The Graduate. Social Context. 1960s USA: a period of change Transition between conservative 50’s and radical 1970s Vietnam War 1961 - 75 Radicalised American youth - vets and draft resisters Youth culture and distrust of adult world. Cinematic context. The “Old Hollywood”
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The “Old Hollywood”
Vertical integration: owned production, distribution and exhibition (cinemas)
Post-WW2 decline of Hollywood
1948 - US Dept of Justice forced end to monopolistic practices - studios had to sell their cinemas
1950’s - 1960’s; period of uncertainty as Hollywood tried to come to terms with new situation
Attempt to compete against TV by increased use of colour, wide-screen etc
Some successes but by 1960s Hollywood losing touch with audience, esp youth audience
(aka “post-classical Hollywood”)
Brief period after 1967
(perhaps most “zeitgeisty” of the films of this era)
This period over by 1980 (Heaven’s Gate)
New generation of young, cinema-crazed filmmakers (“baby boomers” coming of age) came to prominence in US, drastically changing not only way Hollywood films produced but also kinds of films made.
Changes in censorship arrangements
“Hay’s Production Code” coming to an end by 1966 - had established from 1930’s what films allowed to do and not to do
eg couple on a bed (even married) - one foot on the floor
No “lascivious kissing”, no miscegenation
1968 - new certification system introduced
The Graduate in between - more daring but still studio restrictions (Mrs Robinson’s “nude” scene
- done with almost subliminal speed)
“New Hollywood” coming to an end by 1975 (JawsStar Wars), 1977
eg Chinatown, The Last Picture Show,The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Mash, American Graffiti, Dog Day Afternoon
Ultimate demise came after a string of self-indulgent films which failed at box-office
Postcards from the Edge (1990), Regarding Henry (1991), Primary Colours (1998), Angels in America (TV miniseries) (2003)
An iconic film even today - as evidenced by its intertextual profile
Best Director, Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, and Cinematography.
Mike Nichols picked up its only award, for directing.
Ben lacks direction in life, unable to communicate with those around him.
Themes are conveyed in the formal qualities of the film.
eg opening (post credit) sequence Ben's parents shroud our view by stepping in front of the camera and oppressing him visually. We are equally as frustrated as Ben
eg tight claustrophobic framing when the guests want to speak to him
Use of Zoom
Opening (credit) sequence
CU on Ben (we expect long establishing shot)
Reverse zoom - we see that he is in fact in a crowd - emphasises his isolation
Use of Zoom
When Elaine realises Ben has been having sex with her mother, she screams at him to leave.
Mrs Robinson is framed in CU, camera then zooms back to reveal Ben in the foreground as she says “Goodbye, Benjamin”
Zoom suggests a distance now between them - reinforced by use of wide-angle lens
Use of Zoom
Use of Zoom
Use of Zoom
Ben in the Robinson's bedroom looking desperately for Elaine.
While Mrs. R is calling police, v effective zoom from LS to almost CU of Mrs. R, enhancing tension of scene and displaying her continuing power over Ben.
Very next frame LS of Ben standing in ragged disbelief of situation, almost making him blend in background of bedroom, creating very insignificant feel to Ben's reckless plight.
(motif discarded after she has ‘devoured her prey’)
By using a telephoto lens, Benjamin - desperately trying to “get to the church on time” - appears to be “running on the spot”
Connotes feeling of panic and dread that he will be too late
… to a laid-back attitude, complete with shades and cigarette, after his affair with Mrs Robinson has begun
Use of colour
Mrs Robinson and Elaine differentiated by colour:
Elaine often shown in pink …
Use of colour
… while Mrs Robinson frequently in black
Graphic match between Ben and toy frogman . . .
… and Ben as toy frogman.
Montage Sequence showing Ben’s relationship with Mrs R over summer
Scene preceded by Ben’s seduction by Mrs R in room in Taft Hotel – once again wearing animal prints (this time underwear) connoting predator. When she makes to dress and leave, suggesting he is “inadequate”, he shouts “Don’t move!” and slams the door shut (her strategy has worked).
Montage of images linked by clever transitional devices, suggests the emptiness of his life. Walks back and forth transparently between these two pursuits and worlds – his house and the Taft Hotel.
Enters Braddock home from pool, emerging into hotel room with Mrs. Robinson [a Hotel Taft towel hangs on the bathroom door].
He blankly stares into space against black background - image emphasises sterile environment. Rises from bed to shut dining room door, briefly glimpsing parents eating dinner.
