The Critics Ignored, Caught Up, and Then Took Credit

December 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

New York Times

How Clint Eastwood Is Still Misunderstood

By Lars Trodson

Sometimes I get the feeling — even if it’s the New York Times — that reporters get about five minutes with their subjects. That was the sinking feeling I got when I read the “profile” of Clint Eastwood in last Sunday’s (Dec. 14) NYT’s Arts & Leisure section. It was written by Bruce Headlam, who wastes no time in larding the piece with unnecessary and cringe-inducing information because, as I said, I think he got five minutes with his subject.

The first paragraph:

“Being introduced to Clint Eastwood is something like seeing a California redwood for the first time. The difference is that this redwood, at the age of 78, reaches out to shake your hand with a firmness that still intimidates no matter how much time you spent preparing your grip (for the record: three days).”

Actually, the difference between Clint Eastwood and a redwood is that Eastwood is not a tree. But anyway, what a simp this writer is — pumping his fists for three days hoping that Eastwood wouldn’t put the death grip on him. Oy.

Newspapers aren’t necessarily tanking just because the economy is bad. It’s flaccid prose like this that’s killing the medium.

But there’s more. The second graph of the piece starts like this: “He arrived at the interview at the Mission Ranch restaurant here as if he owned the place, and it didn’t make any difference that, in this case, he does.”

I have to say this, but even I think I could walk into a restaurant acting like I owned the place if I owned the place.

Are there no editors any more?

But the real grievance here is that while Clint Eastwood has had one of the most interesting and moving careers ever in the history in Hollywood, we get the Wikipedia version of his career. That’s fine for Wikipedia, but not for, as Dustin Hoffman once said in “All the President’s Men”, “the goddamn New York Times.” What we get in the NYT piece instead is a thumbnail rehash of a career trajectory that even the most casual viewer of “Access Hollywood” or reader of “People” magazine will have heard about before.

And that’s the frustrating problem with newspapers: they are rarely ahead of the curve anymore. Here’s what we get from the NYT about Eastwood’s career: “Starting in the mid-1980s he began to change some minds by pushing the boundaries of his cowboys-and-cops image with films like ‘Honkytonk Man’ and ‘Tightrope.’” Wow wow wow.

The offense is not just the lazy prose, though; it’s that a writer for the New York Times, in a Sunday edition piece, didn’t even bother to pierce the cliches surrounding Eastwood’s career. Eastwood, after all, is now the owner of one of the most significant, impressive and moving careers in all of Hollywood’s history. But what the New York Times decided to give us was dreck. I don’t like dreck with my Sunday morning tea.

Let’s acknowledge this: Eastwood has always had a restless, boundless artistic temperament. Do you think that Sergio Leone, in his attempt to redefine what western’s could achieve, would have picked an empty-headed dolt? It is no accident, that of the untold numbers of spaghetti westerns made from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s there may be cult favorites — but the classics belong to Eastwood. “Zapata”, anyone?

If you believe even superficially that the Leone pictures are meditations on violence, then it is easy to see what led Eastwood to direct, as his first feature, case, “Play Misty for Me” (1971). If not an attempt to flesh out an idea that violence is the by-product of madness, then what is this picture? It certainly has its trendy violence, but it was no shoot-em-up, as he could have easily done. His character is a late night jazz DJ, for goodness sake.

There are real attempts at character development – including a sympathetic portrait by Jessica Walter of a woman who is demented and pathetic. It’s not a great film – but I hate to diminish it even in that way. It is safe to say that “Play Misty For Me” does signal that Eastwood was interested in the ramifications, and the complexity, of violence long before “Unforgiven.” He looks at this theme again in “The Outlaw Josey Wales” — a film that I have not seen in the 30 years since its release, but I can still see scenes vividly in my mind.

Eastwood’s career is old-fashioned in one respect: he emerged as a director in a time when your shortcomings were up there on the screen for all to see. Technology and a crew of 300 people can mask any director’s inability get shot coverage the lead actor to cry, but 35 years ago, if you missed the shot or your actor couldn’t cut it, you simply had to sigh and learn and move ahead.

