"Teen-Age Graffiti," now at several suburban theaters, is a lightweight, innocuous programmer about the none-too-compelling romantic and family conflicts encoutered by a nice boy called Josh Tucker the summer following his graduation from high school.
The basic shortcoming in the film is that the potential conflicts - Josh splits time between his steady girl friend and a married temptress and unknowingly provokes jealousy in his older, harder-working brothers - are not so much dramatized and resolved as stumbled upon and then shrugged off.
While its artistic value seems negligible, "Teen-Age Graffiti" may justify a certain amount of local interest as the first theatrical of local interest as the first theatrical feature with a cast and crew recruited predominantly from the Washington area. The movie isn't a triumph, but it is playable and could provide some of the people involved with a credible foot in the professional door.
At the same time it may help other prospective filmmakers in the area get a realistic fix on their own aspirations and potentialities. There's a large pool of people in the area with professional filmmaking experience, usually in the non-theatrical market. There must be an even larger, overlapping pool of people who dream of leaving steday jobs somewhere in the bureaucratic labyrinth for the Great Adventure of show business, especially the movies.
The picture was known as "Country Dreamin'" when it began shooting two summers ago in North Carolina. The release was delayed to some extent when Universal, the distributor of "American Graffiti," took umbrage at the obviously imitative new title and tried to prevent Allied Artists from using it.
The title is a clue to the transparent nature of the exploitation devices in "Teen-age Graffiti." To cite my favorite example, the producers, Sheldon Trombery and Stephen Trattner, have superimposed their title, "A Tromberg Trattner Production," over a buccilic bare-breasted shot of Jeanetta Arnette, who appears as Josh's girl friend, Annie Clover. The producers' preoccupation seems perfectly clear.
What should one make of the fact that the credit for director Christopher G. Casler appears over a shot of Brian Donohue, cast as Josh's father, washing remnants of the cow pasture off his boots? Casler, who attended the University of North Carolina and is still in his mid-20s, hasn't made a debut he needs to feel ashamed of. There's plenty of room for improvement, of course, but ragged scenes and cuts could happen to anyone.
Casler's abiding problem is a ragged script. He never compensates for this fundamental inadequacy, but there are enough moments to suggest that he can manipulate both actors and cameras competently. Several of the performers - Michael Driscoll as Josh, Arnette and Annie, Donohue as the father, Alden Sherry as the "old woman," August Bayard and James Devney as the brothers - gave an attractive account of themselves, displaying looks and patterns of behavior distinctive or appealing enough to encourage further employment.
The actresses are betrayed somewhat by mawkish highlights in the script. Sherry, for example, is compelled to confess her hunger for the hero in terms and circumstances that reduce the generally tolerant audience to snickers. Arnette is inclined to be busier than she needs to be, especially facially, a tendency that causes her to overdo it when her heart is supposedly breaking for love of Josh. The same flaw is apparent in Marsha Mason, who can make her face go to pieces too much and too fast.
Arnette plays the best sustained bit in the film - a telephone scene in which she talks to Josh while licking homemade ice cream off a scraper. Interludes like this indicate that Casler may have a flair for dramatic filmmaking at its most straightforward and congenial. He has been guilty of one casting lapse so excruciating that the distributor has tried to cover it up by dropping the performer's name from the pres kit. Robert Lamar, who appears as Sherry's husband, may stand as a prize example of miscasting combined with stilted acting until something funnier blunders into view.