Today! Because I just want to say one word to you. Just one word –
The Graduate (1967)
Directed by Mike Nichols
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft (x2), Katharine Ross, William Daniels, Elizabeth Wilson, Murray Hamilton (x2), Buck Henry, Norman Fell, Alice Ghostley, Brian Avery, Walter Brooke, Richard Dreyfuss, Mike Farrell
One of the undeniable classics of the New Hollywood 1960s, and easily the most popular cougar seduction comedy of all-time, The Graduate didn’t come on my radar for some time. It was probably college before I really watched it – that being the obvious right time to see this film – but it is such a universally known and referenced film that I’m pretty sure all the major elements were already familiar to me. Mrs. Robinson. Ben sitting on the bottom of the pool. Plastics. Banging on the window in the church. It’s an across-the-board iconic movie.
But my first real exposure to it was almost certainly through its writer, frequent Saturday Night Live host of the 1970s Buck Henry. Even though he had a pretty decent writing/acting career, Henry’s big claim to fame in the late ’70s was still his Oscar nominated screenplay (and bit role as the hotel clerk) for The Graduate. Also, can you believe this didn’t win for Screenplay? This is the exact kind of movie that wins Screenplay and gets snubbed for everything else – funny, but with depth, that ten years later is hailed as a classic. And while In the Heat of the Night is a perfectly fine movie, did it win because Stirling Silliphant is the greatest name in the history of names? All he did after this was write action and disaster movies, including The Towering Inferno and Shaft in Africa. That’s right, the screenwriter of the third best Shaft movie once won an Oscar!
Silliphant, left, with In the Heat of the Night award winners Ashby, Steiger, and Mirisch
Today! Because people are frightened by what they don’t understand –
The Elephant Man (1980)
Directed by David Lynch
Starring John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins (x2), Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud (x2), Wendy Hiller (x2), Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon, John Standing (x2), Helen Ryan, Kenny Baker (x2)
An absolutely riveting, heart-wrenching biopic of severely deformed 19th century Londoner Joseph Merrick, brought to life by the disparate talents of director David Lynch, actor John Hurt, and producer Mel Brooks. Lynch was hot off his very Lynchian glorified student film Eraserhead – as bonkers a movie as has ever been made – and Mel had recently wrapped his Hitchcock parody High Anxiety, so naturally these two Americans had to get together for a black-and-white period British freakshow drama. Really though, both have a strong streak of outsider characters populating their films and shows, and treating them sympathetically, so it may not be as far-fetched as I’m supposing.
Besides the tremendous performances – Hurt and Hopkins as Merrick’s doctor, primarily – and those gorgeous b&w visuals, the movie is a towering triumph of film make-up. Merrick’s deformities were so massive that it required near full-body coverage for Hurt – a process that allegedly took seven to eight hours a day. Burying your lead actor under massive prosthetics poses an obvious challenge – how does an effective performance emerge when you can barely see the actor – but Hurt is riveting throughout – even if completely unrecognizable. Another good actor example of physical immersion into roles, good and bad, is Gary Oldman – terrifically effective as the massively scarred Mason Verger in Hannibal, and (in my opinion) somewhat less so in his Oscar-winning pile of make-up work as Churchill in The Darkest Hour. Come on, is there one minute of that movie where you’re not just saying to yourself “Oh hey! Look at how much make-up Gary Oldman is wearing!” Maybe it’s just me.
These waxworks are so lifelike!