Mike Nichols and “The Graduate” at Lincoln Center
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.