Archives For The Graduate

“…the transition between old and new is never elegant or seamless.” – from the Introduction to Pictures At A Revolution

The Academy Awards are often controversial — either legitimately or artificially. And since they’ve been around so long they tend to have an identity crisis every twenty years or so. Or, maybe more accurately, every couple of decades the Oscars reflect a generation gap and/or an identity crisis within the movie industry. Witness The 1967 Academy Awards. Held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on April 8, 1968 the 1967 Best Picture Nominees included a mix of movies that hardly seemed like a matched set.

Half of the nominees seemed to be sneering at the other half: The father-knows-best values of GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER were wittily trashed by THE GRADUATE; the hands-joined-in-brotherhood hopes expressed by IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT had little in common with the middle finger of insurrection extended by BONNIE AND CLYDE. (from Pictures At A Revolution)

Mark Harris’s wonderfully engaging book, Pictures At A Revolution, takes the five films nominated that year (BONNIE AND CLYDE, DOCTOR DOLITTLE, THE GRADUATE, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT ) and weaves together the stories of how those films came to be and with how they ended up reflecting the conflicted state of Hollywood’s body politic at the end of the 1960s. Harris is a seasoned writer with a strong commitment to research. He’s also not afraid to share a point of view. If you’re an Oscar buff this is a great book to dive into. If you’re a student of the American 1960s, Pictures At A Revolution, is also a great glimpse of that era through the lens of the USA’s biggest cultural export.

 
Pictures At A Revolution by Mark Harris | 2008 | The Penguin Press

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Mike Nichols (1931-2014) on the set of CATCH 22

There’s an indirect and reductive story about Mike Nichols in Frank Langella’s wonderful book, Dropped Names, that speaks to all the things that have been said and will be said about the supremely talented, prolific and enduring Nichols. The story – as told by Langella — is about a conversation he had with Stella Adler. Ms. Adler was attempting to illustrate for Langella the wisdom and insight of the brilliant author and critic, Harold Clurman, by relating something Clurman had said about Nichols many years ago. This must have happened in the late 1960s.

Ms. Adler said to Clurman, “Harold isn’t it remarkable how successful Mike Nichols has become?” Clurman replied, “He is not a success.” Adler was stunned and suspected Clurman might even be a little jealous so she protested, listing Nichols’s resume — Barefoot in the Park, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf, The Graduate — and citing his Tony awards and Oscars. Clurman stood firm, “He’s not a success.” Adler pressed, “Why not?” “Because,” Clurman said, “he hasn’t had a failure yet.”

With apologies to Mr. Langella and his publisher for lifting this story, here’s the capper in Langella’s own words:

When I (Langella) told Mike that story recently, shortly after his eightieth birthday, he ruminated for a moment, then said, “Absolutely correct.”

I love the Adler/Clurman story. But I really love Nichols’s affirmation that Clurman was right in his assessment that it takes a few failures for someone to become successful. This idea speaks to the importance of the long view of life. Taking the long view, reserving judgement until the story is done, is a theme that Nichols wove into 2007’s CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (screenplay by Aaron Sorkin) in the prescient “we’ll see”-scene between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tom Hanks at the conclusion of the film. Well, we have the long view of Nichols’s career now and I think it’s safe to say that Nichols was a success in every professional category in which he worked.

Nichols had great taste and versatility, he had a great eye for talent and an refined ear for words and music. He was a boy genius who defied the odds that tragic death, career burnout, or artistic irrelevance would end up in the first paragraph of his obituary. He aged beautifully into an elder statesman who never seemed to abandon the scrappy work-ethic of his Eastern European immigrant roots. Alas, the obituaries and eulogies are now being written and read across the world. Thankfully, this time, they are for an artist for whom we do not have to wonder what might have been. We can be sad, we can grieve — but in Nichols’s case we do not speak of unfulfilled potential or unrealized dreams. We celebrate and cherish the fullness of his life’s work – even as his family and friends celebrate the fullness of his life.

If Harold Clurman were alive today I have no doubt he’d be writing that Mike Nichols was an undisputed, well deserved success.

 

Frank Rich wrote a personal remembrance of Nichols that was posted on Vulture today. I think you’ll be glad you took the time to read it.