Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Seduced by Mrs. Robinson by Beverly Gray

Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How The Graduate Became The Touchstone of A Generation by Beverly Gray
Published November 2017 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?”

When The Graduate premiered in December 1967, its filmmakers had only modest expectations attached to what seemed to be a small, sexy, art house comedy adapted from an obscure first novel by an eccentric twenty-four-year-old. There was little indication that this offbeat story--a young man just out of college has an affair with one of his parents’ friends and then runs off with her daughter--would turn out to be a monster hit, with an extended run in theaters and seven Academy Award nominations.

My Thoughts:
I was seven years old when The Graduate came out; clearly I didn't see it for years after it was released. Still, I can't remember a time when I wasn't aware of it. Let's face it, everyone knows the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. I've read some interesting things about the making of the film before so I didn't even read the synopsis when I saw this book was available.

Here's some of what I learned:

  • Producer Larry Turman read Charles Webb's book after reading it because a book reviewer had compared it's protagonist to Catcher In The Rye's Holden Caulfield. He paid Webb $1,000 for the rights because two scenes particularly grabbed him: young Benjamin Braddock decked out in an entire SCUBA get up floating in the bottom of his parents' pool and the final shot of a disheveled Benjamin in the back of a bus with a young woman in a wedding gown. 
  • Robert Redford really wanted the role of Benjamin Braddock and, physically, he was perfect for the role of a young California man, suntanned, blond, and tall. But Benjamin was a kid who was supposed to have had little luck with girls. When director Mike Nichols asked him if he had ever struck out with a girl, Redford said, in all earnestness, "What do you mean?" He was out.
  • Dustin Hoffman gave up a role in Mel Brooks' The Producers to play Benjamin and make love to Brooks' wife, Anne Bancroft, who played Mrs. Robinson. My background has always led me to find nothing odd at all about Hoffman being cast as Benjamin but, at the time, a Jewish leading man was certainly a daring choice.
"The casting of Dustin Hoffman as The Graduate's romantic leading man was a shock to Hollywood, which had spent decades trying to sidestep the Judaic roots of its founders. But in the wake of The Graduate, young Jewish males were suddenly everywhere, and often they were playing characters with backgrounds similar to their own."

  • Much of Mrs. Robinson's look and her home decor are the result of Nichol's reading Henry James' novella The Beast In The Jungle. Hence, Mrs. Bancroft appears almost exclusively in animal prints and her sunroom is backed by a jungle of tropical plants.
  • Mike Nichols used light and dark to differentiate between Mrs. Braddock and Mrs. Robinson and glass and water to illustrate the way Benjamin was trapped in his parents' world. In fact, a lot of the things Nichols did in this movie changed the way other filmmakers make movies. 
  • That iconic shot at the end of the movie of Hoffman and Katherine Ross, where their faces turn from exuberance to "what the hell have we done?" That wasn't scripted or directed. Someone forget to say "cut" at what was to have been the end of the scene and that's what happened to Hoffman's and Ross' faces when they thought they were done with the shot. It was so perfect that Nichols left it in. 
"In hindsight, it's easy to wonder: If Ben and Elaine have backed away from the future that's been preordained for them by a hypocritical older generations, where exactly are they headed? The fact that there's no good answer reminds us of what this film may actually portend. Perhaps that's what it's secretly about - the end of the happy ending."
  • No one expected this movie to the hit that it was. Young people stood in long lines, even in the cold, to see it because of the way it spoke to them about what would come to be known as the Generation Gap. But not everyone loved it; critics definitely had a wide range of opinions about what it was, what it wasn't, and what it could have been.
"The Graduate's prescience about matters of grave concern to the Baby Boom generation gave it a life of its own. If we young Americans were anxious about parental pressure, or about sex (and our lack thereof), or about marriage, or about the temptations posed by plastics, it was all visible for us on the movie screen. Today The Graduate continues to serve as a touchstone of that pivotal moment just before some of us began morphing into angry war protesters and spaced-out hippies."
"...those of my generation - didn't much want to face a life built on a bedrock of our elders' choices. In Benjamin we found a hero willing to turn his back on the kind of bright upper-middle-class future we weren't sure we wanted." 
  • Gray has done a thorough job of researching and presents a lot of material. She gives the background of all of the players in the making of the movie and follows up with them afterward; she takes viewers through the entire movie to explain what makes each scene work; and she talks about the impact the movie had on the generation it was targeted at and the generations that followed. 
  • As much as I learned, and as much as I did enjoy the book, I think I'm not the kind of person that wants to read a book that breaks down one movie quite as much as this one did. I must admit that I started skimming quite a lot in the last 100 pages. I think if you were a person for whom this movie was a touchstone (a.k.a. someone about ten or fifteen years older than I am) or someone who really enjoys learning about movies, you'd likely enjoy this book even more. 
  • I definitely need to watch this movie again soon while all of this is still fresh in my brain and I can really appreciate the film making touches that made the story work so well.

"The Graduate lasts partly because it offers something for everyone, the restless youth; the disappointed elder; the cinephile who values the artistic innovation that's the legacy of director Mike Nichols. And this film has also burrowed its way into Hollywood's dream factory. The American movie industry, which worships box-office success, has learned from The Graduate brave new ideas about casting, about cinematic style, about the benefits of a familiar pop music score."

2 comments:

  1. I love The Graduate!!! I love the cinematography, the angles and the perspective shots. I watched it over one Christmas break and my son wandered in and watched it too. He now watches it repeatedly. He identifies with Ben's character. Which, worries me of course.

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  2. I had to watch "The Graduate" for a film class I took in college. I had to break it down a bit for the revolutionary ways it changed cinema. And thus I never got around to enjoying it that much. Maybe a book like this would help me appreciate it as someone who didn't even know it existed til that class. Great review!

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