That is what Eastwood did, and so we get the interesting failures. I remember distinctly that critical reception for “Tightrope” and “Honkytonk Man” and “Bronco Billy” was grudging. I can’t sit through “White Hunter, Black Heart” or “Bird” — but it is imperative for an artist to learn to grow.

Eastwood’s career certainly needed a jolt in the early 1990s. His career by this time had already been through it all — huge hits, critical successes, audience adulation, phrases that had entered the lexicon and utter indifference. But no career can swoon forever and the decade previous to “Unforgiven” was distinctly undistinguished. It was 10 years of directing films called “The Rookie” (with Charlie Sheen), “Sudden Impact” and “Heartbreak Ridge.” The acting side was probably a little worse. So “Unforgiven” was just as much a reaction to market forces as it was a man who knew he had to muster all his artistic sensibilities – and all that he had learned — to the forefront if he was going to be allowed to continue.

But Eastwood could make “Unforgiven” precisely because he had been allowed to make mistakes. He could also make it because he’s obviously smart, and obviously different from the character so many of his movies have him out to be.

I remember quite distinctly a Merv Griffin show from the early 1970s when Eastwood was a guest along with the Maharishi Yogi, who was promoting (I think that is the right word) transcendental meditation, or TM. The Maharishi was decked out in a throne of flowers – as I recall – and when Eastwood came out he was handed one of those flowers.

He made a comment — and I am going on memory here — that maybe audiences would react differently to his movies if he took a flower out of his jacket instead of a gun. He mimed taking a flower out of a holster. This was right around the “Dirty Harry” era, and audiences back them were sophisticated enough to realize there was a difference between an artist and his art. So the audience laughed, and they got it.

So it must amuse Eastwood to read critics who believe he came into his own as an artist with “Unforgiven” only because that was when the critics themselves really began to notice he had matured.

Maybe critics today only need five minutes with their subjects. Why would you need more if you know all you’re going to do is rehash the same old stories anyway?


‘Knocked’ sensible

December 12, 2007 § Leave a comment

Katherine Heigl struck honest oil with ‘sexist’ comment — so don’t back down now, girl

By Gina Carbone

Here’s a whopper of a secret: Hollywood is sexist. And it’s making a success of it.

I trust you haven’t fallen off your chair.

And yet, when Katherine Heigl decided to call out her own summer sleeper — “Knocked Up” — for keeping to Hollywood’s unofficial cash code, Tinseltown and even some Average Viewers collectively gasped and clutched their pearls.

“It was a little sexist,” Heigl said in Vanity Fair’s January cover story. “It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.”

Personally I loved the movie. But I couldn’t agree with her more. Of course it was sexist. In exactly the manner she describes.

More of my thoughts later. First, the trial by public opinion, which was swift and polarized.

The Hum gossip column at E! Online wasn’t sure where to begin.

“Ouch! This leaves us in an awkward place. Should we praise her for being so honest and frank—or scold her for lashing out against what made her successful?”

Some of the column’s readers were more open.

• “Katherine is a awful actress and she don’t know when to shut-up,” wrote one. “If she hated the movie so much why did she film it. In short she’s saying she would lower he standards for the dollar. Her career will be short lived I can’t stand her.”

• “Katherine rocks — it is refreshing that she is so honest,” wrote another. “I really think some people have over reacted — if you read her full quotes she isn’t slamming anything just point out a few things she didn’t like about the characters. I think she made some very valid points. Thank god she is a celebrity who actually has something to say and can actually speak without having to hide behind a publicist. Love the girl.”

From Huffington Post readers:

• “I’m glad she didn’t call Knocked Up completely sexist, but I think she’s still wrong in her assessment here. The guys in the movie, while being ‘lovable, goofy, [and] fun-loving’, were also immature, selfish and crass… which is the typical stereotype for men in movies and tv shows. Both sides are represented with alternatingly stereotypical and atypical characteristics, which is what makes the characters and their interactions seem more real than 99% of Hollywood romantic garbage. Stereotypes are drawn from common experiences and while using them to pidgeonhole real people is wrong, lampooning them in entertainment is pretty much the very heart of comedy.”