After lying down again in bed, is back in the Taft Hotel bedroom. A female figure walks past in front of him, dresses, and leaves room. Then, he leaves his own bedroom, passes his mother, and goes for a swim in the backyard pool.
One of their many sexual contacts symbolized by his diving up onto a inflatable rubber pool raft inter-cut with his landing on top of Mrs. Robinson in bed.
Summer Montage: :
In another disorienting cut from their sexual coupling to Ben’s lounging on a raft in the backyard pool, he turns to his despairing father who stands over him and questions his continued laziness and lack of direction.
Father insists on knowing the point of his four years of college - without plans for graduate school or a career. He peers through his dark sunglasses at the silhouette of his father above him:
“Drifting” is what he is doing in figurative sense and is unable to communicate with his parents
Scene when Ben shaving follows montage sequence. Dissolve from Mrs R to Ben shaving in bathroom
Mother - of similar age to Mrs R - asking him what he’s been up to over the summer
Note her “‘decolletée” state - again linking her to Mrs Robinson
Nichols undermines conventional 'passing of time' techniques used in cinema
eg blurring Ben's summer activities from home to hotel room seamlessly to confuse the viewer - prevents clear distinction between mother and Mrs Robinson
illustrates the meaningless qualities of the affair: Ben passively drifts through events, rather than actively enjoying the liaison.
Nichols experiments with overt editing techniques (as opposed to “invisible” continuity editing principles in force in Hollywood for decades) techniques which draw attention to themselves)
eg Ben's double-take after being confronted with Mrs Robinson naked, and the jarring snippets of her naked body as he desperately tries not to devour the sight.
Technique also heightens the unnatural, uncomfortable nature of this union.
The Graduate innovatively uses silence as sound effect
POV shots of Ben often accompanied by absence of natural sound whenever Ben isn't listening - allows us to see and hear from a character's perspective.
Highlights the importance of diegetic and non-diegetic sound to our understanding of cinema.
One of Nichol’s favoured tropes in this film
eg leaving the Robinsons’
eg long overlap between Ben under water in diving suit and phoning Mrs Robinson
Eg Ben again under water overlapping with arriving at the Robinsons’ to pick up Elaine
Creates an almost dreamlike quality
Innovative use of popular music, in particular already recorded tracks - Simon & Garfunkel songs came from two existing albums (“Sound of Silence; “Scarborough Fair”) - only “Mrs Robinson” added
Later various directors, eg Scorsese, used existing songs as soundtrack
opening “Sound Of Silence” - becomes motif for Ben's dissatisfaction throughout film
“Mrs Robinson” track losing steam as Ben’s car runs out of petrol (good example of mickeymousing)
The ending: is it a happy one?
After leaving church and getting on bus,
transformation of emotions from triumphalism at their victory and daring to … silence. For first time since their relationship, they have nothing to say to each other
Use of sound alone questions happy ending.
"Hello darkness my old friend" revived as both Ben and Elaine sit silently on a journey to nowhere
In our last image of them, looking away from each other rather than into each others’ eyes
Are they - as Nichols once commented - heading towards roles resembling their parents’?
1. There are many images of water and glass throughout this film. Think of the swimming pool, the fishbowl in Ben’s room, Ben’s scuba mask, his sunglasses, and the many paintings, tabletops, and windows that reflect, reveal, or cover.
Are they symbolic images?
Are they merely part of Ben’s visible world? How do they function in the film?
2.The Graduate is divided into two parts. There are two settings (Los Angeles and Berkeley), two generations and two life- styles, two women, two sides to Benjamin, and perhaps two types of storytelling (comedy/satire and romance).
Describe these contrasting aspects of the film. How are they related to each other and to the film’s main themes?
3. Nichols directing style is stamped on every shot in the film, such as close-ups and overlapping sound transitions.
How innovative is the film from a technical point of view?
How effectively does Nichols use film techniques?
4. The first image in The Graduateis a close-up of Ben’s face. Then we see that he’s alone on an airplane.
How else does the film emphasise his solitude, his alienation from those around him?
What accounts for his sense of isolation?
Do you think he ever overcomes this feeling?
5. Nichols is regarded as a “mise en scene” director (ie with a very noticeable style, a “look”). Colours are associated with certain characters in the movie. Mrs. Robinson often wears black and animal prints. Elaine appears in pink. The friends of Ben’s parents are dressed in whites and blues.
How is colour/costume used through the film? What is the effect?
6. Is it a happy ending?
What lies ahead for the couple?