Until this past weekend The Graduate was a film that I only knew about through it’s famous quotes and scenes. Somehow I felt like I had already seen this entire film, heard all quotes and laughed at all the jokes, when I actually never watched it. My unfounded perception of this film as an irrelevant relic of another time discouraged me from actively pursuing this as a rental or purchase. Thank god for TCM where I am a passive participant of timeless gems from Hollywood past. This weekend I sat down and watched the entire film and to my surprise I was able to appreciate it for its cultural significance.
It is ironic when a work of art has such a strong cultural impact that its iconic status becomes a detriment to its viewership. Case and point, the scenes posted below have been played ad nauseum and as a result they have become greater than the sum of it’s parts. Most of us are aware of this film through bits and pieces. The relationship between the younger man and the cougar Anne Bancroft, the plot twist where he falls for her daughter, the chart topping soundtrack by folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel. This familiarity takes away from the novelty that might otherwise draw in an unsuspecting viewer, robbing them of the experience that won over audiences when it first opened.
Upon my own viewing of The Graduate, what I found most compelling were the layers of pop-culture references that when viewed from the cultural landscape of the time were quite revolutionary. The seedy strip club scene, the references to “Agytators,” and “Plastics,” the stunning shots of the “Alfa Romeo Spider” on the freeways of California. This film directed by Mike Nichols ushered in the new wave of Hollywood directors and captured the spirit of the times. It reflected the changing of the guard in Hollywood and in society. According to Filmsite.org “two California settings (Los Angeles and Berkeley) and S. and N. California cultures (materialistic vs. intellectual), There was already a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo and middle-class values, and the breakthrough film mirrored that anarchic mood perfectly for America’s youth of the 60s during the escalation of the Vietnam War.” This quote explains why it resonated then, and why it resonated with me.
I included two popular clips from The Graduate below that I look at now with a fresh perspective. They are no longer meaningless clips from an irrelevant film, I look at them now as cinematic landmarks of a shift in American pop culture. I highly recommend renting this on Netflix or watching it whenever it plays on TCM again.
I also sandwiched the 1992 George Michael video “Too Funky” where they use a sound-byte from The Graduate in the very beginning. Try to catch the soundbyte without getting too distracted by the very young Tyra Banks and Linda Evangelista.