Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What Were They Thinking?

By Lars Trodson

I want to take a minute to review, if you will, the packaging for the 40th anniversary edition of “The Graduate”, which is scheduled for release on Sept. 11. I don’t usually pay much attention to these packages -- mostly because I never see them -- but I was also struck by the sophomoric presentation of this film, which is, regardless of my opinion of it, one of the touchstones of 1960s cinema.

One of the things that annoyed me right off is the cover, which reduces Mrs. Robinson to simply a body part -- a leg, with Dustin Hoffman up off to the right of the graphic standing in for the “A” in the word “Graduate.” How clever.

It was the copy inside, however, that really caught my eye. If this film is regarded as something of a sophisticated accomplishment, which it certainly is, then one wonders why the studio publicity department decided to go with such juvenile headlines for the little narrative accompanying the discs.

The first graph in the four-color brochure is titled, appropriately enough, “The Graduate”, but the ones that follow come with school themes, thus: “The Miseducation of Benjamin”, “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation” -- an obvious reference to The Who song, but which is about as far from the sensibility of Simon and Garfunkel as one could hope to get; “A New Student Body” -- a reference to newcomer Dustin Hoffman; “Dustin’ off his screen test” -- a brief examination of Hoffman’s screentest; “Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson!” -- a look at Anne Bancroft; “Great test scores” -- a hilarious reference to the Simon and Garfunkel score; and a couple of sidebars wittily titled “Cheat Sheet” -- which are factoids; and finally: “Causing a scene” -- another bulleted item about behind-the-scenes techniques.

I’m not sure who the audience is for such drivel; it certainly isn’t the audience that grew up with the film. And I can’t imagine it inspiring a new group of viewers. Oh well.

I also tried to watch the film with commentary, which has two versions: one by Hoffman and Katharine Ross and the other by Mike Nichols and director Steven Soderbergh. If I had listened beyond Soderberg’s opening comment, “I’m sitting here with the alleged director of ‘The Graduate, Mike Nichols” I might have figured out why he was involved, but I didn’t. His little joke fell flat. And while Hoffman was informative, I found Ross so somnambulant that I had to turn it off.

This particular 40th anniversary edition doesn’t feel quite so special, in part because so little new information is imparted. Also notably absent, of course, is the late Bancroft, who died in 2005.

Everywhere you turn in this movie and its featurettes, you miss her when she’s not there.