Your Anniversary? Here's To You, Mrs. Robinson.
Friday, September 7, 2007
Here's a fact that may make baby boomers do a spit take while sipping their tall skim lattes: "The Graduate" is 40 years old. Yes, the film that encouraged a generation of young moviegoers to rebel against their parents' "plastic" values has hit middle age.
Naturally, the occasion is being celebrated in the same manner as all cinematic milestone birthdays: with a special-edition DVD release. But despite the big 4-0 stamped on "The Graduate: 40th Anniversary Edition" ($24.98), available Tuesday, the 1967 classic seems as fresh and contemporary as ever. Honestly, it doesn't look a day over 25.
Critics and film scholars -- not to mention the diverse crew of commentators, including Harold Ramis and Henry Rollins, who appear in the DVD extras -- have repeatedly trumpeted the many reasons "The Graduate" stands as a landmark film. It kick-started Dustin Hoffman's career. It set a new standard for marrying pop music (in this case, the songs of Simon & Garfunkel) with moving images. It made it okay to cast a not-quite-movie-star-handsome guy as the leading man.
All of that is true, which is why the imprints of this Oscar winner are visible on so many of today's coming-of-age comedies. "Igby Goes Down," "Rushmore" and "Garden State," to name a few, all owe a debt to the tantalizing, tragic Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) and her seduction of aimless overachiever Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman).
But the meticulous craftsmanship behind "The Graduate," which director Mike Nichols discusses with fellow filmmaker Steven Soderbergh on one of the DVD's two new commentary tracks, remains the most striking thing about it. Every detail -- from the tan lines on Mrs. Robinson's shoulders to the seamless transitions in the musical montages -- was carefully considered, elevating what could have been a fluffy depiction of a May-September affair to something artistic and worthy of its Oscar win for Best Director.
The Nichols-Soderbergh track is by far the most compelling extra on this latest DVD incarnation, delivering plenty of insight into the filmmaking process as well as notable tidbits, such as Nichols's disclosure that Katharine Ross accidentally broke Hoffman's eardrum after slapping him during a crucial scene. Speaking of that pair, the commentary track featuring Hoffman and Ross is intermittently amusing primarily because Hoffman confesses to his former co-star -- again and again, in increasingly squirm-inducing fashion -- that he was infatuated with her during filming. "I was just struck dumb by you," he says at one point, later adding while watching their first on-screen kiss: "This is the first time I smell what you smelled like, and it was extraordinary for me." Um, o-kaaaay.
Aside from the "Students of the Graduate" featurette, which showcases the aforementioned analysis from Ramis, Rollins and others, the rest of the bonus features are largely forgettable. The "One-on-One With Dustin Hoffman" appeared on a 1992 laser-disc release of "The Graduate" and a previous special-edition DVD. And including the similarly ancient tribute "The Graduate at 25" seems particularly ridiculous on a release pegged to the film's 40th anniversary.
The collection also comes with a CD, but it includes only four Simon & Garfunkel songs rather than the entire soundtrack. But perhaps its inclusion is an intentionally ironic nod to "The Graduate's" most famous line because it is, unquestionably, a complete waste of plastic.