The Graduate (12A.)
Directed by Mike Nichols. 1967.
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross, William Daniels, Murray Hamilton, Elizabeth Wilson and Buck Henry. 101 mins. Released on Blu-ray for the 50th anniversary by Studiocanal.
It was 50 years ago today, or thereabouts, Dustin Hoffman said, “Awwww Mrs Robinson, you're trying to seduce me.” The result was a sensation, a film that has lodged itself in the western conscousness. It was a massive hit back then; inflation adjusted it is the 23rd biggest grossing film in American history, bigger than The Godfather and every superhero film ever made. It caught the mood, captured something in the air; though fifty years you may wonder what exactly.
Dustin. The Graduate didn't make him a star but following it up with Midnight Cowboy surely did. It is one of the most inspired piece of miscasting in movie history. He was a decade too old, too weedy, too short, too odd looking and too Jewish for the role of an all American, track star college graduate. And he nails the role before he evens opens his mouth: with the unforgettable scene (that I'd completely forgotten) of him on the moving walkway in LAX, Hello Darkness My Old Friend. He gets across all you need to know about the character in a few quizzical squints and darting looks. The casting works so well because getting an actor as talented but insecure as Hoffman, with all that jittery uncertainty, to make his debut as a big-screen leading man in a role he is totally unsuited for is a way to generate more electricity than the average wind farm.
The cast is exceptional across the board. All the actors cast as middle aged ghouls give nuance to their caricatures and screenwriter Buck Henry, an inherently creepy man, has a magnificent little cameo as hotel clerk.
The Graduate is one of the most immaculately directed pieces of cinema you'll ever see. The editing, the framing, the set design is all pristine. It's the kind of thing Wes Anderson has spend his career trying to achieve, but here it isn't vacuum packed or stifling. This was Mike Nichols' second film after the adaptation of his stage hit Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. He had a great crew working with him – the credits aren't just full of the most prestigious names in their field, but the most prestigious names in their field at the start of their career when they were eager to prove themselves – so that must have helped. Even so, it is quite shocking that you can come up with a film this extraordinary and then fall into the rut of making mundane comedies and dramas. His next film, Catch 22, was remarkable in almost ever aspect except the aspect that really mattered - being an effective version of Joseph Heller's novel. After that nothing Nichols did ascended to heights much more elevated than alright.
The first half is full of incredibly long dialogue scenes. The initial encounter with Mrs Robinson is around 10 minutes, but the staging has an energy that keeps it snappy. Halfway through, the film has a musical interlude when we get to hear Scarborough Fayre and then another Simon and Garfunkel song in its entirety. It's like listening to a radio station when the DJ has nipped off for a pee. After this, the film is never quite the same. In the second half the scenes tend to be much shorter and Hoffman is always whizzing around in his little red car, often in pursuit of no clear aim.
Which brings us to the question of what the film is about. Hoffman's method to get himself out of his funk is the entirely arbitrary chase of Mrs Robinson's daughter, Katherine Ross, which only really makes sense as an act of revenge on Mrs Robinson. The film tapped into the rebelliousness of its times but without any of the idealism. All the characters exists in a bubble of priviledge and the young people don't really seem any more admirable than the jaded older generation that film makes fun of. The unforgettable final image (which even I remember) suggests all this revolution is pointless.
Heaps of stuff, mostly interviews, some recycled from the 25th anniversary disc. Lots of different voices, often saying the same thing but from the selection of features I dipped into, two features stood out. Hoffman talking about the agonies audition process is in a painful insight into what actors go through. You can see where he got the motivation for Tootsie. Also the interview with the author of the original book, Charles Webb, in a pub near Hove, is well worth catching.