• “Vacuous. What an idiot. Must have stayed up all night with her publicist to come up with something to say. Another example of ‘fame does not equal brains,’ like Shaq, George Bush et al.”

And from Defamer:

• “’Knocked Up’ may not exactly be realism city, but it’s certainly no less credible than ’27 Dresses,’ wherein Katherine Heigl is upset because she’s not pretty enough to get a date. Strictly in terms of the message being sent to young impressionable women, I would definitely say ‘Dresses’ is far more pernicious.”

• “The movie was a flippin’ COMEDY! It was supposed to be as outrageous as it could possibly be. That’s what made it so successful. It was about the most unbelieveable scenario possible. I have no doubts that there are many men that live day-to-day just like Seth Rogen’s character. Just like I have no doubts there are just as many women out there like Katherine’s. Would they ‘hook up’ & end up any different than the characters in the movie? Doubt it! If Hollywood put out movies that were as predictable as our day-to-day lives, they wouldn’t be doing much business.”

• “I think what she might be getting at is that, if the movie was about a fat ugly stoner chick with a heart of gold who marries a god played by, say, Christian Bale, everyone would be all ‘THAT SHIT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN’. Yet we totally buy Apatow’s reverse version. And I’m totally ambivilent about Heigl. I just get where she’s coming from.”

Speaking of Apatow, he’s turned these potential lemons into lemonade. New York Magazine asked the director about Heigl’s comments and he told them this:

“I think the characters are sexist at times, but it’s really about immature people who are afraid of women and relationships and learn to grow up. If people say that the characters are sexist, I say, yeah, that’s what I was going for in the first part of the movie, and then they change.”

When the magazine asked if he’s had his feelings hurt, he blamed Vanity Fair for twisting her comments. “I’ve done a lot of interviews, and when you’re promoting a movie, you talk for hours and hours and hours, and so it’s very easy for something to be taken out of context. I’m just happy people are talking about ‘Knocked Up’ six months after it came out.”

Then he made his masterstroke: “You know we’re on the cover of Vanity Fair. It reminds people that they need to buy ‘Knocked Up’ on DVD and judge for themselves.”


But Apatow didn’t quite come out and defend Heigl with the full truth — she wasn’t bashing her movie. She wasn’t even coming up with an original thought. She was just enjoying a day without the veneer of better-be-polite-than-truthful codswallop that most people — especially actors who want to stay in business — plaster over their emotions all the time.

Unfortunately, that was probably Heigl’s last honest day. Even now her PR machine seems to be backpedaling.

As she told People magazine last week, “I was responding to previous reviews about the movie the interviewer brought to my attention. My motive was to encourage other women like myself to not take that element of the movie too seriously and to remember that it’s a broad comedy.”

Her “clarification” tour seems pointed at reiterating how “Knocked Up” was one of the greatest experiences of her life. Well, yes, she did allude to that in her original quote. She also made a bold statement few actresses would dare to say about their own films and she should be proud. Go for the legacy, Katie!

For the record, here’s the paragraph that preceded her “sexist” quote in Vanity Fair.

“Heigl is equally forthright about the movie that catapulted her onto the A-list. Many critics raved about ‘Knocked Up’ but quite a few discerned an underlying misogyny that made female characters into unappealing caricatures while romanticizing immature and irresponsible male behavior. Heigl counts herself among those who were perturbed.”

I am among those “quite a few” critics. As I wrote in a three-star review: “Although I loved this movie, I’m getting tired of the ‘King of Queens’ world where attractive, capable women fall in love with/end up mothering shlubby, childish men. (Apatow also produced ‘Anchorman,’ which epitomizes this set-up.) Alison and, especially, Debbie are not just the more mature, eye-rolling halves of their respective pairs; they’re often shrewish, nagging, neurotic, vain and awful to be around. The men, on the other hand, are just good-hearted blokes who like to have fun, tell jokes, play fantasy baseball and take it easy.”

