Ed#425 The Graduate Grows Up

8 February 2013 Alan Attwood

Ed#425 The Graduate Grows Up

At the end of the day I completed my last Year 12 exam, I took myself off to see The Graduate. I know, that sounds very lame. No wild party? Just a solo date at the movies? Let me explain: the exam schedule meant I finished before my friends (I did have some). So any parties or running amok would have to come later. On that first evening, a movie about a young man pondering his future after years of study seemed very relevant. One of the lines that resonated came when Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) is asked by one of his father’s friends what, exactly, he had gained from his time at college. His reply: “You got me there”. Which is how I felt sitting in the cinema: totally uncertain what education was about or for. In Benjamin’s case, education had a lot to do with Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft). But it was with Mrs Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross, later to feature in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), that Hoffman shares one of the great final scenes in movies. Having snatched Elaine away from her own wedding, Benjamin whisks her onto a passing bus. The two runaways sit together up the back, their expressions of surprise and amazement slowly giving way to smiles. One of my film-buff sons has told me that The Graduate’s director, Mike Nichols, simply kept the camera running on the seated pair to nail this scene. I’m not sure about that; what I do know is it was that movie, from 1967, that first made me sit up and take notice of Hoffman.
Since then, there’s been an extraordinary string of successes. It’s easy to forget just how many memorable movies Hoffman has made. There’s Midnight Cowboy (1969), All the President’s Men (1976), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Tootsie (1982), Rain Man (1988), and many, many more. We can forgive him for the Fockers. Not so long ago I saw him almost pinch a very funny film called Barney’s Version (2010), in which Hoffman plays the father of the lead character, Barney (Paul Giamatti), and has a ball hamming it up as a former New York cop.
Yet there are plenty of Difficult Dustin stories, tales of fellow actors and directors driven to distraction by his alleged perfectionism. One story – quite possibly apocryphal – has the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier, bemused by the ‘method’ being employed by Hoffman in the making of Marathon Man (1976), physically exhausting himself so as to look a wreck on screen, simply asking: “My dear boy, why don’t you try acting?”
But now, at the age of 75, Hoffman claims to be content. He has made a successful debut as a director with Quartet, a sweet and touching movie about a British retirement home for ageing musicians. Hoffman had a stellar cast to work with, including Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Andrew Sachs (Manuel in Fawlty Towers in the 1970s and now a dignified octogenarian). There’s something wonderfully life-affirming about a film that celebrates older people. Not so long ago, the notion of Hoffman as the man behind this project would have seemed unlikely. After all, his Benjamin Braddock personified the difficult young man. But, then again, that movie was made five decades ago. We’ve all changed a lot since then. Take a look at Hoffman’s CV and two things are striking: first, the number of biggies; second, the way his roles have got closer to himself. He was almost 30 when he played Benjamin (in his early twenties); as ‘Ratso’ in Midnight Cowboy he played a much older man, and he was older still in Little Big Man (1970). Now he is more prepared to accept the way he is. So here’s to you, Mr Hoffman.
 

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