indeed, as the heroes discovered, their rocket cars could not only crash as in THX 1138, but also be stolen. In short, over the course of this magical night, the streets of Modesto itself were transformed into both the healing inner Ozian spiritworld and the subterranean THX 1138 labyrinth. Here love was lost and found, the magic quintet was healed of all sickness and anxiety, and the eternal battle between inner good and evil was fought to allow the teenaged heroes to emerge into the daylight of reality as healed and harmoniously whole and centred adults,in the end.
And, as in THE WIZARD OF OZ, each main character in AMERICAN GRAFFITI strove to fill themselves with a quality that they felt was lacking inside them, only to slowly realize that they had had that quality all along. All of the characters were also transformed by their nighttime Ozian journey, and the four boys changed in particular into other aspects of the elemental foursome, continuing the trend of THX 1138. However, the truly idiosyncratic and trendsetting hallmark of AMERICAN GRAFFITI-briefly touched upon in THX 1138, with SEN 5241’s wayward journey and the flight of SRT and THX 1138-was that the stories of all of the main Ozian characters were split up into four narratives that emphasized that an elemental Ozian quartet had returned to film.
While all four narratives contained many allusions to THE WIZARD OF OZ, each narrative also represented a separate genre and could be called The Comedy, The Romance, The Western and The Journey of Self Discovery. These four Forceful narratives also came neatly back together in wholesome Ozian harmony in the end, a recombination that emphasized the healing and harmonizing Ozian elemental conjunction that occurred in the film. This four part narrative structure and eventual recombination also evoked the multiple narrative structure of the haunting allegorical Akira Kurosawa film, RASHOMON (1950). An important allusion, setting us up for all of the open allusions to the films of Kurosawa in the Classic and Tragic Trilogies, and the return of the split narratives and narrative recombinations that occurred in those two trimatic trilogies.
This was a fitting link for Lucas for, like most of his immediate post-World War II films, Kurosawa used RASHOMON to break post-World War II Japan free from its fascist past and send Japanese viewers off into a more balanced, wholesome, strong and independent new direction. This new direction was symbolized by Takashi Shimura’s sturdy woodcutter agreeing to look after a baby abandoned in the civil wars and tumult of medieval Japan, and walking away with the baby in the end from the war and earthquake ravaged Rashomon Gate of Kyoto and into an uncertain but hopeful new future-an uncertain new future that Kurosawa clearly hoped would work out for the better for the reborn, post-war Japan. Thus, alluding to RASHOMON underlined that Lucas was trying to head off in a new direction in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Indeed, alluding to RASHOMON implied that Lucas was now reaching out to audiences and using AMERICAN GRAFFITI to break the entire United States free from the Sixties and the Vietnam War, and head viewers off into that more balanced, strong, independent and wholesome new Jedi direction seen at the end of THX 1138.
Significantly, in a humourous premonition of Luke’s solo journey in STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, Scarecrow Steve gave Tinny Toad the keys to his virtuous white charger-along with appropriate and cautionary Tin Man oil instructions!-so that Fields could look after the car while he was in college. This unexpected gift of Forceful virility-the equivalent of Dorothy receiving the ruby red high heels reinforced Henderson’s link to the dead Wicked Witch of the East and her ruby red slippers after revealing his desire not to leave for college only minutes before. The gift also allowed an ecstatic Terry Fields to cruise the streets on his own separate journey for the first time in his nerdy teenaged life in his W.C. Fields meets Woody Allen-style Comedy narrative of AMERICAN GRAFFITI-a Comedy that soon led to a humourous run-in with an used car salesman who evoked Kubrick and was played by John Brent.
Indeed, cruising freed Toad of his frozen Tin Man himpotence, and transformed him into a bumbling and hilariously virile Scarecrow. The tragicomic sight reminded us that Spielberg was still also a frozen Tin Man at the time, trapped in television and dreaming of the day he would get a chance to direct a true cinematic feature film, implying that Fields symbolized Spielberg. This virile transformation of the abject Toad reminded us of the transformation of THX 1138 from frozen Tin Man to potent Scarecrow in THX 1138, and of the white rocket car driven by THX 1138, in the end. This implication that Lucas was mocking the THX 1138 fiasco in AMERICAN GRAFFITI was underlined by the bizarre sight of the emboldened Terry flirting like a desperately horny Crumb with Jana Bellan’s Budda, a pretty waitress in Mel’s with a Nikko-like name that reminded us that AMERICAN GRAFFITI was an Ozian themed film. Toad’s rocketing virility also emboldened him to pick up the movie’s true innocent spiritworld Dorothy as she walked down the sidewalk by a Yellow Brick Road coloured pick-up truck parked on the street, Candy Clark’s dizzy blonde Debbie Dunham. Significantly, while humourous, this scene was also ominous. For during this first meeting, Toad boasted that the car had ‘…a 327 Chevy in it’ in another ominous memory of the future.
Unlike Laurie Henderson, Debbie spent her time in the dreaming Ozian nighttime spiritworld looking, talking and acting like a cross between Dorothy and Barbarella, complete with invincible innocence, cute good looks, perky and bold manner, blue bow in her blonde hair, blue and white summer dress, purse and blue high heels. She also evoked a similarly clad and blonde teenage Dorothy heroine named Miriam in the Ozian themed, teenage coming of age drama, SUMMER OF ‘42. Like Chris Norris’ Miriam, she had to fend off amorous teenage admirers, shooing off one flying monkey greaser with a lit match like a flame throwing Wicked Witch of the West. Deb also reminded us that, like Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ, this dizzy Dorothy and the rest of the teenaged heroes were suspended in an inner healing dream that was midway not only between life and death, and sunset and sunrise, but perhaps most importantly, between childhood and adulthood. An whole and centred adulthood that would be lost forever if any of them died of wicked illness or in a Great Crash in this fictional summer of ‘62.
Humourously, over the course of The Comedy, Debbie also fulfilled Dorothy’s destiny of having to approach one of the shy and lonely farmhand bachelors herself to make one her husband, by comically seducing a startled Toad in the front seat of Steve’s car on Lover’s Lane. The amusing sight reminded us that LUH 3417 had to kickstart THX 1138’s virility in THX 1138, linking AMERICAN GRAFFITI to THX 1138 again. The scene also evoked Dorothy heroine Miriam’s eager sexcapades with Jerry Houser’s horny teen Scarecrow Oscar in SUMMER OF ’42. Eager sexploits that were in complete contrast to the embittering spinster shenanigans Garry Grimes’ teenaged Tin Man protagonist Hermie suffered with a teenage Elmira Gulch twin-played by Katherine Allentuck-with the Nikko sounding name of Aggie-no doubt short for Margaret Hamilton-also in SUMMER OF ‘42. The encounter with Debbie fired up Toad’s already emancipated libido, and no doubt did something to liberate Debbie from any Dorothyish fears of spinsterhood she may have had, allowing her to emerge as a Good Witch of Munchkin children, in the end.
Indeed, seeing these two Ozian spiritworld characters together at different times reminded us that Toad could be Debbie’s toad familiar-openly linking her to Glinda, the Good Witch of the North-a reminder that would be more apparent if Toad could get Debbie on his broomstick-like Vespa. Debbie even raised this possibility at one point when she insisted that it was a good night for horseback riding-or witchy nightmares. Seeing Debbie ride with Toad also reminded us of Dorothy and Toto, making Toad a literal Toado and guardian dog companion of Debbie, as well as Scarey Tin Man dork. Indeed, not long after their awkward but frustrated attempt at lovemaking, Toad and Debbie went for a walk along a canal, looking more like Toado and Dorothy than ever before as they danced down a moonlit, Yellow Brick Road-like canal or river path. Amusingly, an older couple even remarked upon Toad’s resemblance to Toto later, comparing him to a dog they once had named Ginger as they observed him throwing up the night’s unaccustomed and Tin Man freezing alcohol on a sidewalk.
While Toad and Debbie humourously came together as a couple in the Comedy, Steve and Laurie hit some rough patches in their Romance narrative like THX 1138 and LUH 3417. This rocky road began when Scarecrow Steve tried initially and ironically to convince Laurie that he was not the Scarecrow but the restless Dorothy of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, and one who needed to leave the small town for a better place far, far away. As noted, the attempt backfired, for after arguing persuasively that it was time for him to leave nowhere Modesto with its lack of opportunities, fly to an Eastern college and even date other women while he was away, Laurie took his ring off and tentatively broke up with the salacious and virile Scarecrow. However, Laurie’s casual approach to ending her relationship with Steve was actually a bluffing ploy to annoy and scare the loveswept lad into restarting the relationship and not leaving for college. This strategy of the wily Dorothy was made clear in a nostalgic visit back to a beginning of school freshman sockhop at their Munchkinland high school, a sockhop that was complete with Munchkinland song and dance numbers performed by Herbie and the Heartbeats-played by Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids-one of whom resembled a young Kubrick.
Here Laurie relived their long high school romance while slow dancing with Steve to the allegorical Platters tune, ‘Smoke Gets in your Eyes’ (1958), and made it clear to Scarecrow Steve and the viewer that she was not going to be able to easily let go of him. In fact, it was at this dance that Laurie began to take the Dorothy role away from restless Steve, reminding him while they danced that she always had to approach him to start the relationship and even initiate the kissing because in spite of being the Great Oz Student Council President he was too much of a Cowardly Lion to begin anything with her. This revelation reminded us that the three lonely farmhands were too shy or repressed to initially talk to Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ, and that she had to approach all three men in turn in the land of Oz, and then pick Hunk herself as her husband when the healing dream was over and she was back in Kansas.
Significantly, given that Laurie was conniving to capture Steve, it was fitting that the whole sockhop scene evoked the allegorical Frank Capra film, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1947). Indeed, the exuberant scene reminded the viewer that Stewart’s George Bailey was unable to leave his small town of Bedford Falls and tour the world after a nostalgic visit to his brother’s graduation dance at his old high school led him to meet Donna Reed’s lovely Mary, a local beauty who used her charm and wiles to convince him to stay in town and marry her. Clearly, a dance with destiny was taking place between Steve and Laurie at the sockhop-and with narrative art again, as Steve and Laurie also had a run-in with a Stan ‘the Man’ Lee evoking principal named Mr. Kroot, played by Irving Israel-confirming Laurie’s own blossoming machinations, and setting us up for Steve’s reawakening love and final decision to remain with Laurie in Modesto at the end of the film.