I don’t deploy the sexist card as a knee-jerk reaction to every slight. I’m no man-hater and apart from a few days a month I live without penis envy. Still, I won’t deny jealousy is at the root of many of my Hollywood complaints.

I’m down for a “Fight Club.” I’d gladly be Mr. Pink in “Reservoir Dogs.” I want to face the peril with Monty Python. I’ll learn “The Way of the Gun.” Where do I sign up to be Jason Bourne?

I’m not the only girl who lives vicariously through boys’ adventures. As Debbie whined to her husband, Pete, in “Knocked Up,” “I like Spider-Man.” Yes, and I’d rather see it with Pete than Debbie. Not because he’s a guy, but because he’s as cool as my female friends.

What Hollywood STILL doesn’t seem to get is that women are just like men. We are all different people, not a series of flawless clones sharing a single Borg-like identity. (Oh, and when I say flawless, I mean physically – lack of intelligence is fine. Ugly chicks can stay on as sidekicks to make the real girls look even more attractive. They can even make witty comebacks, but they’ll never get the guy.)

This is the year of the mega-nerd. From “Knocked Up” to “Superbad” and TV’s entries of “Chuck” and “Reaper,” being a young awkward man has never been so rewarding.

Not that it was going through a dry spell. Back in “The Graduate” a directionless Dustin Hoffman — hardly a Redford — landed a lovely Katharine Ross. Remember “American Pie”? And the sequels? (Can we finally put a moratorium on the male coming-of-age-story?)

What do the women get? Tepid romantic weepies, vapid BFFs getting drunk and screaming “woo!” in some twat’s version of “empowerment.” And “Ugly Betty.” “Ugly Betty,” which stars the beautiful America Ferrera and includes an early episode where the atypical protagonist I’m supposed to be so proud of dresses up and is greeted by catcalls on the New York sidewalk. “Really?!” she gasps, pointing to herself. “Thank you!”

Yeah, that’s a good representation of me and my friends. Thanks for that.

Hard to say if “Juno” is going to chip away at if not break the mold for women since it’s still in limited release (which translates to “nowhere near Portsmouth, N.H.”). Fingers crossed.

Ironically Hollywood’s most refreshing look at a male/female relationship in years came from Apatow himself: “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” True the irresponsible, immature men were still present, but so was the sweet, loving Andy (attractive Steve Carell) and his funny, patient, more experienced girlfriend, Trish (equally but not more attractive Catherine Keener). A balanced, sensitive, adult take on humanity — and it still managed to be hilarious. Huh.

If more characters like that were written into Hollywood’s scripts instead of tired fanboy stereotypes, Katherine Heigl wouldn’t have to resort to actual honesty in a major magazine. She’d probably appreciate the break.

What Were They Thinking?

September 5, 2007 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson

I want to take a minute to review, if you will, the packaging for the 40th anniversary edition of “The Graduate”, which is scheduled for release on Sept. 11. I don’t usually pay much attention to these packages — mostly because I never see them — but I was also struck by the sophomoric presentation of this film, which is, regardless of my opinion of it, one of the touchstones of 1960s cinema.

One of the things that annoyed me right off is the cover, which reduces Mrs. Robinson to simply a body part — a leg, with Dustin Hoffman up off to the right of the graphic standing in for the “A” in the word “Graduate.” How clever.

It was the copy inside, however, that really caught my eye. If this film is regarded as something of a sophisticated accomplishment, which it certainly is, then one wonders why the studio publicity department decided to go with such juvenile headlines for the little narrative accompanying the discs.

