Mike Nichols and “The Graduate” at Lincoln Center

Director Mike Nichols spoke about making "The Graduate" at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theatre following a screening of the 1967 film.

On March 9 the Film Society of Lincoln Center presented a screening of “The Graduate” (1967) as part of  “Fierce and Fabulous Anne Bancroft,” the Film Society’s tribute to the films of the late actress.  The series ran from March 8 – 11.  “The Graduate” was followed by a discussion with the film’s director Mike Nichols that was moderated by Mara Manus, Executive Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

It had been years since I saw “The Graduate” on a big screen.  As far back as high school I was aware that there was a difference between seeing “The Graduate” in a movie theatre and seeing it on TV.  “The Graduate” was shot in an anamorphic, wide screen, process.   When presented on TV, at that time, “The Graduate” was shown in a pan and scan format.  Translation: Approximately 50% of the wide screen image was cropped on TV.   So how great it was to sit back in the Film Society’s Walter Reade Theatre with a sold out audience and watch a very good, wide screen, 35mm print of this seminal movie.

“The Graduate” has not dropped a stitch.  Nichols’ wide screen compositions, well choreographed extended takes, use of close ups, combined with editing that is inventive, creative and smart is still a pleasure to watch 43 years later.   The film is also a virtual primer in efficient story telling.

The 78-year-old Nichols, who won a directing Oscar for “The Graduate,” his second movie, told stories about the film’s origins and creation.  He explained that Bancroft was always his first choice to play Mrs. Robinson despite speculation that he originally wanted Doris Day for the part.   Nichols explained that he told Bancroft that the key to Mrs. Robinson is the character’s anger at having sold out for a life of wealth.  He said Bancroft once told him, “I feel as though I never lost my anger after that.”   Nichols described Bancroft as never having done the expected thing in any of her subsequent roles.

Nichols remembered testing many actors, including Charles Grodin, for the lead role of Benjamin Braddock that eventually went to Dustin Hoffman.  He remembered that Robert Redford wanted the part.  Nichols explained to the young, handsome Redford that Benjamin was a complete loser.  To illustrate his point Nichols asked Redford, “Did you ever strike out with a girl?”  Redford replied, “What do you mean?”

Nichols said he had a great time working with Hoffman and described him as one of those “people who have that deal with the lab.”  Nichols elaborated saying that things he could not see in Hoffman’s performance when shooting became evident once the film was developed and screened.  He said the same was true of co-star Katherine Ross.

As for “The Graduate’s” iconic Simon & Garfunkel score Nichols said he listened to the duo’s records at home during production.  After two weeks Nichols suddenly realized, “Shmuck, this is your score.”  Nichols explained that Paul Simon supplied a song needed for a shot of Hoffman driving over a bridge during the film’s climax.  The song was “Mrs. Robinson” a song Paul Simon had been working on that was originally called “Mrs. Roosevelt,” hence the Joe DiMaggio reference.  Nichols explained that the song’s famous “dee, dee, dee” opening was because no opening verse had been written.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on March 11, 2010, in Classics, Personal Appearances. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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