Indeed, Laurie underlined this new and transformed Dorothyish conviction in a later car conversation with Steve, telling the Scarecrow hunk that ‘…there is no reason to leave home just to find home’. This was the ‘…there’s no place like home’ slogan of AMERICAN GRAFFITI that Steve angrily retorted that Cowardly Curt had already told him, to justify his decision not to leave Modesto for college. This conversation caused tensions to rise so high between the two lovers that a bitter quarrel erupted that threatened to end their relationship forever. Indeed, Laurie eventually kicked Steve out of her car during their last love-in before he left town, leaving the viewer in suspense over whether their relationship was truly over. This kick out also Forced Steve to walk through an immobile and frozen Tin Man stage. Intriguingly, with this Tin Man stage and his earlier links to Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Great Oz School President and to the Cowardly Lion, Steve passed through all five of the Ozian elemental stages in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Thus, he ended the film a centred, reharmonized and wholey man like THX 1138, anticipating similar transformations of Anakin, Han and Luke in the Classic Trilogy.
Intriguingly, Steve and Laurie’s tempestuous Romance and Toad and Debbie’s slapstick Comedy were both resolved in the third genre narrative in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, The Western. In this two fisted tumbleweed tale, we discovered that deuce jockey John Milner was actually worried that he was too old and that his boss rod was no longer powerful enough to beat cocky young challengers at the quick drag. The aging hero felt that he had become all Airy Great Oz bluster, and was too much of an impotent old humbug to successfully defend his role as Modesto’s fastest dragslinger. Why, some sultry summer night, some young punk would ride off the range into town in a horse powered charger and knock him off his racing pedestal for good. In fact, this was exactly what happened, soon after the Great John was saddled with driving the annoying young and implicitly Toto linked Carol Morrison-a young waif who evoked Laurie Bird’s unnamed but implicitly Dorothy linked waif in TWO LANE BLACKTOP, and played by Mackenzie Phillips-around town, a cranky character picked up near the California Canadian Bank to reaffirm the implicit link of Milner to Disney, as the father of the California residing Disney was Canadian. For while driving around with Carol, Harrison Ford’s Evil and implicitly Ralph Bakshi and Wicked Warlock of the West linked Bob Falfa showed up in a wicked black ’55 Chevy straight out of TWO-LANE BLACKTOP to challenge the Great John to a drag race.
Significantly, to implicitly reaffirm that Lucas was using AMERICAN GRAFFITI in part to blast Hellman for the implicit roasting he gave Coppola and himself in TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, Lucas also reversed the Good and Evil associations of the various cars and car colours of TWO LANE BLACKTOP. In this way, he successfully linked the Yellow Brick Road colour of the 1970 GTO driven by the Great Oz of TWO LANE BLACKTOP to the Great Milner’s Yellow Brick Road coloured 1932 deuce coupe and hence to the centring, harmonizing and healing Forces of the Yellow Brick Road and the Great Oz in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Lucas also correctly took the greyish black ’55 Chevy of TWO LANE BLACKTOP from the side of Good and linked it via Falfa’s Wicked black ’55 Chevy to the diseased and deadly, black clad Wicked Witch of the West and her Dark Forces of Ozian evil, underlining that, unlike TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, AMERICAN GRAFFITI was about healing and harmonizing audiences. This was a good idea, as the Wicked ’55 Chevy was driven by the two unnamed anti-heroes of TWO-LANE BLACKTOP. A 1932 deuce coupe like Milner’s even lost a race to the Driver and the Mechanic and their ’55 Chevy near the beginning of TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, but unlike Milner’s boss and shining rod the deuce was a sickly green colour and, as such, was fated to lose.
These visual Ozian links also linked the Good and Evil cars of AMERICAN GRAFFITI with the white and black horses of the Good and Evil characters of the traditional Western, underlining the Western nature of Milner’s narrative. This link of automotive horsepower to the horses of the classic Western continued a tradition begun in the contemporary and San Francisco set allegorical Peter Yates Western, BULLIT (1968). Lawmen riding valiant horsepower was a concept that was also later used to spectacular effect by Dr. George Miller in his cinematic ode to Bartel, Ford, Hellman, Hopper, Kurosawa, Lucas, Spielberg and Yates in the Mad Max trilogy. And the Wicked Falfa lived up to his role as the Wicked Warlock of the Western, complete with broad sneer, a fake skull hanging from his rear view window, a penchant for unexpectedly driving out of nowhere like the Wicked Witch of the West in a roar of throbbing engines, and a diseased and deadly disregard for the rules of the road. The Wicked Falfa’s black car also served as the traditional black hat and leather vest of the Evil gunslinger, despite the fact that Falfa also wore a white shirt and cowboy hat throughout his scenes, apparel that mocked Milner’s Good gunslinger role and evoked the white motorcycles of the two robocops at the end of THX 1138.
Curiously, the vague air of homosexuality seen in THX 1138 returned in AMERICAN GRAFFITI in the homoerotic jousting between Milner and Falfa. Indeed, Lucas alter ego Curt Henderson remarked on this homoerotic theme outside Mel’s at the beginning of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, when he heard Falfa roar out of the diner parking lot like an automotive tornado. Turning to Milner, he mischievously asked if John was going to go after the new guy. This salacious comment suggested that an intimate relationship had existed between Henderson and Milner in the past. While Milner dismissed both implications with a terse, ‘…if he can’t find me, he ain’t worth racing’, the homosexual allusions were there. Indeed, a possible intimate relationship between John and Curt was suggested again scant seconds later, when Milner exploded in anger after being told Curt was no longer leaving for college. The angry outburst suggested that the Great Milner had already reconciled himself to the departure of the Cowardly Henderson, a sadness that threatened to erupt again now that Curt was not leaving Modesto.
These vague homosexual allusions returned full Force throttle in the first meeting between Milner and Falfa. Cruising the Modesto strip with Carol, Milner suddenly noticed in his rear view mirror that Falfa was menacing the rear of his deuce coupe in his ’55 Chevy. Significantly, the sight reminded us that Jim Bohan’s cop Holstein had already menaced Milner’s rear in his robot police car and pulled him over, linking Falfa to the bovine and robotic authority figures of THX 1138 and preparing us for his return as a motorcycle riding traffic cop in Bill Norton’s allegorical sequel, MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1979). Milner easily and casually evaded this threat from behind by slamming on his brakes and forcing the Wicked Falfa into the sinister left passing lane. However, the Great Milner then cockily returned the homosexual jibe by assertively driving the deuce coupe into the left lane and briefly menacing Falfa’s rear before Falfa ironically drifted into the right lane. This was a nifty braking and accelerating trick, and one that was used again and to more famous effect by Luke Skywalker during the speeder bike chase on the unusual forest moon of Endor in STAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI.
The two dragslingers then cruised side by side mocking each other through their rolled down windows. Fittingly, Falfa confirmed his Wicked status by asking Milner if his Yellow Brick Roadster was ‘…piss yellow or puke green’, an idle insult that ominously evoked the Wicked Witch of the West, and the defeat of the sickly green deuce coupe in TWO-LANE BLACKTOP. Milner responded with his own idle insult, asking the Wicked Falfa if he was driving a field car. When Falfa failed to understand his meaning, Milner helpfully pointed out that this was not a car being comically driven by Terry ‘the Toad’ Fields-whom Falfa had already harassed on the road-but a car that was used to spread manure in fields.
Significantly, while apparently innocent, this comment linked Falfa to Fields and, hence, to Crumb, implicitly affirming the link of Falfa to Bakshi. This insult was also a play on words that reminded us that Terry Field’s Comedy narrative evoked W.C. Fields, that W.C. stood for wash closet or toilet, and that a toilet was the perfect place for human manure like Falfa. In fact, this W.C. allusion was played for further toilet gags in the AMERICAN GRAFFITI sequel, when we saw Toad sentenced to a month of latrine maintenance duty by his evil superior the Wicked Creech-played by Richard Bradford-for trying to cause an injury that would get him sent home to Modesto from An Luc, Vietnam-or was that Han Luc?
This link between Falfa and Fields was further emphasized by the fact that Falfa grew in Fields, implying that Falfa was also the Dark Side of Fields. A likely Dark Side, as this seemingly idle taunt actually prepared us for the comical sight of Falfa’s wicked Chevy rolling off the road into a field and burning at the end of the movie after a drag race ignited by Toad. Indeed, this field wipeout would dump W.C. crap on Falfa’s reputation, and make the Wicked Warlock of the Western just as much a laughingstock driver as Fields was in Steve’s car. While the sly and prescient comment was laughingly dismissed by Falfa, the ribald physical and verbal jousting between the two men was important. Indeed, their cocky encounter anticipated similar sexually charged verbal and physical battles between Luke, Vader and the Emperor in the Classic Trilogy. This verbal jousting might have also evoked the animosity that had been growing between Lucas and Coppola since the failure of THX 1138 and Coppola’s success with MARIO PUZO’S THE GODFATHER and PATTON, reminding us that Bob Falfa also had the same syllabic cadence as Coppola.
After trading taunts, a mini-drag race down the main strip that anticipated the pentultimate race spontaneously broke out between the two jousting dragslingers. Surprisingly, Milner transformed briefly into the Cowardly Lion during this race, screeching to a halt at a red light at one point while the Wicked Falfa dangerously blasted through the intersection. The sight underlined the lawless nature of Falfa, and also indicated that in spite of his Great Oz bluster, Milner was on the side of law and order like all good gunslingers. The sight also reminded us that while the Great Milner was treated with awe and respect by his fellow cruisers, he kept a mysteriously low profile throughout the film and did nothing to confirm his reputation as the Great Oz of AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Indeed, Milner kept such a resolutely low profile we began to wonder if we would ever meet this legendary dragslinger, or if he would turn out to be just another old humbug-as he feared-in the end.
