The Graduate, (Mike Nichols, USA, 1967) the classic story of Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a recent college graduate who is sent into despair by his older lover and her daughter; is seeing a 50th anniversary release this year. I saw it fitting to go back and revisit what made the film a counterculture phenomenon and why it is still relevant to the youth of today.
The Graduate was among one of the first films to be considered “New Hollywood”, an era of American cinema popularized during and after the late 1960s. A time when Hollywood (and the wider culture) made a motion towards the more liberal and rebellious energy of artistic expression. This is partly due to the slow decline in quality of the studio system but equally influential was the rapid expansion of the counterculture. From its conception, the studio system had expanded with little competition. It wasn’t until the Paramount Decree of 1948, essentially stopping the main studios from holding a monopoly over the entire industry, that this changed. The rise in alternative media, such as television, and exposure to more experimental presentation, in particular, the films of the French New Wave; meant audiences were expecting more than the mind-numbing escapism of the “parent” cinema.
If all this sounds familiar that’s because it is. It’s happening again right now. 50 years on and the “parent” cinema has numbed our brains with reality TV and a string of rebranded superheroes’ and Disney princesses. Luckily like Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols and Francis Ford Coppola a handful of contemporary directors (for instance Christopher Nolan, Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Nicolas Winding Refn) are once again creating pieces of art. They regard their audiences as intelligent individuals rather than a mindless flock of sheep; producing films that spark discussion rather than harbour senselessness. Like their predecessors, they operate within mainstream cinema but are able to actively pursue artistic freedom. Like in The Graduate soundtrack is extremely important to these directors, it not only adds more opportunity for creative output but also allows for profound audience exploration. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, USA, 2011) in particular comes to mind for its use of pop icons in the soundtrack. Just as Simon & Garfunkel gave The Graduate an underpinning of alienation; the original and 2014 rescore of Drive (featuring artists such as The 1975, CHVRCHES and Bring Me The Horizon) give a clear sense of atmospheric tension. Both Simon & Garfunkel’s soundtrack and multiple tracks from the Drive rescore topped the charts; showing how appreciated they were by their respective youth cultures.
The Graduate has become an important part of film counterculture that has helped the youth of the time (and today) express repressed ideologies surrounding liberal views. It also convinced the establishment to acknowledge a dysfunctional class system that restricted the options available to young people. The establishment of today need to be reminded of such struggles; hopefully, this re-release will again get the youth engaged in such debates. Allowing social insecurities to be expressed once again through the curing images of film.
Peace & Love.
You can buy the film on Blu-ray and DVD here