Just back from the latest screening at the Station. Mike Nichols film has held up well and remains one of the most interesting films from that particular period in American cinema. Here are my accompanying notes for the screening programme.
The Graduate (1967, Mike Nichols)
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this, you lose
‘Mrs Robinson’ Simon & Garfunkel
Anticipating the aimless troubled protagonists of the late 60’s and early 70’s in American films like Midnight Cowboy (1969, John Schlesinger), Five Easy Pieces (1970, Bob Rafelson), and Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese), The Graduate is a darkly comic movie about a young man’s affair with an older woman. Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated from college as an award-winning scholar and track star. Everybody wants to know what he plans to do next but Benjamin has no idea. His parents are pressurising him to go to Grad school but Benjamin would rather just take it easy for a while. Drinking her way through a bad marriage, whatever dreams Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) may have had are long gone. Cynical and embittered she may be but Mrs Robinson is still a very attractive woman and she seduces Benjamin despite his weak attempt at preserving his innocence. But their secret relationship becomes awkward when her pretty daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross) returns from university.
The clash between the younger generation and the establishment was playing out across America with anti-Vietnam protests, civil rights demonstrations, and an emerging counter culture which rejected many of the ideals their parents believed in. Director Mike Nichols and his screenwriters Buck Henry and Calder Willingham present this generational conflict in The Graduate. Though the story is told from Benjamin’s perspective he is as flawed as his elders. The older generation are presented as being decadent and burnt out, yet they do at least know what they believe in. Benjamin is drifting, terrified by the lightness freedom can bring.
Nichols won a Best Director Oscar for his work on The Graduate. Having tasted success with his adaptation of the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Nichols work here is more formally daring often foregoing narrative for observing Benjamin as he wanders around looking lost or hangs out by the pool. Simon and Garfunkel’s music is an integral part of the film. Though only the track ‘Mrs Robinson’ was written specifically for The Graduate the songs taken from their album ‘The Sound of Silence’ lend a haunting atmosphere to the film.
I’ve never paid much attention to Lucio Fulci having seen Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) as a teenager and dismissed it as crap. Other Italian legends like Mario Bava, Argento on his day, and Michele Soavi caught my attention but I’ve avoided Fulci films ever since. So I wasn’t expecting much from The House by the Cemetery. I may well have been wrong about Fulci. This is an often very subtle tale with a touch of Henry James about it. The final part of Fulci’s unofficial ‘gates of hell’ trilogy after City of the Living Dead (1980) and The Beyond (1981), it also features a plot where the dead cross over into the world of the living.
Dr Norman Boyle (Paula Malco) and his wife Lucy (Catriona McColl) plan to move the Massachusettscountryside. Yet the house they are moving into looks very much like the one in the photographs hanging on the wall in their city apartment in which their young son Bob (Giovanna Frezza) claims he can see a young girl (Silvia Collatina) at the window warning him never to go there. Norman hasn’t told them but he intends to investigate the murder/suicide of an old friend who had been researching the mysterious Dr Freudstein whose experiments many years ago were aimed at prolonging the lifespan of human beings.
The House by the Cemetery will satisfy anybody looking for gore but it is the atmospheric otherwordly feel of the film which makes it a success. It is admittedly not entirely coherent. It has the logic of a dream. Time and time again the locals tell Normanthey have seen him before though he insists he has never visited this place at all. This ambiguity works in the film’s favour though and adds to the dreamlike atmosphere.
Sergio Salvati’s cinematography brings an Autumnal feel to this sombre downbeat film. Italian exploitation films shared with their American counterparts a bleak worldview. Though this despair would give way in the United States to the cheap if not un-enjoyable thrills of the horror-comedy it never really left the Italian genre film at least until the industry began to fall apart in the 90’s.
Fulci regular Catriona McCall is an effective scream queen but poor Giovanna Frezza is lumbered with horrendous dubbing on the English language version. It sounds like a fifty-four year old woman is imitating a nine-year old boy. Best stick with the original Italian language track. There is an interview with both stars on the disk in which both discuss the movie and their other work in Italian horror, as well as a wealth of extras, documentaries, commentaries, and written work to accompany the movie.
Also out today from Arrow is Forbidden Zone, a cult curio from Richard Elfman and his brother Danny who draw their inspirations from the same kind of pop culture Americana as early Sam Raimi and Tim Burton but with less interesting results.
Made as a showpiece for their band The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo its demented college boy humour wears thin, but there are some catchy songs, and Hervé Villechaize turns up playing a trumpet.