However, backing down from Falfa in this first race also reminded us that mysterious and mild mannered quickdraw gunfighter Shane also backed down from his first fight with the bad guy in the classic allegorical George Stevens film, SHANE (1953). Another ominous allusion, for Alan Ladd’s Shane initially ignored personal insults, but returned to town at the end of the film to selflessly outdraw Jack Palance’s evil gunfighter Jack Wilson and his rancher employers when they threatened the Starrett family and the rest of his settler friends, thus allowing film to triumph over commercial and, hence, implicit television interests. Thus, the allusion to SHANE affirmed Milner’s Western narrative, and also set us up for the return of the protective dragslinger in the pentultimate drag race that defeated Falfa and led to the rescue of the threatened Laurie Henderson at the end of AMERICAN GRAFFITI.
Comparing John to Shane was actually appropriate, for until the end of the film John piously and primly preached to Carol-his unexpected waif of a passenger-about the dangers of bad driving and the soundness of obeying all of the driving rules. Indeed, seeing the Great Milner bow and scape submissively at one point in the journey to Officer Holstein clearly signified that Milner knew that the police Force must be with you if you expected to avoid jail and premature death in car accidents. This prim preaching and demure behaviour reminded us of Shane’s reluctance to teach little Brandon de Wilde’s Joey Starret how to quickdraw and shoot like a gunslinging ace in SHANE, again linking Shane to Milner. This also reminded us that on one level blonde Shane was the equally blonde Joey’s inner kid heroic fantasy gunslinger persona come to life, implying that on one level John was the fantasy self of someone-perhaps Lucas or Toad- come to life.
The Great Milner’s pious admonitions to Carol also reminded us that he was tricked into babysitting and driving the pre-pubescent youth around town by her older sister Judy-a cute reference to Judy Garland-and her sister’s friends. This trick reminded us that Jeffrey Hunter’s young, hot headed and part Cherokee hero Martin Pawley unexpectedly found himself saddled with a Commanche wife after innocently trading her a bowler hat for her blanket while searching for news of a related Commanche group that had massacred his adopted family and kidnapped his stepsister, Debbie Edwards-played by Natalie Wood-in the allegorical Ford film, THE SEARCHERS (1956). This allusion to the Ford film reiterated that Milner’s story was a Western, and anticipated further allusions to the films of Ford in the Classic Trilogy, the Indy Trilogy, and the YOUNG SHERLOCK JONES telefilms. This allusion to THE SEARCHERS also confirmed that Lucas was searching for confirmation in AMERICAN GRAFFITI that he had not wasted his time at USC.
The link to THE SEARCHERS also explained the names of Debbie and Laurie in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, for the two pretty girls who survived the searching odyssey of Pawley and John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards were named Debbie Edwards and Laurie Jorgensen-played by Vera Miles. Indeed, the allusions to THE SEARCHERS prepared the viewer for brief searches for Carol and Laurie in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, and their safe rescue from wild teen ‘Commanches’ by John and Steve. Fitting rescues that reminded us that THE SEARCHERS was implicitly a Western allegory for young people in the Fifties, with the outlaw Commanches that ran wild after the US Civil War symbolizing the youth and motorcycle gangs that ran wild in the US after World War II. Outlaw youth gangs that were depicted only three years before the release of THE SEARCHERS in THE WILD ONE, and that must be avoided and defeated in order to live a healthy and reasonably happy life.
Curiously, querulous and quarrelsome Carol joined the Western narrative when she crossed over to Milner’s boss coupe at a red light from a car with the licence plate JPM 351-JPM for John Peter Milner? Settled in Milner’s car, Carol quickly revealed her fear that nobody wanted her, reminding us that no one but Dorothy seemed to want Toto in THE WIZARD OF OZ. This revelation made Carol and not Toad the official Toto of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, a role emphasized by the fact that Carol sounded like Toto. Carol also gave the world the main root of the word ‘Jedi’ on her hot rodyssey with Milner, admiringly calling him ‘…a regular J.D.’ at one point in their journey. While it was simply Fifties slang for ‘juvenile delinquent’, the phrase aptly summed up Luke as the ultimate young ‘J.D.’ Rebel of the Classic Trilogy. Carol’s compliment also reminded us that Milner’s character had been inspired not just by John Milius, Johnny Stadler, Martin Pawley or Shane, but also by James Dean’s tormented teen hero, Jim Stark in the allegorical Nicholas Ray film, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955).
This was a fitting reminder, preparing us for the spontaneous street drag race with Falfa that erupted soon after Carol’s compliment. For contrary to expectation, Milner raced Falfa on the sinister left side of the street during this first race. The sight reminded us that Jim Stark also drove on the sinister left side in his deadly clifftop chicken race with Corey Allen’s high school thug Buzz in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. At the height of this clifftop race, Stark leapt out of his loaned car to safety before the car roared over the cliff, while the sinister left cuff on the left sleeve of the black leather jacket of Buzz snagged on the door handle and trapped him in his own speeding car, causing him to roar over the cliff to his doom. Thus, Milner’s ironic place in the left hand lane of the first drag race was yet another ominous allusion that set us up for Falfa’s fiery demise at the end of AMERICAN GRAFFITI.
While Carol survived this first drag race with Falfa, she did not survive the night. For the Great Milner eventually hit on the idea of pretending to hit on her in order to get her to go home. The scene reminded us of the assault on the young man by the older man in the surreal and lunar white reprogramming area in THX 1138, and anticipated the creepy pedophilia of the Classic Trilogy. Indeed, with their expressive Scarecrow eyes, brown hair and white t-shirts, Carol and John looked like a brother and sister pair throughout the film. However, far from ominous, this was an amusing scene, made more humourous by the fact that throughout their time together it had actually been Milner who had been constantly warding off the attention of Carol. Quickly deciding that ‘…there was no place like home’ when Milner began to fake some moves on her, Carol insisted that Milner drive her home to escape his faked attentions. At her place, Milner gave her the shiny silver knob cover of his gear shift as a memento of her bitchin’ night, a gift that evoked the stolen second place motorcycle racing trophy Johnny gave to Mary Murphy’s good girl Kathie at the end of THE WILD ONE, reiterating Milner’s link to Stadler.
Accepting the gift ecstatically, Carol happily leapt out of the Yellow Brick Roadster with an exuberant cry of “…wait ‘till I tell Marcia”! Like Milner’s licence plate THX 138, the house and the reference to Marcia were both Lucas in-jokes: the house was the house in Modesto that Lucas grew up in as a child with the ominous and twilit address of 231 Ramona Avenue, and the comment referred to his then wife Marcia Griffin Lucas (Pollock 33). It reminded us that when John first started to cruise the Ozian night streets at the beginning of his Western, he was warned by the teenaged passenger of another car to look out for someone in a wicked ’55 Chevy that was out to race him. The driver of this other car was not only older than all of the movie’s young actors, his thick horn rims, slim build, pale skin and dark beard all reminded us of the appearance of director George Lucas himself during filming in the summer of ’72, implying that he was the driver.
Soon after dropping off querulous Carol and rescuing Toad from an attack by two black t-shirted thugs-one of whom resembled Frank Frazetta-the long anticipated dragslinging showdown finally exploded, when Milner accepted a challenge from the Wicked Falfa and took on the Wicked dragslinger in the climatic drag race outside of town on Paradise Road. Hearing of Paradise Road, we remembered that AMERICAN GRAFFITI had not only been a centring and healing Ozian spiritworld dream bringing elemental harmony, it had also been a journey from high school sockhop Munchkinland childhood to the bright lights, big Emerald City perils of Modesto at neon night, full of alluring adolescent temptations that had to be turned down-like the offer of a one night stand that Steve turned down from sexy, roller skating Mel’s waitress Budda when she heard that he had briefly broken up with Laurie-so that the five main Ozian heroes would emerge into the sunrise from the healing all night dream as centred and harmonized adults cruising down the Paradise Road of good health, sound minds and souls-and successful marriages-in the end.
Ironically, and as with the first incomplete drag race, when it was time for the quickdrag, the Great Milner again rolled up to the starting line in the sinister left lane, while the Wicked Falfa again took the virtuous right lane. However, far from being a concern, this second reversal of good and bad lanes was a good sign that set us up for the defeat of Falfa. Indeed, this second return to the earlier racing lanes reminded us of the Wicked Witch of the West’s two attempts to burn the Scarecrow in THE WIZARD OF OZ, and her liquidation when Dorothy splashed a bucket of water on her as she tried to put out the Scarecrow’s flames after the second, double trouble attempt. We were also reminded of the two robocops who attempted but failed to chase down and apprehend THX 1138 at the end of THX 1138. Clearly, this second attempt had Lucas and Ozian double trouble written all over it, and the Wicked Falfa was setting himself up for a big fall.
As the two cars rolled up, Milner suddenly noticed that Laurie was cowering in the passenger seat of Falfa’s car. For like the Dorothyish girl in TWO-LANE BLACKTOP who left the Driver and the Mechanic in their Wicked ’55 Chevy and switched to GTO’s car near the end of the movie, Laurie switched codes and joined Falfa from her sick-with-jealous-rage green car after she was hurt by the wicked sight of Steve talking with Budda at Mel’s, becoming the third of a twilit trio of women in Falfa’s car. However, having Laurie in his car was a bad move on the part of Falfa, for quickdraw heroes who ignore insults directed at them always come out blazing like Shane when they see their friends being threatened in traditional Westerns. In some ways the sight was fitting, though, suggesting that Falfa was the Wicked, lawless and deadly side of Laurie as well as Milner, and that by choosing the Wicked Falfa instead of her lover Steve, Laurie was in danger of dying a dry, embittered and Wicked spinster Witch like Elmira Gulch.
With worshipful Toad accompanying Milner to flag the race, Laurie’s appearance also suddenly united the Comedy, Romance and Western narratives. Seeing Toad with Milner and Falfa also reminded us that Milner connected all three characters earlier with his field car comment, and that blonde quickdraw gunslinger Shane was on one level the fantasy alter ego of little blonde Joey Starret come to life. This reminded us that on one level Toad was little Joey, and that Milner was Toad’s teen fantasy hot rod alter ego come to life to save the day like Shane. The sight of the implicitly Crumb linked Toad getting ready to start the race also reminded us of the implicit link of Falfa to Bakshi and of Milner to Disney. Thus, it was fitting that Toad stood between the two dragslinging and implicit animated film art rivals to start the dragslinging race that would save the day in traditional Western fashion. And not a moment too soon, with Laurie now a captive Dorothy, trapped once more in the Black Tower of the Wicked Warlock of the Western, and in dire need of rescue by an Ozian Western hero flowing with the elemental Force. Seeing her in Falfa’s wicked black ’55 Chevy also evoked Helen held captive in Ilium, waiting for rescue from an hero amidst the besieging Achean Greeks.
