American Graffiti

Even if George Lucas had retired after making this warm yet melancholy portrait of small-town teens, and never filmed any of the Star Wars pictures, he’d be considered an important American director. There’s an intense, jukebox-scored nostalgia for the cruising, girls, and cars of his Modesto, California youth. The 1973 film takes an affectionate look back to an innocent age, with JFK in the White House, no beatniks in sight, and the Vietnam War only mentioned in a postscript. Yet, like the teenagers in The Last Picture Show, all Lucas’ characters are uneasily looking ahead. The main couple (Cindy Williams and Ron Howard) contemplates a break-up after high school. The college-bound introvert (Richard Dreyfuss) reconsiders his East Coast ambitions. The nerd (Charles Martin Smith) hopes a borrowed car will land him a girl; and the local drag-strip hero (Paul Le Mat) begins to sense the small future to such dusty acclaim. Everyone’s groping toward a catastrophe of sorts, whether it be war, the ’60s, or the crushing weight of adulthood. (Never have the words “insurance agent” sounded so sad, when Howard’s fate is revealed.) “We can’t stay 17 forever,” says one kid. But for one long last summer night, Lucas lets them remain that way. (PG) BRIAN MILLER

Fri., April 20, 9:30 p.m., 2012