The first graph in the four-color brochure is titled, appropriately enough, “The Graduate”, but the ones that follow come with school themes, thus: “The Miseducation of Benjamin”, “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation” — an obvious reference to The Who song, but which is about as far from the sensibility of Simon and Garfunkel as one could hope to get; “A New Student Body” — a reference to newcomer Dustin Hoffman; “Dustin’ off his screen test” — a brief examination of Hoffman’s screentest; “Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson!” — a look at Anne Bancroft; “Great test scores” — a hilarious reference to the Simon and Garfunkel score; and a couple of sidebars wittily titled “Cheat Sheet” — which are factoids; and finally: “Causing a scene” — another bulleted item about behind-the-scenes techniques.

I’m not sure who the audience is for such drivel; it certainly isn’t the audience that grew up with the film. And I can’t imagine it inspiring a new group of viewers. Oh well.

I also tried to watch the film with commentary, which has two versions: one by Hoffman and Katharine Ross and the other by Mike Nichols and director Steven Soderbergh. If I had listened beyond Soderberg’s opening comment, “I’m sitting here with the alleged director of ‘The Graduate, Mike Nichols” I might have figured out why he was involved, but I didn’t. His little joke fell flat. And while Hoffman was informative, I found Ross so somnambulant that I had to turn it off.

This particular 40th anniversary edition doesn’t feel quite so special, in part because so little new information is imparted. Also notably absent, of course, is the late Bancroft, who died in 2005.

Everywhere you turn in this movie and its featurettes, you miss her when she’s not there.

Finding Mrs. Robinson, In The Dark

September 3, 2007 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson

While I was watching the 40th anniversary edition of “The Graduate” I could not stop thinking about Billy Wilder’sThe Apartment.” I eventually had to shut the movie off for a little while to consider why this earlier film kept creeping its way into my memory, because the two films seem so different.

Except they are not, really.

I had always considered “The Apartment” just about the saddest comedy ever made. It has such a powerful layer of melancholy that often I think it is a mistake to consider it a comedy at all, but rather a drama with some obvious comic undertones. “The Graduate” has more anger, true, but it also may be sadder than it is funny. After all, it begins with a forlorn looking Dustin Hoffman returning home alone from college on a plane, and as we see him standing on one of those long conveyor belts at the airport, the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack begins the whole proceeding by saying, “Hello darkness, my old friend.” Hardly the set-up for a jaunty little romp.

And, then of course I realized that at the heart of each film are two affairs, one doomed from the start, the other less obviously so, and the parallels between “The Apartment” and “The Graduate” — made just a scant seven years apart — did not seem so obscure after all. Two melancholy comedies about love, only one takes place in a neon-lit New York and the other in sun dappled Southern California. And each has a schnook at the center of its universe.

In “The Graduate” that schnook is Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, in a performance so sustained in its comic timing that it remains a smile-inducing pleasure to watch to this day. The plot is simple enough: Ben is confused, he begins an affair with the iconic “Mrs. Robinson” (Anne Bancroft), but eventually falls in love with her daughter, played by the luminous Katharine Ross. There isn’t much more to it than that — no extraneous plot threads, no subplots — this story arc has a clean, simple line — but the richness of the writing and the details in the performances gives the memory of the movie more heft than the story line allows.

Just a few minutes into the film, when Ben is upstairs in his room, uptight and out of his element, his father (the always reliable and enjoyable William Daniels), comes up to ask if there is anything wrong. Ben explains that he’s concerned, and his father asked about what.

“My future,” Ben explains.

“Well, what about it,” his father states — it isn’t expressed as a question. And I thought some of the movie’s resonance stems from that line right there. Ben’s father, undoubtedly like his father before him, had his future all mapped out, it followed a natural trajectory of prosperity and success, with a seemingly happy marriage only slightly marred by the fact that, once in a while, the husband had an affair. So be it. In 1967, when this film was initially released, a kid questioning his future had weight — a nasty war in Indo-China was heating up — and the rules, as Benjamin later explains to Elaine Robinson, didn’t seem to make any sense any more. That’s why he tells his father he wants his future to be “different.”