This was a timely allusion too, reminding us again of Falfa’s status as embittered Poseidon, and that Odysseus ended the bloody siege of Ilium with the famous Trojan Horse ruse. This in turn reminded us that throughout AMERICAN GRAFFITI much had been hinted at of the power of Milner and his boss rod, and both had been treated with the awe and respect worthy of a Great Oz and a Trojan War hero throughout the film. However, with the notable exception of his previous and inconclusive race with Falfa, Milner had imitated the good gunslinger Shane and done little to display his power or justify this respectful admiration. Only an unhesitating and two-fisted rescue of Toad and Debbie-in which she reminded us yet again of the Western nature of Milner’s journey by asking him if he was the Lone Ranger-from the two black t-shirted punks had fully shown that John really was a potential Shane or Great Milner. Otherwise his inactivity left us wondering, was he just a small town garrulous humbug with a pretty car, or was he really a cunning Odyssean dragslinger, lying low in a Yellow Brick Roadster that concealed some serious Trojan horsepower?
His last steady gaze into the weak eyes of the already sickly looking Falfa certainly implied as much, for Milner’s eyes suddenly blazed with the steely and knowing confidence of a seasoned killer-the blazing eyes of a true, quickdraw dragslinger. Indeed, his deadly eyes reminded us that Westerns are not about Western lands, but about facing down the fear of death wherever you happen to be, symbolized by the daily sight of the setting sun dying in the Western grave of the sky. A Western reality that must be faced everyday by everyone in the world, explaining the universal popularity of the Western. In fact, this connection between the sun setting in the West and death was often made in Westerns, in the traditional shot of the hero riding off into the deadly sunset that he had conquered at the end of the film. Clearly, if you wanted to succeed as a gunslinger or a dragslinger, you must first defeat that fear of the Wicked and deadly West.
That Milner had defeated that fear was made clear when a volcanic eruption of primal dragslinging power roared out of the Yellow Brick Roadster and blasted the Great Milner in his bitchin’ coupe down the ironically virtuous left lane of this Yellow Lined Paradise Road when Toad flicked on the flashlight signal. This awesome explosion of power and virility jettisoned his Cowering Trojan Lion disguise and erased the doubts of viewers and even of Milner himself that he was too old for the quickdrag. For in this race with the sickly devil he quickly left Falfa in the ironically sinister right lane struggling to keep up in his wicked black ’55 Chevy. Clearly, Milner had been a cunning Great Odyssean tactician indeed, concealing his Trojan horsepower under his warrior hood in order to liberate Helenic and Dorothyish Laurie.
The sight of his rocketing car also reminded us that the Great Oz tried to take Dorothy and Toto back to Kansas in his phallic hot air balloon at the end of THE WIZARD OF OZ, but drifted away before they could step inside his basket. Clearly, the Great Oz had returned in his souped up rocket phallus with a vengeance in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, having already dropped Totoish Carol off at home, and was making no mistake of his rescue of Dorothy this time. Indeed, the Great Milner rocketed down the virtuous left lane like THX 1138 in his rocket car at the end of THX 1138, as swift and sure as an Odyssean arrow killing an arrogant suitor. However, this time the hero was battling neck and neck with his nemesis rather than being simply trailed at a distance as in THX 1138, setting us up for the even more assertive and head-on X-wing versus TIE fighter space dogfights of the Classic Trilogy-and the arrival of ‘Ace’ Skywalker.
This stirring race also ironically reminded us that the same two cars were in the same two lanes when the ’55 Chevy beat the sickly green ’32 deuce coupe in TWO-LANE BLACKTOP. Perhaps this cinematic knowledge encouraged Falfa to make his double trouble mistake with this second drag race. At any rate, he soon lost control and flied off prematurely into a field on the right side of the road, a dismal demise we had been set up for earlier with Milner’s field car comment. Clearly, Falfa did not watch all of TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, for the comical crash evoked the surreal end of the film, with the once virile Driver in his last race in the ’55 Chevy suddenly freezing into the middle age Tin Man he and his generation were fighting, and then apocalyptically fading away after losing the Dorothyish girl to Kreag Caffey’s younger and more virile Scarecrow motorcyclist.
The crash also reminded us that the robocops crashed before they were able to apprehend THX 1138 at the end of THX 1138, again linking Falfa to the police. Indeed, we were reminded that the subterranean machine world of THX 1138 defeated itself in the end when it called off the chase, a self defeat seen again in this loss of control on the part of Falfa. Of course, Falfa’s crash also evoked the Great Crash of ’62, rolling several times like the Lucas Bianchina did on that fateful day, underlining that on one level Falfa also symbolized the Dark teenaged speed racer Side of Lucas, as much as he did Hellman and Shebib.
When the car stopped rolling, it lay on its roof with its wheels in the air like a dead beetle, smoke rising from its battered hulk like smoke from the final assault on Ilium. And so this disastrous end to Falfa brought health and harmony back to Modesto, the film, the audience and the Temple Theatre, a disastrous but healing triumph that Tolkien coined an eucatastrophe, summed up by the disastrous deaths of Sauron at the end of The Lord of the Rings. And so Falfa’s wicked ’55 Chevy had become a totalled field car, fulfilling John’s prophetic taunt and turning Falfa into a comical and crappy driver like Fields. And so the Western narrative of Milner ended in a triumph, implying that Lucas hoped that Disney would defeat Bakshi and FRITZ THE CAT with a good animated film, and that he had defeated Hellman, Shebib and his Dark Side, his fears of further THX 1138 failure, and any concerns about Coppola.
After winning, Milner hit the brakes on his Trojan horse powered roadster, and rushed back like a good Odysseus to save Helenic Laurie. Just in time, for deadly flames flickered from the wreck, turning it into a blazing Greek pyre. Luckily, like Lucas, Falfa and Laurie were still alive and relatively unharmed. Indeed, Falfa was found standing slumped over in sickly defeat and staring in mute dejection at the burning wreck of his car. This gave him a chance to change his ways like Lucas, a second chance that underlined that Lucas now emphasized healing rather than vindictiveness in the Star Director Wars, unlike Coppola in MARIO PUZO’S THE GODFATHER.
Meanwhile Laurie was quickly swept up in the arms of Scarecrow Steve, who had earlier heard that Falfa had Laurie in his car. This was a fitting sight, for seeing the two ardent lovers hug, make up and pledge to stay in Modesto and marry each other in a field that was just being kissed by the rays of the rising sun reminded us that Dorothy first met the Scarecrow in a field at the beginning of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Clearly, their Romantic narrative had ended in a triumphantly Ozian and healing eucatastrophic conclusion indeed, with a symbolic destruction of the Wicked Witch of the West and her Black Tower.
Indeed, the liquidation of the Wicked Falfa freed Laurie from death and disease and returned her to dawnlit Kansas reality as a centred, healthy and reharmonized adult caught up in an heartfelt embrace with her equally harmonized Scarecrow hunk. This ending fulfilled the hope of marriage between Dorothy and Hunk hinted at in the end of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Steve and Laurie’s decision to remain with each other also confirmed the allusions to IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE seen in their narrative, reminding us of George’s decision to stay in Bedford Falls and marry his benevolently scheming life’s love, Mary. A reassuring sight indeed, for John’s racing prowess and his car’s link to the phallic air balloon of the Great Oz had created the vague fear that he would win the love of Laurie instead of Steve.
With good reason, for selflessly saving Laurie for Steve evoked not only Shane’s rescue of Joey’s frontier family in SHANE. Indeed, the ending evoked the heroism of Wayne’s Tom Doniphon, who also selflessly saved the heroine for another man in another allegorical Ford film that also brought sexual harmony to a small town, the ‘twilight for twilight’ black and white Western, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962). Fitting links, for THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE was a perfect allusional fit, not only because AMERICAN GRAFFITI also featured a Western narrative set in 1962. For one thing, Ford passed on into eternity on August 31, 1973, shortly after the August 1, 1973 release date of AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Secondly, Wayne’s quickdraw small town gunslinger Tom Doniphon was forced like Milner to rid the town of personified evil in order that love would bloom like a desert rose in the small southwest town of Shinbone. He eventually did this by shooting down his personified Dark Side, Lee Marvin’s wicked, black clad and libertine outlaw, Liberty Valance, whose surly manner and Falfa cadenced surname confirmed the link of the film to AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Indeed, Valance’s violent and outlaw ways reminded the viewer of Henry Brandon’s outlaw Commanche chief Scar in THE SEARCHERS, underlining that Scar, like the black leather vest clad Valance, also signified black leather clad post-war youth gang leaders.
Significantly, Doniphon secretly killed Valance when the arch libertine tried to gun down Stewart’s earnest and well educated-but slow shooting-Eastern lawyer, Ransom Stoddard. Intriguingly, this secret shooting may have been a tribute to the equally secret acts of real life heroism performed by William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, a friend of Ford and head of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) spy agency in World War II. At any rate, Doniphon’s act of selfless kindness saved Stoddard’s life, just like Milner’s selfless defeat of Falfa in a sense saved Bolander’s life. Milner’s selfless actions also allowed Laurie and Steve to marry each other, reminding us that Doniphon’s help also allowed Ranse to marry Miles’ pretty blonde waitress, Hallie Ericson, taking Hallie away forever from the rough hewn and violent likes of Donovan and Valance.
A good thing for the naïve and plucky waitress, for Hallie’s lack of a school education had left her not only with low self esteem, but surprisingly susceptible to the brutish violence and lawless magnetism of both Donovan and his Dark Side, Valance. Luckily for Hallie and Ransom, Donovan killed his violent Dark Side when he shot Valance dead. This defeat freed him from bitter jealousy and allowed him to lay down his guns forever and to step aside and let Hallie marry Stoddard, implying that Ford was resigned to the era of film artists educated on the job being swept away by film artists educated at post-secondary film schools Given the link to THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, Lucas implied that the same thing happened here in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, with Milner defeating his Dark Side Falfa in order to be able to step aside and let Steve marry Laurie.
