Thursday, December 23, 2010


Looking through the coupe's window, Lucas checks in on Mackenzie Phillips.
(Portions of this text originally appeared in an Oct. 2, 1998 article in 
Entertainment Weekly by Steve Daly.)
A revisionist ethos motivated George Lucas to spruce up the Star Wars "special editions" released in 1997. And, according to spokesperson Lynne Hale, when Lucas first learned that Universal Studios Home Video was going to be issuing a 25th-anniversary edition of American Graffiti, he got the urge to airbrush the past again. "That opening shot always really bugged him," Hale said with indignation.

Glance at earlier video editions of Graffiti ('cause everybody still owns a VCR, right?) and you'll see why. The credits unfold over a grainy photo of Mel's Drive-In, a compromise required after a camera malfunction prevented a better shot. Production notes reveal that while filming at Mels Drive-in on 7/17/72, Lucas' favorite Eclaire camera fell off the tripod and was badly damaged.  As a result, the sky is washedout, making it hard to tell that the time of day is sunset--a detail crucial to establishing the movie's dusk-to-dawn time frame. 

A sunset added to the first shot makes a rosier picture

 For the 1998 tape, laserdisc, and DVD editions, Lucas had his special-effects experts at Industrial Light & Magic execute a "sky replacement." Out went the drab pale blue, along with a building in the background (to help disguise the fact that it was filmed in the metropolis, San Francisco); in went a gorgeously glowing vista--a still photo enhanced
via computer.

4-song soundtrack sampler included with 25th-anniversary VHS edition
This was not the first time the writer/director had altered the film.  In 1978 when many of its then-unknown stars became famous, the studio planned to distribute the film for theatrical re-release. Learning this Lucas and crew set about making changes which were going to add to the overall experience of the film. It was re-edited, three scenes were added and the soundtrack was re-mixed in Dolby Stereo.  In addition, the date of John Milner's death was changed from June 1964 to December 1964 in the post-script.  Purists might complain, but Lucas himself says, "My feeling is, an artist is allowed to work on his projects until such time as he dies."  The DVD was released in the original wide-screen format but if you wanted the 25th-Anniversary, VHS edition you had a choice of widescreen or the miserable pan-and-scan format.  Each sold separately..   Also new to the DVD at the time was the incredible 78-minute making-of documentary with reminiscences by Lucas, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Ron Howard, and the rest of the cast.  For the VHS release the documentary was cut to 10 minutes.  For all its downfalls, the VHS packaging was kinda cool 'cause it came with a funny-shaped 4-song promo disc, not available elsewhere.  

 I think the revised shot is an improvement. The hell with purity; it is a welcome grace note to Lucas' cinematic masterpiece. Now leave it alone, George!   I wonder if there will be any surprises for the Blu-ray edition?  The 3-hour director's cut, perhaps?  Well, one can dream can't he?

My absolute favorite American Graffiti photo.



•    Alternate versions of American Graffiti.  Internet Movie Database.  Retrieved 12/26/2010.
•    American Graffiti, Collector’s Edition. [DVD] (1973, 1998). High School Reunion Collection.  Universal Studios.
•    American Graffiti [VHS] (1973, 1998). Universal Studios.
•    Daly, Steve. (1998). Entertainment Weekly. Issue 452, p77.
•    Hearn, Marcus.  (2005).  The Cinema of George Lucas. Harry N. Abrams. 


  1. That is a great picture. I really, really want that jacket.

  2. Hey Kip, has anyone mentioned the redubbed Ron Howard line? When Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) tells him he's thinking of not going away to college, Steve says "You chicken thing!". Now I clearly remember in the original movie the line was "You chickenshit!" What's the deal? Am I hallucinating?

  3. I have a trailer that was on the set of American Graffiti. It is not the one in the cop car sceen. We have documentation paper from universal studios. Was in 13 movies in more Amercan Graffiti also.send me your email and I will sends pics of the trailer.