But I think, other than in approach and sensibility, that it’s a mistake to consider “The Graduate” as rebellious. In one scene, in fact the scene where Ben questions the rules, he asks a bunch of kids to turn down their music. These extras actually would look more at home in a Frankie Avalon beach movie than anywhere else, and then conservative Elaine and button-downed Benjamin huddle underneath the convertible top of his Italian-made sports car — a car as one friend of his parents’ calls “a wop job.” There is very little concern for the outside world in “The Graduate” — there is no Watts, no peace rallies, no fight for Civil Rights — this is very much a WASPy universe, of Ivy League colleges and fraternities and the idiosyncrasies of the nouveau riche in Beverly Hills. But if this film is not the cutting-edge social commentary we have come to believe it represents, then what is it that keep us returning to this quirky little film?

After all, the first half of the film is stronger than the second. In fact, the first 40 minutes is pretty much all set-up. Ben comes home fro school and is subjected to the cocktail party his parents are hosting in his honor — during which we see the famous “plastics” moment — and as he is nervously making his way through the crowd we first glimpse Mrs. Robinson turned toward Benjamin, smoking her ever-present cigarette. Anne Bancroft is every inch the picture of middle age lust and white hot sexual appeal, but from the very beginning — and this is the real beauty of Bancroft’s performance — we also see the anger the walls of protection she has set up around herself. The explosion of hurt and devastation she causes later is no surprise — not so much because it’s in the script but because Bancroft has provided these details in her performance. This is her best work, despite having won an Oscar for “The Miracle Worker”, and foreshadows the marvelous appearance she made in David Lynch’sThe Elephant Man” 13 years later.

By the time Ben meets Mrs. Robinson at the Taft Hotel, we’re 40 minutes into this 105-minute film. It is in this 40 minutes where we explore the emptiness Ben’ feels in his Southern Californian affluence — how wealth has not masked the deep hurt that he sees in the marriages of his parent’s generation, these marriages from the worlds of John Updike and John Cheever. In a beautiful shot, Ben opens up the door of the hotel and a stream of elderly couples walk out — men old enough to have been in World War I — and he leaves it open just enough for some kids out on a date to jump through the door. I always looked at this moment as the moment when the older generation was passing on their space to the younger crowd. But none of the folks from this crowd look very happy, either. This is what Ben wants to be different in his own life; but despite being a success at school, Ben does not take very long to completely screw up his post-college life.

Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton, in another great, short, sweaty performance) induces Ben to take Elaine out on a date. Ben does, raising the demon inside Mrs. Robinson. Despite Ben’s best attempt to sabotage the relationship — he takes her to a strip club, foreshadowing Robert DeNiro’s, as Travis Bickle, equally disastrous decision to take Cybill Shepherd to a porn flick in “Taxi Driver” — Elaine and Ben quickly hit it off, but even before the next date Ben is forced to tell Elaine that the woman he was having an affair with was her mother.

Elaine kicks Ben out of the Braddock house. As Ben leaves, Robert Surtees, the cinematographer, frames Mrs. Robinson as a frightened, frightening creature, almost literally pasted into the corner of the room, framed by white walls; a truly pitiable human being. She looks like she could be in an institution — albeit one of her own making.

In the last socially, trenchant moment of the film, Ben announces to his parents that he is going to marry Elaine Robinson. At that moment his mother (Elizabeth Wilson) lets out a shriek. It is a sonic symbol of this self-indulgent, utterly self-absorbed class of people, to whom the only notion of happiness is success, no matter what the price.

Ben follows Elaine back to Berkeley, where they reconnect, but again they are undermined off-screen by Mrs. Robinson, who tells her husband of the affair with Ben. Mr. Robsinon travels to Berkeley and threatens Ben, but Ben continues to follow Elaine, right to the church where she is getting married to the square-jawed, pipe-smoking stick figure straight out of her parent’s country club.

Much has been made of the last scenes of the film, of course; including Ben’s use of the cross as a way to ward off the angry wedding guests after he has crashed the church ceremony and Elaine has run out. I don’t think this is commentary of any kind, there hasn’t been any discussion about religion at all in the movie — so it’s simply a comic prop, but perhaps a seemingly subversive one in 1967. And then of course, Elaine and Ben hop on the bus, and their smiles, smiles borne out of their hard-earned attempts to be together, quickly melt into uncertainty and even fear. In the last shot of the movie we only see their backs: Ben’s short haircut and Elaine’s wedding headdress.

