Friday, April 25, 2014

Poolside screening of American Graffiti (1973) at the TCM Classic Film Festival





On the opening night of the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival, I headed to the pool area of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for some entertainment. To kick off the night they offered passholders a variety of free appetizers as well as some music courtesy of a “Wolfman Jack”. There were professional dancers, decked out in their best representation of 1960s style, strutting their stuff to the amusement of poolside loungers. It all tied in very nicely to the film that was about to be shown. I got to hang out with some lovely folks including Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood, K.C. of A Classic Movie Blog, Jill and Carley of The Black Maria and more.


Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood warming herself by a poolside fire pit


"Wolfman Jack" Press photo: TCM


The festivities started winding down and then it was time for a very special poolside screening. TCM festival director Genevieve McGillicuddy came out to thank the sponsors who were making poolside screenings like this one possible. TCM host Ben Mankiewicz followed and started with a joke about McGillicuddy’s name which he claims should be a name for a Preston Sturges’ character and not for a real person.


Ben Mankiewicz - Press Photo: TCM


While American Graffiti (1973)  is not a beach movie, Mankiewicz felt that it was a perfect film to watch outside, at night in Hollywood, poolside and underneath the stars. It’s an important movie too, one Mankiewicz called “seminal”. This film is very important to me because it was one of the several movies that introduced me to my love of film history. I first saw it as an undergrad when I took a film class. I even did a presentation on the film's opening scene. My love for classic film came from American Graffit and several other movies I studied for that class and was further developed by watching countless hours of TCM and filling up my Netflix queue with new treasures. Some people will argue that American Graffiti isn't a classic yet because it's from the 1970s but for me it’s a treasured classic.

Ben Mankiewicz gave the audience some background on the film. I could tell he did his research before the interview. American Graffiti was shot in 28 nights in 1972. Directed by George Lucas, it was made on a tight schedule and with a budget of around $750k (the final cost was $777,777.77 according to IMDb). No one could have predicted the cultural phenomenon it would become. It helped launch several careers. Ron Howard was the only big name in the film at the time because of his success as a child actor. But so many of the actors in the film went on to become big names:  Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Suzanne Somers, Mackenzie Philips, Cindy Williams, Charles Martin Smith etc. American Graffiti was innovative for it’s time. It’s use of popular music, the constraint of the story taking place over one night and the ensemble cast make it a favorite among many.


Ben Mankiewicz, Bo Hopkins, Candy Clark and Paul Le Mat. Press Photo - TCM



It was then time to introduce the guests. Actors Paul Le Mat, Candy Clark and Bo Hopkins joined Mankiewicz for an interview about their experiences filming American Graffiti. The movie was Candy Clark’s second film and Paul Le Mat’s first. Bo Hopkins’ first screen appearances was in The Wild Bunch. Mankiewicz asked Hopkins what the differences are between directors George Lucas and Sam Peckinpah. Hopkin’s responded by saying: “night and day”. But Hopkins wasn’t the only actor in the film who had worked with a major film director. Candy Clark reminded Mankiewicz that before working with George Lucas she worked with legendary director John Huston.

Candy Clark had a lot of interesting memories to share about her experience with American Graffiti. She joked that the nights were so cold that the wig she wore in the film served as a hat to keep her head warm. And yes it was a wig! Clark joked that she couldn’t get her hair to be that fluffy naturally. There was also a lot of dish about actor Richard Dreyfuss who was attending the festival but was not present at this poolside screening. Mankiewicz brought up the fact that Paul Le Mat almost killed Richard Dreyfuss on the set of the film. Clark remembers Le Mat taking Dreyfuss by the arms and the legs, throwing him into the shallow end of a Holiday Inn pool head first. Dreyfuss could have broken his neck but luckily he only suffered a bump on the head when he hit the bottom. Paul Le Mat joked that Richard Dreyfuss wasn’t at the poolside screening because he was afraid Le Mat would recreate the event. Clark also revealed, possibly to Dreyfuss’ dismay if he finds out, that Dreyfuss had recently had a heartbreak during filming and spent much of his time at the Holiday Inn crying.  

Clark, along with many members of the ensemble cast, received a lot more work when the film became a huge hit. She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. During the show when they were announcing the nominees the camera focused on the wrong person when they called out Candy Clark. And to rub some more salt into the wound Clark lost the Oscar 9 year old Tatum O’Neal.


Ben Mankiewicz, Bo Hopkins, Candy Clark and Paul Le Mat. Press Photo - TCM
While the movie was filmed in 1972 the story takes place in 1962 and Ben Mankiewicz pointed out that although time-wise it’s only a 10 year difference but culturally the two years were as different as though they were 50 years apart. Bo Hopkins remembers how things changed so drastically after JFK’s assassination in 1963 and with the Vietnam War. He remembers becoming very disilussioned by politics. American Graffiti captures a time right before big change. Candy Clark pointed out that even the cars were vastly different between the early 1960s and early 1970s. Cars of the 1960s were of high quality and she reminisced about the chrome and steel used in those fine vehicles.

Ben Mankiewicz, Bo Hopkins, Candy Clark and Paul Le Mat. 

Speaking of cars, Paul Le Mat joked that the yellow Ford Coupe that he drives in his film and it’s license plate, THX-138 in reference to Lucas’ film THX-1138 (1971), became more famous than he did. Le Mat also shared with us a story about shooting the scene when a cop pulls him over. In the below video you can listen to Le Mat tell that story.




The actors shared some stories about George Lucas and Harrison Ford. Mankiewicz quotes George Lucas as saying that he was terrified during those 28 days of filming because they were on a tight schedule, had a limited budget and the filming was overall chaotic. The cast remembers that Lucas knew what he was doing at all times but was very quiet and didn’t talk much. After two weeks of auditions, including one by Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford was chosen for his part. Ford refused to have his hair cut in a 1960s because it could hurt his chances of getting another role. Ford convinced Lucas to let him wear a cowboy hat as part of his character in the movie. Bo Hopkins joked that he almost tried out for Ford’s part in Star Wars!

Mankiewicz observed that there are four different movies inside this one big movie. Certain cast members don’t even have scenes with each other.  Hopkins remembers going to a pre-screening of American Graffiti. He hadn’t seen it before and had no clue about the other cast member’s scenes that he wasn’t involved with. He claims the film was almost unrecognizable to him because it was that good.
 

Ben Mankiewicz, Bo Hopkins, Candy Clark and Paul Le Mat. 


 This was a great interview and I love how the three actors were very candid and open about their experiences. While the idea of a poolside screening is a great one, in reality it can be a bit tricky. There is limited seating in front of the screen and the lounge chairs and tables situated around the pool fill up quickly and are at an odd vantage point.  Luckily, TCM also screens the film inside Club TCM. They were having some technical issues with that indoor screen however. I had to leave early to attend the screening of Bachelor Mother (1939) but I was immensely happy that I got the opportunity to attend this special event for the time that I did!


2 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing! I also love American Graffiti. Wish I'd been able to attend the film festival this year!

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