|Graduate, The (Special Edition)|
|DVD Romantic Comedy|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 07 December 1999|
A few years ago, the story goes, Dustin Hoffman was jogging for exercise on the track at Pepperdine University in Malibu. He was spotted by a teacher in the film division, who asked him to speak at a class. Sure, said Hoffman. On the day of the class, the teacher introduced Hoffman, and asked how many people in the class had seen "The Graduate."
Not a single hand went up.
Hoffman realized he was in danger of becoming a dinosaur, and started appearing in films that were skewed younger than his most recent starring movies had been. But the important thing wasn't how this related to Hoffman's career, but how it related to "The Graduate" itself. It's a stunning, negative comment on the students. How could they have reached college age, and been interested enough in movies to take film courses, without having seen this great movie?
Turns out it wasn't the students' fault, really, but that of the copyright holders in the film, who had paid no attention to its "life." It hadn't been reissued in years, it was rarely on television (and when it was on, was shown in a dismal print), and hadn't yet had a special video release.
It did turn up on laserdisc finally, in an excellent print with some fascinating extras. This DVD includes some of those extras but, unfortunately, not all of them. This, however, shouldn't prevent you from shelling out the bucks for a copy, because the most important aspect, the movie itself, is presented in an excellent print with a remastered track.
The extras include an amusing, lively interview with Hoffman, who seems to remember every detail of his involvement in the film, and a reasonably good documentary on the making of the movie. It features interviews with co-writer Buck Henry (who also has a funny bit as an actor), producer Lawrence Turman, Hoffman himself (from the same interview) and, too briefly, Katharine Ross. But there's not a word from director Mike Nichols (making his film debut), or Charles Webb, the author of the original novel, or Anne Bancroft, who plays the predatory, melancholy Mrs. Robinson. (Koo koo ka chew.) Why not? They're all still around. After all, Bancroft is only six years older than Hoffman.
The most interesting fact revealed is that originally, Benjamin (Hoffman) was intended to be -- as in the novel -- a handsome blonde Southern California WASP, ideally Robert Redford. Candace Bergen was in mind for the role Katharine Ross played, with her parents penciled in as Ronald Reagan and Doris Day. Imagine that: Doris Day as Mrs. Robinson....
The movie is timeless. While it is very much a product of its times ("plastics"), the issues involved are as real and important today as they have ever been. It's about trust, about coming of age, about seizing the day. And it's a funny, imaginatively-made movie with one great set-piece after another. Hoffman is excellent; he's sometimes reached this level again in his career, but I don't think he's ever topped his performance here. He's simply perfect as poor Benjamin Braddock, wandering between college and adult responsibilities, seen as a commodity and source of pride by his parents -- but not as a person. Mrs. Robinson sees him only as a sex object; she actively refuses to talk about anything seriously.
The first half of the movie has a kind of drifting, disconnected mood that matches Benjamin's own feelings. After he reluctantly goes on a date with Elaine Robinson (Ross) and discovers to his surprise that there is someone he can talk with, the movie becomes more intense and focussed, representing Benjamin's growing obsession with Elaine. The colors intensify, the pace picks up, the scale widens (as the setting moves from Los Angeles to Berkeley).
It's the last gasp of tradition, in a sense. The hippie era was just coming through the door, dressed in dayglo colors, touting free love and smoking dope. Even though Benjamin rejects the goals his parents have set for him, he's very much like them at heart; he believes in true love, and assumes that once he's found it, contentment will follow. It's amusing that Buck Henry dismissed the idea of a sequel to "The Graduate" so thoroughly that he spoofs the very idea in the opening scene of "The Player." On the other hand, Hoffman thinks a sequel would be a very interesting idea. Both Henry's spoof of an idea, and Hoffman's real one, involve Benjamin and Elaine trapped in a marriage as dead-end as those of their parents.
Still and all, the world doesn't need a sequel to "The Graduate;" the original is movie enough.
Set to Simon & Garfunkle's breakthrough score -- pop songs had never before been used as the sole score for a movie -- "The Graduate" is still a wistful, funny and insightful movie with one of the greatest endings in movie history, one that's a hell of a lot more ambiguous than most people recall. It's one of the greatest movies of the 1960s, and in fact, one of the key movies of the 20th century. It's a masterpiece, and that's not a word this reviewer uses often.
This DVD offers the film in fine shape, with a great track; it's an absolutely ideal purchase for anyone remotely interested in movie history. If you love the movie, you probably already have bought it. If not, what are you waiting for?