Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Cinema File--The Graduate

Last night's movie on TCM was The Graduate, the 1967 Mike Nichols classic that tapped into the angst and alienation felt by the youth culture of the time.  It follows the struggles of a college academic and athletic star--Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman--immediately following his graduation.  Even though he's enjoyed a charmed life, Ben worries about finding his own place inside a society from which he feels disconnected and in a world that is a-changing.  In many ways, the movie is as relevant today as it was back then.

There is a lot of perfection in this film for me and I now include it as one of my Top Ten Movies of All Time. Hard to find fault with it.  Just consider the superior writing, casting, acting, direction, cinematography by Robert Surtees, and editing.  Who can forget the cut from Ben landing on a pool mattress to him landing on a hotel mattress...on top of Mrs. Robinson, of course.  Then there's the famous soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel as well.

The costume design by Patricia Zipprodt is also sublime, and really differentiates the older generation in the movie from the younger generation.  From the party at the very beginning of the movie, you see the "adults" dressed in highly ornate clothing along with heavy heavy jewelry.  The women also generally wear shorter stiffer hairdos.  In contrast, the "kids" are in much simpler clothing and it's hard to see any jewelry at all.  The more natural hair and makeup of the girls adds to the difference between the generations.

Mrs. Robinson (played to perfection by Anne Bancroft) may be more sophisticated than most, but her predatory nature and intent are clearly outlined by her clothing.  It's no accident that she wears animal fur and prints throughout the film.  She is also either in lingerie or naked to seduce Ben any chance she can get.

Lots of leopard.  The coat is completely on trend for this fall.

Giraffe print skirt and tan lines

In contrast, we have the innocent Elaine played by the naturally gorgeous Katherine Ross.  Notice the pastels and more conservative outfits she wears, the minimal jewelry, and her long perfectly messy hair.  You feel the optimism and possibilities for her future expressed by her and her costumes.  Contrast that with the dark countenance of her alcoholic mother, Mrs. Robinson, who feels she missed all her opportunities, and that her life has been wasted and is now essentially over.

Interestingly, Bancroft is only 7 years older than Hoffman.  I think her more aged appearance largely stems from the absolute misery of the character.  Shows the negative impact of emotions like regret and resentment.

The end of the movie is superb.  While it is clearly a victorious moment for the young couple, you quickly see that it has not answered their concerns about their future.  Happiness, security, fulfillment...they are all still in question for Ben and Elaine, both as individuals and as a couple.  For me, the realism of this imperfect ending is part of what makes this a perfect movie, and what continues to help make the film ring true for its audience.

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