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The gritty version of American Graffiti

THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH

This is a very minor movie about a gang called The Lords who go to a high school in Brooklyn. It was one of Stallone’s first roles, and an early one for Henry Winkler pre-Happy Days where he basically played the same guy.

It was shot in the 70’s, and has a naturalistic look to it. The sound isn’t mixed very well; bad dubbing in spots, and a lot of the actors didn’t do ADR. There’s an early classroom scene where you can tell there was only one audio source. Some of the scenes could have been re-shot just because they weren’t in focus the first time. But this is a one-take-and-let’s-move-on kind of a film. For instance, at the end of the movie the whole gang is walking down a hill acting like badasses until one of them slips on the grass. He gets up and pretends like it didn’t happen. It takes away from the badassness of it all, but at the same time there probably wasn’t money to go back and try that shot again. And that’s okay too. I like movies where a gang walks around and one of the guys accidentally slips on some grass. It happens in real life, why shouldn’t it happen here?

The obvious comparison to make is with The Outsiders and American Graffiti. There’s of course the problem of authenticity in each of those films. Which one would be closer to the truth? I’d say Lords feels like it’s a more authentic depiction of the greaser era. But that’s because it’s not as romantic. There’s one part where Chico goes to the beach at night with a girl who got all dressed up for him, hoping they would have a romantic night out in the city. Instead he just wants to park it on a blanket and get it on. He rolls on top of her for about ten seconds until she says, “Aw Chico. You made a mess.” Date over.

As far as the story goes, it’s about four losers growing up. But I only remember two characters. Henry Winkler doesn’t do a whole lot here. There’s just not much to work with. That leaves Chico, and Stallone’s character, Stanley. Like the rest of the gang they’re only meatheads when they’re around each other. Around girls, they wise up a bit. Stanley learns his girlfriend is pregnant, so he buys her an engagement ring. When he finds out the one she wants costs $1600, it’s one of those scenes that really sticks. It’s a funny performance by Stallone. The fact he buys it I think is what makes it so special too.

Then there’s Chico, who goes to extreme measures to hook up with Jane. He stays over at her house while her parents go out for the evening. The meeting is handled really well and feels authentic. I felt worse for Jane’s parents than I did for Chico, since he doesn’t seem to mind how awkward it is to be a Lords member (“it’s a social athletic club,” he explains to her parents). Their next date is at a drive-in, watching “From Here To Eternity.” They start fooling around and she cries. He begs to know why, but she says she just doesn’t understand him. Try as he might, Chico never wins Jane over. She wants something more, and he doesn’t realize how much he really wants her until it’s too late and she’s with another guy from the football team.

So this movie isn’t entirely without a story, which is the main criticism from reviewers on netflix and imdb. The main issue is that it is a much more natural stylistic endeavor than either American Graffiti or The Outsiders. It’s more “real.”

One of the many memorable scenes is Stanley and Chico falling out. It gives us a sign they won’t stay friends forever. They’re just too different in their ways:

I loved how Chico called him “Rocky Marciano.” I didn’t see that one coming.

At the end there is a montage of still shots from the movie we just watched as a nostalgic “look back” on their good and bad times. It’s hard to be nostalgic when you just watched the movie. It’s a really cheap gimmick, and I never like seeing it. It feels unjustified and corny.

This is by no means a perfect film and in some ways “too little, too late” at delivering a message at the end. But I was surprised by Chico and Stanley’s subplots. They each ended in ways I didn’t anticipate, and it kept me thoroughly interested. That is worth noting since I wasn’t a fan of this film for least the first 40 minutes.

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2 responses to “The gritty version of American Graffiti

  1. Cody

    I love the scene in the classroom in the beginning of this movie. It’s low budget as all hell, the sound is awful, but it works in that it captures the chaos of the classroom.

    This movie is a favorite of mine, not because it’s particularly good, but because I have a nostalgia for all the locations. The majority of the places it was shot are areas of Brooklyn I know like the back of my hand, and have distinct memories of. I can throw it on and feel warm watching it.

  2. What is your favorite scene from it?

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