It’s been thirteen years since they graduated from high school and nine since erstwhile pie fucker Jim (Jason Biggs) married expert flautist Michelle (Alyson Hannigan). Now they have a young son whose uncanny ability to appear unannounced in their bedroom has put a dampener on their sex lives. They’re happy enough though and about to head back to their hometown for their school reunion. The rest of the gang have gone their separate ways. Oz (Chris Klein) is now a TV sports anchor famous for a stint on a reality dance show. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) apparently leads a mysterious life moving from country to country. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is still fucking boring. Stifler (Seann William Scott) has avoided growing up completely and still lives at home with his hot mom (Jennifer Coolidge). In fact nobody has told Stifler about the reunion figuring he’ll find a way to fuck everything up.
Writer-directors Jon Horowitz and Hayden Schlossberg dealt with the themes of old friends getting back together much better in their last movie A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas (2011). The most entertaining aspect of American Reunion is seeing these former bright young things back together. Especially the ones whose careers crashed and burned like the hapless Chris Klein who has been in the Hollywood wilderness since John McTiernan’s half-assed remake of Rollerball (2002). Klein remains beguilingly sweet as the dumb jock with a good heart despite his woodenness. Even more welcome is the talented Natasha Lyonne who makes a brief appearance here after spending the latter half of the Noughties battling drug addiction. It adds an element of pathos to the proceedings which is handy because the film isn’t particularly funny.
Been going through Michael Caine’s filmography and watching some of the lesser known films on his CV. Like The Magus, an odd reworking of the Orpheus myth based on a novel by John Fowles; a sort of what’s it all about Orphee? James Clavell’s The Last Valley (1971) which puts the differing factions in the 30 Years War in one small town and works as an allegory for all the other periods of religious based conflict. Peeper (1976, Peter Hyams), with Caine as a 40’s private eye in Los Angeles, Harry and Walter Go to New York (76, Mark Rydell) which wastes not only Caine but the talents of Elliot Gould and James Caan. The two Harry Palmer movies Caine made in the 90’s which I’ve always pretended don’t exist. What struck me most was not just the varied career Caine has had but the number of interesting film directors Caine has worked with. People give him stick for some lazy work in the 80’s and 90’s, usually Jaws: The Revenge (Joseph Sargent) but Caine has worked with some of the best around. Just look at the list below.
Cy Endfield, the American émigré who settled in Britain after fleeing the McCarthy witch hunts and directed one of the great British cult movies Hell Drivers (1957) gave Caine his first major role cast against type as a posh army major. Caine then worked with Otto Preminger in Hurry Sundown (1967), made a wordless appearance in Vittorio De Sica’s portmanteau film Woman Times Seven (67), and persuaded the producers of the third Harry Palmer movie Billion Dollar Brain (67) to hire Ken Russell as director. Too Late the Hero (70) for Robert Aldrich. At his best for Mike Hodges in the classic Get Carter (71), and in the underrated Pulp (73). Squaring off against Laurence Olivier in Sleuth (1972) for Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Don Siegel, that most American of directors out of place in a British milieu for the odd thriller The Black Windmill (1974). For another émigré Joseph Losey in The Romantic Englishwoman (1975). Teaming up with Sean Connery in John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (75). In John Sturges guilty pleasure The Eagle Has Landed (76). As a castaway captured by buccaneers in the Michael Ritchie oddity The Island (1980), surely an influence on the TV series Lost (2004-10). Brian De Palma (Dressed to Kill)I can take or leave but he has his admirers. Oliver Stone nabbed Caine for his first proper feature The Hand (1980). Sidney Lumet, Death Trap (1982). John Mackenzie made a decent fist of Graham Greene’s The Honorary Consul (1983). Stanley Donen and John Frankenheimer for Blame it on Rio (1984) and The Holcroft Covenant (85) respectively and both past their best.
Winning an Oscar for Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sisters (1986). Splendidly nasty as a sleazy gangster in Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa (1986). Peter Bogdanovich, Noises Off. Russell Mulcahy is admittedly an acquired taste and he has made better films than Blue Ice (1991). After a lean period Caine found himself back in fashion during the ‘Cool’ Brittaina era. Matching Jack Nicholson in Bob Rafelson’s Blood and Wine (1997). A menacing villain in Philip Kaufman’s Marquis de Sade movie Quills (2000). Another Grahame Greene adaptation The Quiet American this timefor the gifted but erratic Philip Noyce. A dignified presence in several Christopher Nolan movies. Truly great in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men.
Not a bad career for a guy who’s often accused of doing any old crap provided the money is right.