Where were you in ‘62? This is the question George Lucas asked of us on the poster for American Graffiti in 1973. As previously mentioned American Graffiti is possibly George Lucas’ best film, but more importantly it’s the best example of a filmmakers nostalgic look at his teenage years. A decade later Kevin Reynolds had similar idea looking back to 1971 in Fandango (1985). But, a decade after that, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) looked back nearly two decades to 1976. But if we go back to the 60’s and 70’s we may see the reason; John Milius’ classic surf movie Big Wednesday (1978) chronicles the lives of a group of friends against the backdrop of the Vietnam War (one day people will come to realise it is better than The Deer Hunter from the same year). And that may be the crux of it, the Vietnam War loomed large in the lives and minds of film makers in the 70’s.
But then there is another issue. New Hollywood or the American New Wave of the 60’s and 70’s saw the ideas and ideals of the independent, European and Asian cinema. Possibly by the 90’s and certainly the 00’s the spirit of the New Wave was dead (thanks Michael Cimino!) and we had to look to burgeoning independent cinema to give us what we had seen from the studios in the past. But does it go deeper than that? In the time from when American Graffiti was set and when it was made, the world looked very different. The first US combat troops were sent to Vietnam and the ceasefire was signed. The Beatles released their first single conquered the world and split up. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. The Summer of Love was followed by Woodstock and culminated in The Altamont Speedway Free Festival. John Fitzgerald Kennedy had overseen a peaceful end to the Cuban missile crisis and possibly averted world war III, and was assassinated. The Apollo 11 program had put the first man on the moon.
How has the world changed since 2003? The same wars are still going on that were a decade ago. Mobile phones got smaller and smaller, then started getting bigger and bigger. The airways are filled by boy bands manufactured by crappy TV shows. To quote Pete Townshend: “But the world looks just the same, And history ain’t changed” . to put it simply the world really hasn’t changed. We are seeing movies about the wars and conflicts in the middle east, and the infantile crisis, but these are contemporary social commentaries not nostalgic movies. It just leaves the question, will filmmakers in the 2020’s be making nostalgic movies about this decade?