Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Graduate

I was struck dumb the other day (an easy pose for me) when I saw the release of the special 40th Anniversary edition DVD of The Graduate. I have seen The Graduate maybe 20 times, maybe more. It's one of my favorite films because every time I view it I see something else.

I saw it first when I was about to graduate from high school and I think I identified with Ben in many ways- just being a little confused and wondering what there was in this life, all these adults coming at you with suggestions. I don't know what, as Mrs. Robinson says to him.

The next time I saw it was during my freshman year in Boston at a screening on the Harvard campus. Students were laughing. Laughing! How dare they ruin my film by laughing. Then I realized it was also a comedy and really appreciated the humor in the film. On other viewings I enjoyed it for the images- they way they flowed and the montages of Ben and Mrs. Robinson both before and after he tells Elaine of the affair.

I like any film you can deconstruct from multiple perspectives (for kicks look at Casablanca as a musical, then again as a comedy). One could write a thesis on The Graduate as a musical. Everyone remembers the Simon and Garfunkel music but often overlooked is Dave Grusin's great score and incidental music.

One of the last times I saw the film was just after 9-11 and I was struck by how unaffected Ben and Elaine are by the Vietnam War and the Summer of Love. Nowhere in the film- with the possible exception of Norman Fell asking Ben if he is an "agitator"- is there a reference to hippies and the war. Ben follows Elaine to Berkeley for christsakes. I am almost certain there were protests against the war then and someone on campus had a copy of Sgt. Pepper's or The Doors first record or Are You Experienced. The lack of contemporary cultural references is the one strike against The Graduate.

I care about the film so much my friend Craig tells me that on my tombstone (OK I want to be cremated, but that's another story) it will say, "Here lies PeterH. He didn't get to make The Graduate."


Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The first semester I was a college teacher I began receiving treatments for films that went a little like this:

Two hit men, one black and one white, in black suits travel around the city.


A man with a band aid on the back of his neck opens a briefcase and a light glows on his face.


A woman overdoses on heroin and a man brings her back to life with a needle of adrenaline to the heart.

That spring vacation I finally had some time off and caught up on some movies. So I am in the theater and John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson hit the screen and I'm thinking this is familiar. Then Uma Thurman gets a shot of adrenaline and I start getting annoyed. Finally when a band-aided Ving Rhames opened a briefcase and a light shines on his face, I swore out loud, mid-movie, "Those sons of bitches!"

When class resumed after the break I read them the riot act and tried to introduce the idea of original thought to the class. Since then I have been on the lookout for the popular student film. The following is a brief list of films important to my students and what they tried to do with it.

1) Fight Club. For a while every student film had to be green and film students started throwing around the processing phrase "bleach bypass."

2) The Usual Suspects. Student films are often confusing on their own. When they intentionally try to be confusing watch out.

3) Being John Malkovich. Not the plot so much but how many times can you use the half-floor trick.

4) Trainspotting. There was about a three semester stretch where every student film had to have strung out heroin addicts and music by Iggy Pop.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Classic Film

There is something really comforting in that old stand by, the classic film. It's that film you have seen a half dozen times at least, or you flip on the TV and there it is and you sit down and watch it even though you have things to do, and before you know it the dishes aren't done and it's past your bedtime.

A bunch of films come to mind- just about anything by Billy Wilder- Sunset Boulevard, or any of his Matthau/Lemon films. Thinking of Walter Matthau takes my mind to Charade, where he is a good bad guy, and Charade lands me on both Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Who is the modern day equivalent of Hepburn and Grant? Julia Roberts and George Clooney? Even as I type those names I think, wha? As they say, they don't make them like that any more.

When I was making Victimless Crimes we worked six-day weeks, except for two days when we transitioned from shooting during the day to three weeks of night shooting. I had a serious head cold and settled down with a bowl of matzo ball soup and flipped on the TV. I had been trying to avoid films because I didn't want to "accidently, " borrow any ideas, but I was tired and had a cold and North by Northwest was just starting so I couldn't help myself. I watched it for probably the 10th time and when we came to the cornfield scene I sat up and noticed, really for the first time, how Hitchcock (will I ever be known as a director by just my last name?) put together the sequence.

I took stumbling on NxNW as a sign from the film Gods, so I began redesigning shots for the next scene we were going to shoot. There are no crop dusters in Victimless Crimes, but I can tell you exactly what shots were influenced by watching a classic film.

And my cold went away. Never deny yourself the chance to re-see a classic film.