A talented beginner’s inspiration meets a seasoned pro’s craftsmanship in The Graduate, the seminal collaboration between director Mike Nichols and cinematographer Robert Surtees, ASC. At the time of the film’s release, Nichols was an accomplished stage director but a relative newcomer to the cinema. (His only screen credit was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, shot by Haskell Wexler, ASC.) Surtees, on the other hand, was a Hollywood veteran with three Oscars under his belt. Their partnership on The Graduate is an example of two gifted artists complementing each other perfectly.
The core story, which was written by Buck Henry, follows Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a privileged but confused young man who has finished college without developing any idea about what to do with his life. His lack of initiative is emphasized by the film’s opening shots, which show Ben sitting motionless on a plane, then passively riding an airport people mover. As the story progresses, Ben has an affair with one of his parents’ friends, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), who, like Ben, is just looking for some distraction. Everything appears fine until Ben falls in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross).
On paper, the premise might not seem like material for visually arresting drama, but the filmmakers were so thoughtful in their approach that The Graduate becomes a virtual textbook of how to express internal states onscreen. Ben is one of the most repressed heroes in American cinema, and Surtees’ compositions express what the character cannot. Ben’s isolation is further emphasized by the use of long lenses, which not only visually separate Ben from his surroundings, but also create the impression he is barely going anywhere when he moves. (An example of this is the film’s climax, when he appears to be running in place as he rushes to stop Elaine’s wedding.) Throughout the movie, the action is precisely staged to reflect the relationships between the characters in the frame.
This 40th-anniversary DVD of The Graduate features a transfer that is superior to both the grainier original DVD and the more muted Criterion Collection laserdisc. The vivid colors of Surtees’ palette, in which shimmering California landscapes and architecture comment on the characters’ spiritual vacancy, is beautifully preserved, and the remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is also vibrant, particularly when it comes to reproducing Simon & Garfunkel’s iconic songs.
Like the recent special editions of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Catch-22, this package features a commentary by Nichols and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh; Soderbergh combines the curiosity of a fan and the practical knowledge of a director to probe Nichols on a variety of salient points. An equally compelling second commentary is supplied by actors Hoffman and Ross, who talk about lighting and lenses as well as their performances. (Hoffman refers to American Cinematographer’s Feb. ’68 article on the production several times.)
This package also includes a series of excellent featurettes. The first, “Students of The Graduate,” combines production history (provided by producer Lawrence Turman and several film scholars) with remarks on the picture’s impact by directors such as Harold Ramis and David O. Russell, among others. A shorter featurette, “The Seduction,” which clocks in just under nine minutes, spotlights the same participants commenting on the film’s themes and visuals.
Also featured are two 22-minute supplements that were included on previous home-video incarnations of the film: “One-on-One with Dustin Hoffman,” which offers a discussion with the actor, and “The Graduate: 25 Years Later,” which contains interviews with Hoffman, Ross, Turman and Henry, and is mostly a recap of material found in other documentaries. A theatrical trailer and a CD of Simon & Garfunkel songs complete this package.