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Monday, November 5, 2007

Film: The Graduate Still at The Top of The Class in 40th Anniv. Edition

Hoffman and Bancroft don't let a table lamp come between them in The Graduate

Just released in a stunningly sharp remastered print on DVD, Mike Nichol’s 1967 film The Graduate cements its place as a classic of American cinema. What most astounds about it is that it could be the product of any number of hot contemporary filmmakers (Wes Anderson, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris). More to the point it would rank as perhaps their best work.

Everything is fully realized from the screenplay co-written by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham to the brilliant cinematography by Robert Surtees to the groundbreaking editing by Sam O’ Steen. The shots are composed masterfully with every bit of framing thought out -- from the famous view through Anne Bancroft's luscious leg to Hoffman dejectedly surrounded by monkeys at the zoo. The montage sequence mid-film is a classic of film technique with the famous juxtaposition of Hoffman climbing onto a raft cut with him climbing atop Bancroft. Individual actors and chunks of scenes are boldly presented in darkness and the deft handling of visual symbolism hits a literal high-water mark in this film.

By all rights the two leads are miscast. Dustin Hoffman was too old at 29 to play 20 year old Benjamin Braddock, not to mention too swarthy for a character originally conceived as a typically Californian “surfboard”. Anne Bancroft was too young to play proto-cougar Mrs. Robinson, being only 6 years older than Hoffman. Yet the sheer force of their remarkable acting makes their characters work just as beautiful Katharine Ross finds depth and substance in a comparatively underwritten role. Bancroft almost overpowers the film as she finds deep layers into a character that could have remained comically one-dimensional.

At the time, The Graduate seemed like a clarion call to disaffected 60s youth, a kindred spirit to all the Holden Caulfields and complaining Portnoys who had seen the adult world they were expected to live in and found it sorely wanting. The basic themes still resonate and the timelessness of Hoffman’s ennui keep the film feeling fresh, as does an underlying subversiveness that upends the expectations inherent in every scene.

The 40th Anniversary Edition has several redundant featurettes and commentary from the cast and Director Mike Nichols. The second disc is particularly silly consisting as it does of a mere four Simon and Garfunkel songs from the acclaimed soundtrack. Still priced as a single disc this is a must have for any serious film collection on DVD.

The Graduate gets five out of five cougars:

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