Curiously, these allusions to the 1962 Ford Western reminded us that Pete’s Place, the restaurant of Hallie’s Swedish parents, was as much a focal point for THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE as Mel’s was in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. The allusions to THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE also reminded us that the film was openly committed to the benefits of education-including, presumably, post-secondary film school education. Indeed, Hallie was saved as much by the education freely given her by Ranse as she was by marital union with the Eastern lawyer. This commitment to education was summed up in the phrase ‘Education is the basis of law and order’carefully written in white chalk on the blackboard during the school room scene that was the centrepiece of the film. This commitment to education underlined that THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, like THE SEARCHERS and BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, was aimed at post-war youth in an attempt to persuade rock ‘n’ roll Boomer kids to stay in school and out of gang trouble. Thus, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE was a fitting allegorical 1962 Western to allude to in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Indeed, alluding to the film reaffirmed Milner’s Western narrative, underlined the positive benefits of Steve’s desire to leave Modesto for college, and reaffirmed the benefits of the post-secondary education of Lucas with its promise of success to come. Indeed, allusions to THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE prepared us for Luke’s film artist linked J.D. Jedi training in the Classic Trilogy.
And so Milner’s Western narrative was over, with the implicitly Bakshi and Hellman linked Wicked dragslinger and his vague aura of homosexual menace defeated by the resident good Euro-Indigenous dragslinging Great Oz, bringing cinematic and eucatastrophic success and heterosexual harmony to the lives of Laurie, Steve, John, Toad and Lucas, to the small Western town of Modesto, and to the post-Sixties viewers of AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Even Toad’s Comedy ended earlier on a high note, with a promise and a kiss from Debbie Dunham to go out with Toad again on another night on his broomstick Vespa. And so the successful conclusions of the Comedy, the Romance and the Western narratives allowed AMERICAN GRAFFITI to end triumphantly at sunrise, anticipating the triumphant sunlit endings of STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE and STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE. Indeed, in the celebratory spirit of the moment, Tiger Toad ecstatically assured Milner that he had ‘…the bitchinest car in the Valley’. The effusive statement eased Milner’s worries of humbug impotence, and established him in the end as the real Great Oz of AMERICAN GRAFFITI. In the triumph of the moment, the deuce jockey even mistakenly bowed to the praise of Toad. He forgot that the death of Valance allowed Donovan to hang up his guns forever, and that Falfa’s defeat should have also encouraged him to hang up the keys. Instead, he delighted Toad by defiantly agreeing to continue racing and defeating all challengers.
This was a rash and incautious statement indeed, and we were not surprised to discover that both characters in fact ‘died’ or disappeared within the next few years in the snapshot summaries of their careers after high school that closed the movie, dying and disappearing like Shane at the end of SHANE, or SEN 5241 and SRT at the end of THX 1138. Significantly, Milner was killed in a head on collision with a drunk driver after driving off into the sunset after a commercial drag race. It was a head on death that was ominously foretold by the Great Milner himself, strolling with Carol through the local junkyard hot rod graveyard at one point in the Western narrative. This car graveyard was full of past famous racing cars and the ghosts of their once famous San Joaquin Valley drivers, ghostly heroes who returned full Force throttle with the ace Rebel pilots of the Classic Trilogy. Here Milner told Carol the tale of his late friend Freddy, whose death in a head on collision qualified him as another dead Wicked Witch of the East figure in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Clearly, not only the police Force had to be with you if you wanted to succeed in life after high school. Like Lucas, you also had to turn your back on dangerous and adolescent racing fantasies, and embrace the enlightening hardships of post-secondary education.
At this triumphant point in the film, it seemed that all of the narratives were neatly tied up, and all of the characters and viewers of AMERICAN GRAFFITI were centred, healed and reharmonized again by this easygoing, fun loving and laid back Ozian spiritworld dream. However, there was one problem: one of the main characters in this rejuvenating Ozian drama was missing from the climatic Western drag race, and had in fact been missing for most of the film-Cowardly Curt Henderson. And this was because, in this nighttime four-play that led to the sexually charged climax of the drag race, Curt had been travelling on his own spiritworld odyssey in the fourth intertwined story, the Journey of Self Discovery. Like Steve Bolander’s journey, this odyssey took Curt through all four of the Ozian elemental roles. However, unlike Steve’s adventures, Curt’s moody journey convinced him that staying in Modesto was a mistake. This allowed him to become the only hero in AMERICAN GRAFFITI to make like Lucas and THX 1138 and leave his childhood fantasies behind and say goodbye to his small town forever, implicitly affirming his link to Lucas.
Curt’s journey started off innocently enough, sitting in the back seat of Laurie’s sickly green car at the beginning of the film while Steve drove the trio back to high school Munchkinland to relive old memories one last time at the Munchkin song and dance filled commencement sockhop. Significantly, while stopped at a light near a store called Kirby’s-which implicitly reaffirmed the film’s interest in narrative art via Jolly Jack Kirby, a famous Marvel Comics artist-a shining white ’56 Thunderbird rolled up on their virtuous right and a beautiful blonde siren at the wheel turned to smile at Curt. Curt was transfixed by her beauty-as transfixed as Bernard Chanticleer at his first sight of Barbara Darling in YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW-and his amazement increased when she mouthed ‘…I love you’ at him before driving away. This experience astonished the Cowardly Curt, who could not believe that a beautiful woman could love him, and transformed him excitedly into the virile Scarecrow.
Curiosly, his aroused excitement reminded us of the transformation of THX 1138 into a virile Scarecrow by the ruby red pill manipulation and the love of lovely LUH 3417 in THX 1138. The revved up Curt even begged Steve to drive after the Thunderbird when it turned right on G Street-no doubt G for Glinda-calling the blonde driver ‘… a goddess…the most perfect, dazzling creature I’ve ever seen’! This was an apt description, perfectly summing up Suzanne Somer’s surrogate beautiful and bewitching Glinda the Good of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, always watching over Curt and appearing and disappearing in her ’56 T-bird like Glinda in her floating bubble throughout the rest of the film.
Cast under the good spell of the benevolent Witch, Scarecrow Curt was unable to get her out of his mind. This reminded the viewer of frozen and lovestruck teenage Tin Man Hermie, a similar prisoner of sorcerous enchantment after he fell in love with a beautiful brunette woman named Dorothy while summer vacationing on Coney Island in SUMMER OF ‘42. This was a significant allusion, for Tin Man Hermie eventually made love to Jennifer O’ Neill’s enchanting Dorothy in her lonely Kansas farmhouse-like cottage, in the end. This love session filled the naïve and awestruck fifteen year old boy with Great Oz wisdom, evoking Barbarella’s liberation of fellow Tin Man Pygar in BARBARELLA. Thus, this SUMMER OF ’42 allusion prepared us for hermetic Curt’s own sexually charged Ozian transformation full of Great Oz wisdom during this healing and dreaming night. And, like the possibility of a permanent breakup between Steve and Laurie and a drag race showdown between Milner and Falfa, the SUMMER OF ’42 allusion also helped build suspense in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, making us wonder if Curt would make love to his beautiful and bewitching older woman too, in the end.
Filled with light and fanciful thoughts of love, Curt wandered the silent, empty and labyrinthine THX 1138 hallways of his high school while Steve and Laurie talked and danced in Munchkinland. Curt eventually returned to the gym and met a young and Harvey Kurtzman resembling teacher friend of his named Mr. Wolfe-played by McGovern. Significantly, the resemblance of Mr. Wolfe to Kurtzman reminded us that Terrence ‘Terry’ Gilliam was a protégé of Kurtzman and linked to animated film like Bakshi, Crumb and Disney, perhaps linking Henderson to Gilliam in a continuance of the animation film theme of AMERICAN GRAFFITI-although it was noticeable that Henderson resembled and dressed more like Scottish born and Canada residing film animator, Norman McLaren. Curiously, Mr. Wolfe treated Curt like an adult, underlining that Curt had psychologically already left Modesto despite his denials. Indeed, Wolfe affirmed this adult status by urging Curt to leave for college. Significantly, Mr. Wolfe’s surname also evoked Wolfman Jack, a fitting evocation, for McGovern was a real life DJ and his character Wolfe had the same sly and smooth way with an admiring crowd of lonely teen cuties as Wolfman Jack, and served as an ironic reminder of Curt’s lack of success with Glinda. Of course, seeing Mr. Wolfe in action dredged up the spectre of adult sexual abuse of minors, again preparing us for the insidious sexual evil of the Classic Trilogy.
At any rate, seeing Mr. Wolfe’s comfortable, slyly humourous and knowing ways with the ladies further enflamed Scarecrow Curt’s lonely ardour. He left the school to restlessly wander the Ozian night streets with his old and Neuman resembling girlfriend, Wendy-a name that evoked Wendy, the younger sister of Lucas, and played by Debbie Celiz-in the ruby red Volkswagen of her friend, Bobbie Tucker-played by Lynne Stewart. Fittingly, his old flame also reignited Curt’s newfound Ozian mojo in the ruby red car, reminding Scarecrow Curt of how much he had left behind, and how much romance with an even more beautiful woman like Glinda he would like to experience.
Interestingly, at one point in this nostalgic and tragicomic VW trip, Wendy climbed into the backseat with Curt. Soon the two ex-lovers kissed passionately, a full throttle kiss that was one of the longest unedited scenes in the movie and that reminded us of the lovemaking of THX 1138 and LUH 3417 in THX 1138. A significant reminder, given that the real Wendy was the younger sister of Lucas and this Wendy made it clear that she was also younger than Curt. Indeed, the kiss reminded us that the real Wendy was blonde, that Curt had already fallen madly in love with a mysterious and beautiful blonde while in his younger sister’s car, that Lucas depended on his younger sister’s help to survive as a youth, and that Curt was the alter ego of Lucas in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. LUH 3417 also watched over and acted like a helpful sister to the struggling and impotent THX 1138, until he was forced to journey alone towards personal and artistic liberation by her unexpected termination in THX 1138.
