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Braddock, Boomers, and Bill Murray
Written by Deirdre Swain
- Tue, 09/04/12 - 06:00
The path to becoming a cultural touchstone seldom winds straight, and any straying, any little side-jaunt, could mean you never get there at all.
Take Benjamin Braddock, the anti-hero of Mike Nichols’ 1967 film The Graduate (8:30pm on September 4th on Sony Movie Channel). For more than four decades, Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin has been a poster boy for disaffected youth, a symbol of the Baby Boom generation that couldn’t find common ground with its parents. Yet the producer’s first choice for the role was – wait for it – Robert Redford.
In the book by Charles Webb, Benjamin is a SoCal golden boy, a super-WASP. But Nichols knew a star like Redford could never play a directionless loner. A rebel, a criminal, an iconoclast, sure – but Redford was not the kind of “outsider” the film needed.
Enter the 30-year-old Hoffman, making his film debut. He was extremely uncomfortable in the role, expecting every day to be fired, knowing that he was the complete opposite of who Benjamin was supposed to be. But Nichols used that discomfort, that awkwardness, and turned Benjamin Braddock into an icon and Hoffman into a movie star.
If we followed Benjamin through his adult life, we could conceivably wind up at the South Carolina house of Harold and Sarah Cooper (Kevin Kline and Glenn Close) in Lawrence Kasdan’s Baby Boomer dramedy The Big Chill (6:40pm on September 4th on Sony Movie Channel).
Featuring a huge cast of people who would go on to become major movie stars (including Tom Berenger, William Hurt, and Jeff Goldblum), the film inspired the TV show Thirtysomething and arguably kicked off a wave of boomer nostalgia that has not yet fully subsided. It’s not a stretch to imagine Benjamin finding a place among the variously successful, vaguely dissatisfied group of friends depicted here.
The film also boasts an astonishing soundtrack that would be prohibitively expensive to reproduce today (with tracks by Marvin Gaye, Three Dog Night, and The Band, among others) and includes arguably the most famous use of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” over the opening scenes at the funeral that brings the characters together. (The corpse was actually played by Kevin Costner, but all of the scenes that showed his face were cut. Costner’s character, Alex, is practically a MacGuffin; he touches off the plot but serves little purpose otherwise).
If Boomer nostalgia isn’t quite dead, Generation X is doing its best to kill it, being now of an age where they get to see their favourite Seattle bands on reunion tours and teenagers wearing Doc Martens on the street again. Gen-Xers might not be as big a group, but they can be just as insistent about their own classics, one of which is the 1984 comedy Ghostbusters (6:25pm on September 21st, along with Ghostbusters II on AXN Movies).
It’s hard to say what it is about the Ivan Reitman flick that keeps it fresh today, in an era when gifted ensembles, hit soundtracks, and special effects are not just common but practically required for hit films. It may be the strength of the leads: Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis (and Rick Moranis) were all seasoned sketch comics. It may be that while Slimer, the first “ghost” the ‘busters encounter, looks pretty lame by today’s standards, but the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man remains convincingly terrifying. It may be the ridiculous yet totally delightful premise that makes an Art Deco apartment in New York “spook central.”
Most likely, though, it’s Murray and his delivery that keeps us coming back. Arguably the best actor out of the lead players, he has gone on to do great dramatic work for serious directors (Wes Anderson in particular). But as parapsychologist Dr. Peter Venkman he swings between deadpan and restrained glee; you never know which way he’s going to zig or zag, and he remains a delight to watch nearly three decades later.
None of the above-mentioned flicks would have looked like future classics at first or even second glance. They are living proof that, despite many efforts to the contrary, there’s no way to break movie magic down into a repeatable formula. All you can do is enjoy it when it happens. Luckily, Hollywood Suite now has two new channels where you can revisit that magic: Sony Movie Channel and AXN Movies.
Sony Movie Channel gives you access to Sony’s huge library of films (including The Graduate and The Big Chill, another modern classic starring both Hoffman and Murray [Tootsie]) and countless others. AXN Movies delivers “You paid for your seat but you’ll only need the edge!” excitement, with high-octane, kinetic flicks like Ghostbusters, Run Lola Run, and Snatch.
Both channels launch today!
Deirdre Swain is a Toronto-based writer and editor, whose work has appeared in NOW and the former Eye Weekly, among others. She blogs about movies and TV at http://filmcricket.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter @DeirdreSwain.