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Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Graduate (1967)

Ironically, one of my sons graduated from college this weekend, and it is a very different world  almost 50 years later.  Happily, ther way the movie told it's story has a timeless quality, as does its soundtrack.

I saw this movie when I was in college, and while the movie was over a decade old at that point, I was not yet old enough to really appreciate the depth of Anne Bancroft's Mrs. Robinson narcissistic malevolence. Holy buckets.  The woman was just an awful person and the fact that her daughter Elaine came out as a caring person is miraculous.

Simon and Garfunkel masked her evil character underneath a pop tune that masked a multitude of evils (most likely used in an ironic manner by the director).  The song is interwoven throughout the movie--Ben (Dustin Hoffman) hums it, the music plays on his car radio as Mrs. Robinson is getting into his car to tell him she is about to ruin his love life, and at carious other moments throughout the movie.  The song does not connect with the character's personality, but more often with her actual presence.

In contrast, the songs that play when Ben is alone drive the narrative forward.  Ben is a quiet, confused recent college graduate who was a successful college student but is not sure what to do to be successful at life, and he cannot express his trepidation.  So while the song, "Sounds of Silence" are non-diegetic, meaning that they are not within the movie, the lyrics give the audience an idea of what Ben is thinking and feeling.  I did not realize this, but it was the first movie to use rock songs in a soundtrack that was not a musical--the concept of using already recorded rock songs to tell a story that was not being sung by the actor had not been done.  Dustin Hoffman was the perfect actor for this role--no one could imagine him bursting into song.  The Simon and Garfunkel songs used in the movie are mournful, and while they help to say words that Ben cannot, they are not songs that would fit nicely within a musical.  It is such a perfect use of music as narrative, and I wish I was intuitive enough to have seen it when I saw it the first time.


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