The couple is decidedly less happy than C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) and Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) were at the end of “The Apartment”, but truth to be told I never gave that relationship much of a chance, either. Baxter would eventually want to move to New Canaan, or Scarsdale, and if Fran were to follow she would surely have turned into a Mrs. Robinson-syle alcoholic, or into one of the morose, self-destructive housewives from Rick Moody’sThe Ice Storm.” It wouldn’t have been a happy ending, I think. Ben and Elaine are starting out on equally unsure footing, only this time they know it.

I was happy to see “The Graduate” again, but it seems a little diminished by time, and not so much because it has been copied too often, or that it’s scenes have been dulled by time. It’s just rather that there is something less there than originally believed, I think. As social satire and as a character study it also is slightly anemic. It certainly is not a terribly pointed commentary on life in the U.S. in 1967.

After all, the troubled Ben and Elaine have are not that much different from Baxter’s and Fran’s in Billy Wilder’s film.

I think it’s iconic status, outside of a few memorable lines, rests squarely on the shoulders of the sad, beautiful Mrs. Robinson. She’s the prototype for a million fantasies and the springboard for an uncountable number of Penthouse Forum letters, and she’s why we remember the film.

Time has been kind to her, in fact, and we can now more clearly see that she is the heart and soul of this film, that she is the one we empathize with the most because her life is most clearly drawn. It’s no secret that the reason the second half of the film is less rich is simply because Anne Bancroft isn’t there.

In the end, I didn’t feel any real affection for any one in the movie, other than Mrs. Robinson. But I certainly don’t love Mrs. Robinson; she’s far too mean to love. But I wanted very much the people around her to be kinder to her, anyway. I realize the darkness that Simon & Garfunkel were singing about didn’t belong to Ben, but rather to Mrs. Robinson. The kids, funnily enough, will be all right, no matter what happens to their relationship. Mrs. Robinson, God bless her, you just know wasn’t going to be so lucky.


See the original trailer for “The Graduate”:

The Unlikely Success of Tucker Carlson and Willie Geist

June 14, 2007 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson

One of the most painful aspects of listening to the radio or watching television news broadcasts is having to suffer through the unscripted banter of the on-air personalities. It’s one thing to go along with the “bits” or “gags” that are the mainstay of morning radio “crews” — usually two men and one woman whose on-air laughter is often like the sonic equivalent of spontaneous combustion. But when it comes time to fill a little air time off book, watch out. You sit in the car cringing.

This is no more apparent than on local TV news broadcasts. When it comes time to segue into another segment of the broadcast, your congenial hosts always start to oversmile. When one host must hand over the broadcast to another, the dialogue is invariably excruciating. This is no more apparent when the anchorperson either “thanks” or “blames” the meteorologist for the weather we’re having.

(Break into scripted uproarious laughter here.)

Unbelievably, the one oasis in this on-screen torture is the Tucker Carlson/Willie Geist pairing on the MSNBC chat show “Tucker.” It shouldn’t necessarily work, but it seems to work like a charm – sort of like Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in “Papillon.” Sometimes you can’t explain things. There is a smoothness and ease to the on-air chat between these two TV personalities. Geist (son of a CBS newsman) has loosened Carlson up a bit – he’s a little snarky, but not overly so, and he always has a retort to something Carlson says. It keeps Carlson on his game. And the main host has shed his stiffness, his proper Conservative attitude, and has become an entertaining interviewer (although he could widen his guest base), and he is learning to do something most interviewers never do, which is followup something stupid a guest has said with a challenge. He could do it more — while others on TV could just start doing it.

Here’s a kudo then to what I can only hope is a trend in TV chatter — two hosts who seem to actually be listening to each other, and who don’t get a deer-in-the-headlights look and start to offer leaden clichés as soon as the copy on the script in front of them runs out.

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