For cinematic aficionados, movie buffs in more common vernacular, watching as movie is not a passive act. In fact even your appreciation and understanding of a film is subject to revision each time you sit down for your latest viewing. If this wasn’t axiomatic there would be little rational to the popular pas time of collecting DVDs. As I look around the room that I uses as a screening room and office I am surrounded by near eight thousands of those shinny little discs that contain so many of the cinematic treasures I have assembled over the years. As the viewer continues to experience life it is only natural for what you are able to glean from a given movie will alter when filtered through your own ever changing eyes. Lately I’ve been revisiting a lot of films produced by the now financially strapped studio, MGM/UA which has proven to be a treasure trove of great films. One of the latest I’ve had an opportunity to revisit was such a classic ‘The Graduate’. After several DVD releases this generation defining film has finally been inducted in to the pinnacle of home theater releases, The Criterion Collection. They have held to a simple mandate to provide cinephiles with access to the technical specifications closest to the original theatrical release. Some releases alter the video by changing the aspect ratio to the audio, artificially remixing it to a multi-channel sound track that might sound closer to contemporary standards but removes the presentation from the original vision of the filmmaker. They have also built up a reputation for including additional content that eschews the mundane deleted scenes of blooper reels for scholarly commentaries and articles dissecting the merits of the movie with expert analysis. This movie was so representative of the general zeitgeist that it demands such a laudable consideration.
When I first went to see it in a theater with my firsts I was only 14 years old and much of the story line was just out of reach of understanding based on personal experience. The main draw was the soundtrack provided by Simon and Garfunkel featuring songs written by Paul Simon. He was not just a songwriter from my youth he remains as one of the great American poets of you generation. This film provided a means to listen to our favorite music through a sound system far beyond anything we had access to. Now, after a life time of experiencing life I get to watch it again. This time it is possible to experience this film through a system with far better video and audio than was available in the past. Rather than looking forward to a story in advance of actual experienced I got to watch looking back at archetypes we encountered in our youth. The thing about any great artistic expression; the interpretation alters through time as the audience itself grows and gains a different vantage point. ‘The Graduate’ is a perfect example of this phenomenon. It crystallized a generation’s point in time and place when first released but now offers a retrospective look at that time. The movie has morphed from a brilliant contemporary work to a period piece that still represents our generation. First we watched this film to the confusion of our parents; now we look back and the same movie confounds our children.
At fourteen watching this film the idea of college was just beginning to impose on our immediate consciousness but for Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) at twenty one years old he had just completed his undergraduate degree and the rest of his life spread out before him. At the behest of his parents (William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson), Benjamin has returned back to the familiar home in Southern California to celebrate his accomplishment. One memorable scene takes place at the party thrown in his honor when a parental friend pulls him to the side to whisper advice certain to make the young man’s future; ‘plastics’. At fourteen it was simply funny. A few years later it was a metaphor for the artificiality embraced by our parents’ generation. Now it takes on a more prophetic slant considering the proliferation of plastic in our current high tech world. A similar set of observations can be made with most films that endeavor to capture a generation and it should be noted that there is a tendency to push the issue a bit but it remains fun to go through the machinations. Another iconic moment in the film is when Ben is so overwhelmed by the attention and unsolicited advice take is scuba diving suit for a test at the bottom of the pool refusing to resurface. The central theme of the movie is manifested through a rather unusual resolution of the generation gap; make love not war. The wife of Ben's father’s partner, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) grows weary of the festivities asking him to drive her home. Once there the flirtation is overt making the young man exceedingly uncomfortable. It does leads to a full out affair despite efforts to match Benjamin with Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross), daughter of his older sexual interest. Initially he wants to get rid of Elaine taking her the worst first date ever to a strip club. Ultimately he falls in love with her and in one of the best movie endings in cinematic history as he breaks her wedding to another man.
The screenplay for this movie received an Academy Award nomination shared by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham. Henry was best known for his frequently acerbic satire with examples in ‘Catch 22’, many skits on the classic first seasons of Saturday Night Live and co-creator of one of television’s most brilliant comedies, ‘Get Smart’. His writing partner here was mostly involved with action flicks giving an unusual combination that despite what you might think worked incredibly well as a story. It is important to keep in mind while watching the DVD that this movie captured a moment in time like a fly in amber; preserving it unchanged forever. The director, Mike Nichols remains to this day one of the most respected filmmakers in the industry. At the time this film was released he had already made his mark for controversy with ‘Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ His trade mark would quickly be established as movies that focus on relationships particularly those under particular stressors. In this case it was the growing fear of those born after World War Two as we came into our own and were poised to become the new establishment. Ben Braddock stood for generation tossed about by war, protest and a reinvention of sexual morals and attitudes towards pharmacological experimentation. This film is and will remain a classic and hold as a cornerstone of cinema.
Audio Commentary by Actors Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross
Posted 07/04/11 02/29/2016