Adding all these points from the life and films of Lucas together, the kiss scene with Wendy implied that a lonely teen Lucas suffering from the usual raging hormones was on one level guiltily attracted to his cute younger sister Wendy, partly explaining why an unknowing and forbidden incestuous attraction for Leia later plagued Luke in the Classic Trilogy. Like Falfa menacing Milner’s rear in his wicked ’55 Chevy, the kiss scene with Wendy also introduced a vague sense of Dark Side menace into the otherwise easy going AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Indeed, the scene reminded us of the enforced polysexuality and the attempted homosexual rape scene in THX 1138. Clearly, Curt like Lucas and later Luke had to adhere to a healthy sexuality and sever any unusual attachments to his younger sister, if he was ever going to grow up and leave Modesto for college.
Significantly, this link between George and Wendy and Curt and Wendy was quickly confirmed. For insulting Bobbie caused the irate driver to angrily pull over her ruby red VW and toss Scarecrow Curt out onto the sidewalk-evoking a similar scene in ALPHAVILLE, bringing allegorical sly fi back to the films of Lucas. This was one of the funniest moments in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, and prepared us for the sight of Laurie tossing Steve out of her car later in the film. Significantly, this second toss out occurred after Steve implied that Laurie had once watched Curt perform a sexual act. Given Curt and Wendy’s kiss, Steve’s comment was again ominous, confirming the link of Curt and Laurie-and hence George and Wendy-to taboo sexual activity. This forbidden spectre was implicitly reaffirmed by the fact that Curt soon saw his beautiful blonde Glinda in her snow white T-bird again after Bobbie’s VW took off, linking his old girlfriend Wendy to a blonde and reminding us again that the real life Wendy was an attractive blonde as a youth. However, the mysterious blonde and Wendy both quickly disappeared into the Ozian dream after the ejection, taking their vaguely incestuous associations with them.
This toss-out also transformed Scarecrow Curt into an immobile and impotent Tin Man and cut him loose from Munchkinland high school forever. Frozen on the sidewalk, he clambered onto the trunk of a parked car and watched television through the window of an electronics store, a television that evoked the Ozian crystal ball of Professor Marvel in THE WIZARD OF OZ. The flickering television set also reminded us of the monitoring centre of THX 1138, and prepared us for Great SEN/Oz mayhem to come. The television also reminded us that Lucas was among the first generation of children to grow up with the far seeing medium of television, and of the fast paced, tightly edited, television commercial style of THX 1138 and AMERICAN GRAFFITI. However, this was also an ironic scene, reminding us that Lucas escaped from television for the liberation of independent filmmaking when THX 1138 escaped the labyrinth at the end of THX 1138. An escape seen throughout AMERICAN GRAFFITI, for the exuberant teens of the film also escaped the lure of television as they cruised the Ozian night streets, setting us up for the television free and rocketing Rebels of the Classic Trilogy.
This television watching stint also soon evoked the Afro-American holocast dancers of THX 1138 and their invigorating Force. For sitting on the car trunk, oblivious to the fantastic Ozian spiritworld driving around him and singing along to ‘The Great Pretender’ (1956) by the Platters-because he was pretending to be eager to stay in Modesto?-being played on the radios of passing cars, Tinny Curt was slowly surrounded by three of the symbolic Africans of AMERICAN GRAFFITI: Bo Hopkins’ big Joe, Manuel Padilla’s little Carlos, and Beau Gentry’s medium height Ants. These three greyish-black satin jacket clad street toughs and mischievous flying monkeys were members of the Pharaohs, a local gang that headed the teenage Rebellion against the evil adult Empire. With their African name, the Pharaohs reminded us not only of the holocast dancers who gave THX 1138 an Afrodisiac-like jolt to his virility, but of SRT. They also evoked the riotously exuberant Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in THE WILD ONE, whose leader Johnny Stadler had already been alluded to in the form of John Milner. This latter day, terrible trio also evoked Frank Mazzola’s Crunch, Dennis Hopper’s Goon and Nick Adams’ Moose, three black leather and high school football jacketed wearing toughs in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE that menaced Jim Stark-the James Dean character that big Joe resembled-after the clifftop chicken drag race killed their gang leader, Buzz.
Indeed, the three Rebel Pharaohs reminded us of this menacing harassment of Stark soon after they approached Tin Man Curt. Curiously, their encounter started off like a new meeting of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, with Curt being asked who could be sitting on the trunk of a friend’s car named Gil Gonzalez. Tinny Curt was then solemnly directed to ruefully contemplate a minute scratch on the trunk that was said to have been caused by his carelessness. But when Curtilocks protested his innocence, the Three Bearaohs moved in on Curt like the REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE trio moved in on Stark, regretfully informing him that the penalty to be paid for all transgressions against the J.D. order was death. In fact, they insisted they had to kill Toby Juarez the night before, tying him to the rear bumper of their car and dragging him to his death. This comment made Juarez another dead Wicked Witch of the East figure, throwing the gate of the healing spiritworld wide open again, and forcing Curt to travel even deeper into the healing Ozian dream. This was another ironic moment for Curt, reminding us that Curt started off AMERICAN GRAFFITI as the symbolic dead Wicked Witch of the East figure himself when he decided against leaving with Steve for college at the beginning of the film.
However, Curt had already travelled far down the Yellow Lined Road of his own transformational hot rodyssey, a transmigration of Ozian souls that had already taken him from Fiery but Cowering Lion afraid to leave Modesto, to lovelorn and Earthy Scarecrow pining for his Glinda, and now to frozen Water and wheel-less Tin Man. The only Ozian transformation left for him to make in order to leave the spiritworld as a fully formed and wholesome adult hero was that of an Airy and garrulous Great Oz windbag. And initially, the gibbering and sneering flying monkey Pharaohs seemed to be the last people in town able to offer Great Oz wisdom and power to Tinny Curt. However, the Pharoahs’ name reminded us that, prior to being revealed as the Great and Powerful Oz, Professor Marvel linked his crystal ball to the days of ancient Egypt while pretending to tell Dorothy’s fortune at the beginning of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Thus, and not to our surprise, the viewer noticed something interesting when the Pharaohs liberated Curt from watching television. They forced him into their car in order to give him a chance to perform a bit of J.D. devilry that would allow him to atone for the scratch on their friend’s car. And we saw that the bitchin car of the Pharoahs was an assertively large and powerful looking Mercedes Benz cruiser that was the colour of Dorothy’s ruby red slippers.
Like the colour of Milner’s Yellow Brick Roadster, the ruby red colour of the Pharaoh’s cruiser evoked the colours of THE WIZARD OF OZ, reaffirming the Ozian theme of AMERICAN GRAFFITI. The car’s ruby red colour also reminded us that an invigorating power object was always given to the hero after the death of the Wicked Witch of the East. Clearly, with the ‘death’ of Toby Juarez, this ruby red Mercedes Benz was that power object, arriving to take Curt through a knowing Great Oz phase. However, the Pharaohs quickly made clear that their Great Oz phase would not involve a transformative sexual awakening like that experienced by Hermie with his Dorothy at the end of SUMMER OF ‘42. For the terrible trio insisted to Curt’s dismay that his blonde Glinda was really the town prostitute, and out of his price range. While this information was never confirmed, Curt did not experience a sexual awakening in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. However, the Pharaohs did prove to be the only people in town to know the whereabouts of the mysterious Wolfman Jack, that howling and raving rock and roll DJ whose enigmatic and unseen presence had constantly haunted AMERICAN GRAFFITI on passing car radios like rumours of the Great Oz himself. Thus, and contrary to their appearances, the Pharaohs did pass on some wisdom to Curt like three street wise and virile magi-arguably reappearing to Luke as Anakin, Ben and Yoda in the Classic Trilogy-allowing him to experience a Great Curt phase and complete his healing and harmonizing Ozian transformation.
Indeed, to complete his J.D. training, the flying Pharaohs drove Curt first to an amusement arcade where they broke open and robbed pinball machines for needed gas money. Here we met the owners of the arcade, an odd Laurel and Hardy pair named Mr. Gordon and Mr. Anderson who humourously missed the theft that was happening underneath their noses. Indeed, like most of the rest of the few adults that actually appear in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, Scott Beach’s Gordon and Al Nalbandian’s Hank Anderson and their ardent affiliation to the local Moose Lodge were played for clueless pod people laughs. However, in retrospect, the pair could be seen as bumbling prototypes for Vader and the Emperor in the Classic Trilogy. In fact, the similar three syllable last name of Anderson anticipated that of Palpatine, an ominous foreboding heightened by his creepy appearance and nonblinking gaze. This similar last name and creepy appearance also clearly scared Curt, making him wonder if this was how he would look and act in thirty years time if he did not leave Modesto for college with Steve in the morning. Indeed, the name of Hank Anderson sounded so much like Curt Henderson, this was probably the moment in the film when Curt decided to throw off his Cowering stance forever and leave Modesto for college, after all.
The arcade scene also led to the funniest moment in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. For after leaving the arcade, the flying Pharaohs soon spied a police car with Holstein and another officer hidden in a used car lot trying to catch Rebel teen speeders. Big Joe decided to take out these castle soldiers and at the same time allow Curt to atone for his earlier scratch ‘sin’ by giving the J.D. initiate one Herculean task: Curt had to anchor a cable to a pillar and then hook the cable to the back axle of the police car without tipping off the two officers. Of course, because this was a healing and magical Ozian dream, Curt accomplished this one incredible labour of Curtules and scrambled back to the flying Pharaohs’ ruby red cruiser in safety. The jubilantly gibbering Pharaohs then flew triumphantly past the parked police car well above the speed limit, their car reinforcing that this was Curt’s Great Oz stage by fleeing exit stage left like the Great Oz in his balloon at the end of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Curt hung out the window with a pumped fist, happily urging the stealthily waiting officers on with a soothing, Fifth Elemental cheer of ‘…hang five for justice!’, a cheer that also neatly evoked the five main Ozian characters of this healing dream. The police officers attempted to rise to the challenge, roaring out of the used car lot in furious pursuit like two flying monkeys, or the two robocop motorcyclists hot on the trail of THX 1138 at the end of THX 1138. However, unlike the Pharaohs, the latest two officers were more symbolic castle soldiers than real ones, with the result that the decision to pursue turned out to be double trouble for them. Indeed, the Force of the acceleration caused the anchored cable to pull off the car’s rear axle, leaving the car stranded with two front tires in the street in an unexpected castration of the Force that definitely linked them to the two downed robot officer motorcyclists of THX 1138-and to ominously twilit DEMENTIA 13, seen on a Temple Theatre marquee in the background.
