Sunday, November 23, 2014

Right To Left

If it weren't so magnificent in so many other respects, it probably wouldn't bother me as much. I wouldn't fixate on this one little hitch in the proceedings if it wasn't surrounded by so much awesomeness. It's the fly speck in what is some pretty amazing ointment, and it may be the thing that was left in the mix to keep the gods from getting angry. What could possibly be so special that this tiny aggravation keeps me from relaxing and enjoying it for precisely what it is: an American classic. And why can't I say that the fact that Benjamin Braddock is driving the wrong way on the Bay Bridge when he is racing to Berkeley to meet up with Elaine?
I can't dwell on this now because Mike Nichols is gone. He died last week and he can't go back and fix that little glitch. We're stuck with a flawed masterpiece. Why am I stuck, staring at the tiny flaw that can hardly obscure one of the brightest lights in cinema history? Probably because "The Graduate" was the first film that I studied intensely. I had been watching movies repeatedly, but never considering the finer points of plot, character and underlying themes. That was the kind of thing I heard my older brother talking about, and I was listening. By the late seventies, I was getting a sense of just how complex a conversation one could have about a movie. Mike Nichol's "The Graduate" was my entree into that discussion.
Was Benjamin going from right to left on the moving sidewalk at the opening a conscious choice? How about his use of a cross to keep the angry mob inside the church while he and Elaine escape? Of course they were. These weren't just accidents or circumstance. They were planned and executed in order to give the viewer another layer to think about: subtext. Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katherine Ross, Buck Henry, TV funnyman Noman Fell, and even the blink and you'll miss it second film appearance of Richard Dreyfuss.
I have been in love with every frame of that film for all the years since I saw it first, but I would have liked to have the chance to ask Mister Nichols, about that whole Bay Bridge thing. I can negotiate an answer from the reality around me: It makes most sense to film the hero on the top of the bridge, since heading to Berkeley in reality would make that nice helicopter shot pretty unnecessary. That's what art does sometimes. Mike Nichols made a lot of art. Some of it was on stage. Some of it was on record. He made some great movies in addition to "The Graduate." Some not quite so much. There wasn't a real stinker in the bunch. I know because I have seen them all. I enjoyed them all. But "The Graduate" is the one that I won't turn off, even if I'm going to regret staying up to watch.
And now, Mike Nichols, I forgive you for that touch of artistic license. You stomped on the Terra. Aloha.

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