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The Graduate and the Generation Gap

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Director Mike Nichols said that while filming the Berkeley scenes in The Graduate,
he sensed a great deal of “hostility” from the people of San Francisco.

“To them, we represented the corruption of Hollywood and the middle
class element of the United States,” said Nichols. Dustin
Hoffman recalled, “People that were critical of the film said, ‘How can
you make a film about somebody coming out of college where there’s no
mention of Vietnam, there’s no mention of pot, drugs, the women’s
movement, and everything?’ Mike’s answer was, ‘Well, because we did the
book.’ The book was written in ’62, and he made no attempt to update
it.”

Remembers Katharine Ross, “We were sort of still in the
’50s mentality. While we were shooting in Berkeley, the Summer of Love
happened in San Francisco — and Vietnam was about to blow the country
apart and change us all forever.”

Screenwriter Buck Henry
explained that the film was never specifically meant for the youth
audience of 1967. “It was film made by and for a generation that hadn’t
had films made for it,” he said. “We were just trying to make a film
about something we understood. Mike Nichols, producer Larry Turman and
I all thought we were ‘Benjamin.’ That’s how the book affected us.
Nichols and Turman saw the behavior and events in the film as
reflecting what they felt at Benjamin’s age, and so did I… Everyone I
knew went through it — I think it’s true today, too. How to get away,
and what the hell to get away to.” At the time, Henry, Nichols and
Turman were all in their late thirties.

Even at Embassy Pictures, the studio which produced The Graduate,
there were doubts that the script would appeal to youth. Stuart Byron,
who was working there as a publicist, recalled, “In 1967, ‘our’ culture
and ‘our’ concerns were approaching their zenith, and what did The Graduate have to do with them? The word ‘Vietnam’ was never mentioned. This was the basis of our conviction that The Graduate would flop. ‘Where is the relevance?’ we would cry, as soon as the bigwigs were out of earshot.”

Before
The Graduate‘s release, Mike Nichols took it on a tour of colleges at
the studio’s insistence. “What I heard the most from college students was, over
and over and over and over, ‘Why isn’t it about Vietnam?'” remembers Nichols. Because that
was the fashionable topic. That was the topic that showed what a
serious person you were and how deeply involved, and to make a movie
that was for young people and was not about Vietnam actually affronted
them.”

Despite the initial reaction of college students, The
Graduate
went on to sell 90 million tickets. The youth audience forgave
the film for failing to address Vietnam, and flocked to theaters for
multiple viewings. At the first test screening in New York City,
Nichols recalled, “From the moment that ‘Benjamin’ took the cross and
beat back ‘Mr. Robinson’ in the church, the audience stood on its feet
and screamed like at a prizefight. We were scared to death. We didn’t
understand what had happened. And Dustin, who’d never seen the film,
was in the balcony. He came out white as a sheet. We were all
absolutely stunned. We didn’t understand what had happened, because it
had hit some wind that was circling the Earth, something that nobody
could have predicted, and just been lifted beyond what we ever could
have imagined. I don’t think that it was a sort of madness of the time,
or that it had all that much to do with its quality or lack of quality.
It was some cultural thing that just exploded as a result of the film,
but it was, of course, like all cultural things, already happening.”

Catch the DVD enhanced version of The Graduate on Thursday, April 10. For a complete schedule of showtimes, click here.

To read more about The Graduate and author Charles Webb’s real life parallels, click here.

Sources:
The Graduate DVD: Bonus Commentaries
Stuart Byron, “Rules of the Game,” Village Voice, 1/6/82
Dan Georgakas, “From Words To Images,” Cineaste, 12/22/01
“History of The Graduate,” NPR’s Morning Edition, 12/9/02

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