In fact, the dumbfounded look on the faces of the two officers reminded us not only of the two insipid robocops who failed to apprehend THX 1138 at the end of THX 1138, but also of the two black t-shirted thugs that picked on Toad and Debbie, Falfa’s smart ass attempt to beat Milner twice in the virtuous right lane and the two bumbling arcade owners who did not realize they had been the victims of a robbery. Clearly, uncreative double trouble repetitions led to Wicked destruction in AMERICAN GRAFFITI as in THX 1138 and THE WIZARD OF OZ, setting the stage for similar repetitive disasters to plague the evil Empire and other evildoers in the later films of Lucas. However, as a sign that Curt had indeed been transformed, matured and enlightened by his Journey of Self Discovery and was now indeed in a Great Curt phase, double trouble destruction was a painful lesson that was instinctively realized and avoided by the all knowing teen without having to experience it first hand. For, after being exuberantly congratulated by the Pharaohs for a prank well done, Curt avoided any senseless repetitions of the stunt by turning down an invitation to join the street gang on a full-time basis, recalling the escape of THX 1138 from the Shell Dwellers at the end of THX 1138.
By turning down their invitation after being dropped off at Mel’s, Curt also succeeded in turning down the seductive adolescent perils of bright lights, big Emerald City. In this way the law and the police Force remained mischievously with him, allowing him to leave the dreaming spiritworld on a whole and harmonious J.D. note, in the end. Thus, Curtilocks fended off and pacified the Three Bearaohs, and freed himself for the adult dream. Curiously, the Great Curt could also be seen to form an elemental Ozian foursome of sorts with the Pharaohs in this last glimpse of them all together, with big Joe as a virile and Earthy Scarecrow, Fiery little Carlos as a Cowardly Lion, wisened and garrulous Curt as an Airy Great Oz, and pale and unhealthy looking Ants as a frozen Water Tin Man. And then this amusing elemental foursome broke up forever as the flying Pharaohs drove away in their Forcefull ruby red cruiser, leaving Curt stranded like Tin Man Hermie again on the pavement. Hearing the mysterious Wolfman Jack on a passing radio asking for the last requests of the night, Curt decided to find out if the flying Pharaohs were telling him the truth and track down the enigmatic Great Oz J.D. DJ at a building on the outskirts of town.
This was a fitting decision, confirming that he had indeed reached the Great Oz stage of his transformative elemental journey, and completing his transformative quest for all knowing wisdom like Hermie at the end of SUMMER OF ‘42. For the Wolfman’s omnipresent voice, his rock ‘n’ roll music, and the Great Oz mystery of his identity had all hung over AMERICAN GRAFFITI from the beginning of the Ozian dream like the threatened breakup of Steve and Laurie and the impending drag race between Milner and Falfa. The Wolfman was also seen by the Munchkin teens as the only adult in this parent free nighttime spiritworld who actually knew the score and was worth emulating-even the flying Pharaohs looked up to the Wolfman! For the mysterious Wolfman was perceived to be the head Pharaoh himself, the ultimate mischievous Munchkin whose sexually salacious voice and good rockin’ music constantly threatened the evil adult establishment with primal adolescent sexual Force. Indeed, the howling Wolfman was seen as so counter-culture and seditious that Carol Morrison reported that her mother would not let her listen to him because she thought that he was black-perhaps confusing him with bluesman Howlin’ Wolf.
Like calling John a ‘J.D.’, being called black was the ultimate compliment in a Lucas film. For the comment reminded us that Afro-American culture and virility had been identified with life Force, success and anti-Establishment rebellion since the virile and rebellious Afro-American holocasts jumpstarted THX 1138’s libido in THX 1138. This link of life Force, virility and success to Afro-American culture was reinforced by the classic rock ‘n’ roll music heard throughout AMERICAN GRAFFITI, post-World War II music which was inspired by jazz and blues. The flying Pharaohs reaffirmed the link, cockily and knowingly striding and riding through the midnight streets in grey-black satin jackets like the virile and dark skinned Pharaohs of old. Clearly, to succeed in life, Lucas believed that the police Force and the J.D. Afro mojo must be with you-an approach to life understood instinctively by Milner. Thus, a brief stop to bathe in the lubricious aura of the mysterious and howlin’ Wolfman was in order to jumpstart Curt’s own libido and send him on his way to college with a mojo spring in his step.
However, there was danger in this visit, for the vague homoeroticism that had clung to Curt and Milner at the beginning of the film, and to Milner and Falfa in their automotive duelling and jousting over the course of the film, also vaguely implied that some sexual incident might accompany this other more mysterious Great Oz with the salacious voice. Indeed, the visit reminded us that lovelorn Hermie’s sexual awakening and Great Oz transformation occurred after a lovemaking session with the beautiful and mysterious brunette Dorothy at the end of SUMMER OF ‘42, affirming the sexually tinged nature of Curt’s meeting with the primal Wolfman at the end of AMERICAN GRAFFITI.
Driving out in his own car to a building on the edge of town, Curt discovered that the three Pharaonic magi were right: the building was the source of the primal Wolfman’s howling broadcasts. He snuck with newfound J.D. cunning into the building and ascended the stairs, startling the radio station’s lone occupant like SEN 5241 startled the high priest in the television station of OMMRICK. Indeed, the rock and roll soundtrack of the film underlined the link to this scene in THX 1138 by playing ‘Crying in the Chapel’ (1953) by Sonny Till & the Orioles. However, unlike SEN 5241, Curt did not kill-or knock out-the station’s lone occupant, no doubt due to the fact that the station’s rock music was a Force of liberation and not enslavement like the holocast programmes in THX 1138.
Indeed, to the surprise of Curt and the audience, the station’s occupant was not a high priest of OMMRICK or the licentious Wolfman leader of the rocking Rebel pack that we had come to expect. Instead, he was a calm, handsome and virile thirtysomething male named Robert Smith who looked, with his neat black hair, moustache and goatee, like a Latino beatnik and the Kubrick linked little shell dweller in the lunar detention area in THX 1138. In short, he was the disappointingly ordinary older man behind the projection booth curtain that Toto revealed to the audience at the end of THE WIZARD OF OZ, a disappointing and humbug revelation that confirmed that Milner was the real Great Oz of AMERICAN GRAFFITI. And, while Smith also did not offer sexual initiation and transformation like Dorothy in SUMMER OF ’42, he underlined that he had seen the film by knowingly offering Curt asexually frozen but phallic Tin Man popsicles in an amusing nod to that hot lovemaking session at the end of SUMMER OF ’42.
Still, Smith was a wise older mentor and bearded prototype Kenobi figure who treated Curt as an adult like Mr. Wolfe, and whose phallic popsicles presaged the phallic light saber given by Kenobi to Skywalker in STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE. He also urged Curt to symbolically blast off for Alderaan by leaving for college, where romance and adventure awaited him. Curiously, this was the same advice given to Curt earlier by his teacher friend Mr. Wolfe back at the high school, linking the smooth man called Wolfe to the smooth howling Wolfman, both of whom were noticeably popular with young women. The advice hinted that Curt’s popularity would also rise-particularly with attractive and magical blondes!-if he left behind Modesto for a while and made something of his life at college. This certainly was true for Lucas, who met and eventually married his own pretty young brunette Dorothy in the form of Marcia Griffin while finishing off his USC years. Clearly, and unlike Hermie, Curt’s journey in life would involve spiritual, philosophical, intellectual, educational and artistic quests rather than simply sexual quests, reaffirming that he was indeed the alter ego of Lucas like THX 1138. Indeed, the success of this artistic, intellectual, and spiritual journey was shown by the fact that his end of film bio revealed that as an adult Curt succeeded as a Vietnam War draft dodging writer in Canada.
Thus, finally accepting that his own destiny lay somewhere beyond teen lust and the dusty confines of Modesto, Curt decided like Dorothy and the young Lucas to leave the Ozian dream for whole and centred adult life at college. This was the film’s seminal moment, and one that allowed Curt to fully accept the Airy wisdom brought by this Great Oz stage and move on to adulthood. This decision also finished Curt’s progression through the elemental Ozian foursome, allowing him to become a whole or holy man and achieve artistic liberation and independence like Lucas and THX 1138, in the end. This decision also implied that Lucas’ own return to Modesto to make the film had reminded him how dull small town life was, and reawakened his commitment to his USC education.
Before he left Obi Wan Smith, wholey Curt asked him to get the Wolfman to play a message for him. The message simply requested that the beautiful blonde Glinda call him soon at a certain telephone booth in town, as he was dying to talk to her before he left for college. Smith assured him that he would give the Wolfman the message, and Curt said goodbye and started to leave the building. On the way to the stairs, we suddenly heard the Wolfman’s voice howling out, and Curt turned to see that Smith had reversed THE WIZARD OF OZ progression and transformed himself back into the primal head of the Great Wolfman again in the broadcasting booth, a sight that prepared us for a howling wookie, a howling wolfman and a howling apeman in Landis and Lucas films to come. Clearly, the Wolfman was indeed the floating big head alter ego of the humbug behind the curtain, and Curt and the viewer took this last bit of Great Oz insight into the fading Ozian spiritworld night of this Journey of Self Discovery. In fact, this last sight revealed that Smith was an independent J.D. performance artist in his own right, inspiring Henderson to follow the same path. We were again reminded of the character biographies we saw at the end of the film, where we found that Henderson went on to become an independent writer and to move to Canada, living the independent artistic dream of Lucas and Smith. And so Henderson left the bearded Wolfman, like THX 1138 left the bearded shell dwellers behind at the end of THX 1138, and returned to the last minutes of the healing Ozian nighttime dream.
Elsewhere, the climatic Western dragfight was won and lost, the undying Romance was secured, the last laugh in the Comedy was chuckled out, the healing and harmonizing spiritworld Ozian night had ended, the new day had dawned, and the howling Wolfman, the flying J.D. Pharoahs, the flying police, the Munchkinland sockhop, the cruising Munchkins, the Wicked Don Falfa, the Totoish Carol and the dreamy Debbie had all disappeared with the end of the healing Ozian spiritworld dream. And Curt was in his car beside the phone booth waiting for the phone to ring so he could talk to Glinda but he had fallen asleep and so he did not hear the phone when it started to ring and it was still ringing when Curt suddenly woke up in shock and dived in a frenzy into the phone booth. Amazingly, while all of the other characters had disappeared with the healing Ozian night, the mysterious blonde Glinda was actually on the line, confirming the unusual magical powers of this Good Witch. This was an anxious and serious moment for Curt, for we remembered that this Glinda could represent an unusual attachment to a younger sister that could trap Curt in Modesto with the pod people…forever. Clearly, she could not hold him back and prevent him from fulfilling his J.D. Jedi destiny!
While Glinda was initially sympathetic to Curt and even knew his name, unlike Dorothy in SUMMER OF ’42, she did not give him her name. She asked if she could meet him that night-she cruised trimatic Third Street-and we remembered that the dream did not end for Hermie in SUMMER OF ’42 until he made love to the magical brunette Dorothy after her absent and mysterious Great Oz husband was killed in action in World War II. But thankfully for Curt, Milner’s defeat of the Wicked and libertine Falfa in the dragslinger race had saved Laurie and freed her and Steve to be united in marriage. This married union had clearly severed any affectionate and/or guilty link that attached Curt and Laurie to each other, and had also severed any need for attachments to surrogate younger sisters like Wendy or the Glinda blonde. And so, while Curt’s lonely journey had been the ironic opposite of Laurie’s in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, and he had lost love rather than gained it, the loss had been beneficial rather than harmful. At last, the healing Ozian spiritworld dream was over for Curt and had left him as fully centred and reharmonized and adult and free to choose his own fate in the end as Laurie. And so he revealed his decision to leave Modesto, and Glinda the Good Witch said goodbye to Curt and hung up, fading away like the real Glinda in her floating bubble in THE WIZARD OF OZ, like LUH 3417 at the end of THX 1138, like Dorothy at the end of SUMMER OF ‘42, and like Wendy earlier in the VW, back into the Ozian dream.
Significantly, this dual freedom returned in the Classic Trilogy, for Luke Skywalker was also freed to break away from Leia and the Rebellion and pursue his independent J.D. Jedi destiny at the end of the Classic Trilogy saga due to his sister’s love for, and marriage to, Han Solo. As Curt and Luke were the cinematic alter egos of Lucas, the implication was that Lucas also had to free himself from an affectionate and concerned attachment to his kid sister Wendy in order to leave Modesto. This was obviously an important step for the young Lucas, as the records indicated that the shy and budding young director often relied on Wendy’s help and guidance in his youth owing to the absence of his sweet but ill mother and his hard working father (Pollock xiii-xvii and 11-42). Indeed, the implication was that Lucas finally severed this link to his helpful sister and left Modesto for USC not only after his Falfa-like wicked car crash sobered him up, but after Wendy developed a serious relationship with a male suitor like Laurie-and later Leia. Thus, returning to aimless small town California with its dull pod people to film AMERICAN GRAFFITI and relive his stifling early life through the Journey of Curt reminded Lucas of his own cathartic break from small town life and reaffirmed his own decision to leave aimless hot rodding for USC. Clearly, there was no turning back, and he had to persevere with his dream like Curt despite the failure of THX 1138.
This final message was underlined later that morning, when wholesome and harmonized Curt met the rest of the heroes at the airport, standing triumphantly in the morning sunlight like THX 1138 stood in the daylight at the end of THX 1138. This was an uplifting sendoff that evoked Dorothy’s heartfelt goodbyes to her spiritworld companions at the end of THE WIZARD OF OZ, with Scarecrow Steve standing beside Laurie Gale and freeing Curt from any ties to Laurie, Cowardly Toad decked out in an orange shirt that underlined his newfound leonine status, the Great Milner in fine mojo form in a dark blue t-shirt that emphasized the confident return of his heterosexual virility, and the barely seen and heard presences of the fittingly uncredited Mr. and Mrs. Henderson providing appropriate Tin Man and motherly Glinda touches in the background-the only time a parent was openly seen in the films of Lucas until the end of STAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI. And all of the heroes and viewers were healthy and rejuvenated like the real life Kansas farmers at the end of THE WIZARD OF OZ, allowing wholesome Laurie to say ‘Bye Curt!’
Significantly, these two words were the same final two words spoken by the blonde Glinda on the telephone to Curt, implicitly affirming the forbidden link between the blonde and Laurie. Thus, wholesome Laurie and Curt truly released their love for each other, and escaped from any incestuous Dark Sides. Indeed, the second farewell allowed Curt to stride resolutely over the tarmac to his plane and flee Modesto, its labyrinthine streets, youth underground, televisions, unimaginative pod people and younger sisters in a way that reaffirmed the correctness of the decision of Lucas to leave constricting small town life and his own implied cloying relationship for his younger sister Wendy for a life as an independent and idiosyncratic J.D. film artist.
And so Curt rose up into the air in the plane, rising up like THX 1138 rose up from the tunnel at the end of THX 1138, affirming the implicit link of the two characters. And so this Ozian themed movie ended on a hopeful note between the past and hoped for future of Henderson and Lucas-literally up in the air!-wondering if the years at USC would work out and the film would succeed. Lucas emphasized the hoped for bright side, for when the plane took to the air, we saw that it was a carrier of Magic Carpet Airlines. The last time we heard of anyone riding a magic carpet it was Aladdin in the Arabian Nights, a clear sign that Curt and Lucas were flying off to more magical adventures in a dreaming Ozian spiritworld far, far away in equally Arabic Tunisia. Indeed, the Arabian allusion was perfect, for this potent and rising erect with the Force airplane ending with friends watching wistfully from the tarmac was straight out of the end of the allegorical and implicitly Jack Warner bashing Michael Curtiz film, CASABLANCA (1942), presaging all of the allusions to CASABLANCA in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Clearly, play it again, Wolfman…and make all of our film dreams come true.
Significantly, as he sat in his airplane seat, Curt looked out of his window and saw the enigmatic white ’56 T-bird driving down a road alongside the airport. The sight reiterated that Lucas was still unsure at this point that he had made the right decision to attend USC, and that he was still wondering if he should have stayed home and married a local girl. However, while he sighed and slumped back resignedly in his seat, unable to believe his luck, the sight did not stop him from continuing with his quest. Clearly, and unlike the ending of METROPOLIS, the head overruled the heart and the hands at the end of AMERICAN GRAFFITI. However, given that Glinda had been linked to incest, it was for the best that the two would not meet again. Curt could even take some comfort from the sight. Indeed, the brief biographs on all of the main male characters at the end of the film-the younger girls had no bios because they had not graduated from high school at this point-confirmed this benevolent protection. For as noted earlier, here we learned that Curt avoided the early deaths of Milner and Fields by fulfilling the vague Sixties dream of avoiding the Vietnam draft by fleeing to Canada to become a writer, the perfect place for a snow white ’56 T-bird and a Good Witch of the North. And just where were you in THE WIZARD OF OZ Part Two?
Thus, unlike THX 1138, all of the major characters and story elements of THE WIZARD OF OZ appeared openly in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. A setting sun carried four elemental Ozian men and a pretty young Dorothy down into an inner healing spiritworld night. Symbolic deaths of Wicked Witch of the East figures in the form of Curt Henderson, Toby Juarez and full throttle Freddy opened up the gates to the healing spiritworld dream, allowing the magically transformed and elemental male quartet to centre and rejuvenate Dorothy waif Laurie Henderson-and to a lesser extent Debbie-in their midst. This allowed Laurothy to use the emboldening presence of her elemental companions to travel to Munchkinland sock hops and to escape the adolescent bright lights, big Emerald City thrills and perils of Mel’s and Modesto at neon night and conquer her Wicked Falfa side-with a little help from a cunning Odyssean and dragslinging Western friend-and escape from the Ozian and Ilium dream into the morning sunlight a centred, healed, and harmonious adult with her Scarecrow beau, in the end. All of these overt allusions to THE WIZARD OF OZ, as well as AMERICAN GRAFFITI’s four part narrative, multi-allusional nature, lack of parents, strange sibling relationships, static camerawork, fast editing style, more balanced frame compositions, inspiring music, Ozian character transformations and innovative sound f/x returned in the Classic Trilogy.
Significantly, while Lucas alluded to BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, TWO LANE BLACKTOP and THE WILD ONE over the course of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, he avoided mentioning the Cold War tensions and fears of planetary nuclear apocalypse that fuelled the reckless, rockin’, drink and drag now for tomorrow we die in a mushroom cloud philosophy of those films. Indeed, in keeping with the healing and life affirming Ozian message of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, Lucas mostly avoided Cold and Vietnam War gloom and doom altogether with the help of Toad’s Comedy and Steve and Laurie’s sweeping Romance, and used Milner’s Western and Henderson’s Journey of Self Discovery narratives to principally carry and resolve the film’s healing four play. This was in part due to the fact that Kubrick’s MADcap allegorical classic, DR. STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB made Cold War fears of planetary destruction passé.
Thus, Lucas was able to bypass Cold War fears and to reiterate the conviction already expressed in THX 1138 that the Cold War was already over and it was time to skyrock. And that success was a result of education and independent and creative hard work done in accordance with the centring and reharmonizing Forces of natural law and order-enriched by the understanding and spiritual wisdom that comes with experience, knowledge and self discovery. Upbeat and positive themes indeed, and ones that returned full Force throttle in STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE. AMERICAN GRAFFITI did end on an ominous note, though. A post high school life summary informed the audience that Toad wound up MIA near An Loc, Vietnam in 1965 during his tour of duty-vanished without a trace in the Twilight Zone, in another ominous memory of the future.