Criterion goes all out with the special features here, porting over a lot of previous material available on the various DVDs, Blu-rays, and LaserDiscs that have been released for the film, along with adding some new content.
Criterion provides two audio commentaries, the first from the 40th anniversary DVD edition for the film, featuring directors Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh acts as a sort of moderator here, asking Nichols questions while interjecting a few of his own thoughts on the film here and there. They talk a lot about the filmís editing, the long takes, the coverage, the use of Simon & Garfunkel, and so on. Nichols also talks about the production, sharing a few anecdotes (a humourous one involved Nichols turning down Robert Redford for the role of Benjamin, which Redford seemed shocked by) and a few surprises along the way. On top of this the two get into general conversations about their shared profession, sharing stories and things theyíve learned over the years, Nichols even talking about how he has changed as a filmmaker since The Graduate. Itís an incredibly informative and entertaining track, packed to the brim with details on the filmís production while also revealing the working process of both filmmakers.
Criterion has chosen not to port the other commentary from the 2007 DVD, which featured Hoffman and Katharine Ross. Iím sort of surprised by this but by most accounts itís an awkward, sometimes painful track, so maybe itís a good thing. But the good news is that Criterion has thankfully added their 1987 commentary featuring scholar Howard Suber, which hasnít appeared on any release since Criterionís LaserDisc edition almost 30-years ago. Itís a very academic track, Suber obviously referencing notes and sticking to a fairly strict timeline to cover his topics, but I found it a fairly intriguing one. He does spend a lot of time deconstructing shots, examining the editing, and the effect it all has, on either story or characters. He also shares a few interesting tidbits about the cast, from Hoffmanís nervousness and self-doubt (which Ross thought was going to destroy the film) and also the controversies that came up because they shot at Berkeley without addressing the political atmosphere at the time (he notes that at one point the film did address the demonstrations but this was dropped, which Suber thinks actually helped in the filmís longevity since it doesnít date the film as much). Sometimes itís a bit dry and it has moments which are a bit creepy even if the comments are in jest (Suber talking about how he analyzed the flashes of nudity during one scene) but Iím glad the track gets to see the light of day again. (As a note Suber does address this release as a LaserDisc more-or-less when he notes a feature appears at the ďend of the disc.Ē The feature in question, the audition footage, is of course accessed through the menu.)
Criterion then throws in a few new, exclusive features, starting with a new conversation between writer Buck Henry and producer Lawrence Turman. The two primarily discuss developing the film and some of the hurdles that came up, most of which is actually covered in the previous commentaries and other features on this disc, but there is still some new information here, most of which is delivered by Henry, that even Turman didnít know about. There are more details here about Calder Willingham, with confirmation that he actually didnít contribute anything that was used in the end. Turman did hire him to write the script initially but Willingham didnít like being told what to do and delivered a script that Turman did not care for. Thatís when Henry became involved and because of Willingham complaining to the WGA they had to give the author a credit. There are also details about how Haskell Wexner was actually hired on initially as the director of photography but he ended up quitting because he hated the script (both admire the fact the man stuck by his principles). Itís a loose but fairly humourous conversation between the two, reflecting on the film all these years later (almost fifty years now!) Despite some repetitiveness itís still worth viewing. It runs 25-minutes.
Criterion also provides a new interview with actor Dustin Hoffman, which runs a lengthy 38-minutes. Hoffman talks in great detail about landing the role, really covering a lot of the self-doubt he was experiencing (he believed then and probably still believes now he wasnít right for the role) and shares many stories about people, including many on the crew, who shared that same feeling. A few comments show just how lucky he and other actors involved with this film got in the trajectory of their careers: Hoffmanís friend, Gene Hackman was supposed to be play Mr. Robinson only to be fired (in the previous interview Turman states Hackman couldnít play middleclass), and Hoffman talks about how he almost landed another role, that of Franz Liebkind in Mel Brooksí The Producers, the role that would instead go to Kenneth Mars. I somehow doubt Hoffmanís career would have taken off with that role, and of course Hackman would instead do Bonnie and Clyde, which got him an Oscar nomination, so Iíd say things worked out for both of them. There are a few other surprising little facts and some bizarre anecdotes (on how he played nervous so well in the film he recalls his first time making out with a girl, and Iím still not sure if the story is funny or icky), and he also shares some sound advice (donít rent your property to a movie crew if you want it back in good condition). He also talks a little about the idea of a sequel that came up but obviously never took off. Itís a rich interview and a nice new feature, which Iím sure makes up for the lack of his commentary track.
Sam and Mike is a new 26-minute interview with Bobbie OíSteen, widow of the filmís editor, Sam OíSteen. She talks a little about the working relationship between her husband and Nichols but then spends most of the 26-minutes talking about the filmís editing and style, which was actually all planned out between Nichols, OíSteen, and the filmís director of photography, Robert Surtees. I think whatís most surprising, though, is that it appears the end product isnít what was initially envisioned. She uses a ďlinescriptĒ to demonstrate that there was actually a lot of coverage from multiple angles and cameras for a lot of sequences, but that ultimately they ended up just sticking with the master shot through most of the scenes. This was one of the more illuminating and informative features on here, and certainly a must-view.
Most of the remaining features are then from the previous releases. Students of ďThe GraduateĒ was made for the MGM DVD, and features interviews again with Turman, Henry, OíSteen, as well as Harold Ramis, Marc Forster, Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton, David O. Russell, Bruce Block, Owen Gleiberman, Vivian Sobchack, Henry Rollins, and Ann Powers. The 26-minute feature is a decent but still somewhat run-of-the-mill gush-fest where these filmmakers talk about the impact the film had on them, more in terms of its technical achievements and editing style, as well as the fact the film took such a risk at casting the unglamorous Hoffman in the leading man role, something that was unheard of at the time (and still pretty much today).
Criterion then pulls the 23-minute making-of that originally appeared on the New Line/Image Entertainment 25th Anniversary LaserDisc for the film. ĒThe GraduateĒ at 25 features interviews again with Turman, Henry, and Hoffman, while also adding Katharine Ross to the mix, making this the only feature she appears in. A lot of the same ground as before is covered, but there are some more details about the filmís music and a couple of more anecdotes that differ from others. On a cute note the feature ends with the scene from The Player where Buck Henry pitches a sequel to The Graduate to Tim Robbinsí studio exec.
We then get a couple of archive features starting with an interview between Barbara Walters and Mike Nichols, recorded in 1966 for an episode of Today. It was filmed after Nichols had completed Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf and before The Graduate (he mentions itís one of the projects heís working on, and it hasnít been cast yet). But other than his work and what it was like working with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Walters is more interested in how his life has changed, his past performances with Elaine May, and also if he remembers escaping Nazi Germany when he was 6 (he clearly recalls it). Nichols is having fun with Waltersí questions and is fairly forthcoming in his responses. It sadly only runs 15-minutes but is a great find on Criterionís part.
The next archive piece is an excerpt from an interview between Paul Simon and Dick Cavett, where Simon recalls working on The Graduate and coming up with the ďMrs. RobinsonĒ song on the spot (a song he says Mel Brooks, husband of Anne Bancroft, isnít a big fan of). Itís very brief at only 5-minutes, but itís nice getting a first-hand account and Simon even performs a section of the song.
Also from Criterionís LaserDisc edition is a selection of audition footage. We get Hoffmanís and Rossí footage (which is great to see after it being referenced so often throughout the features) but we also get footage featuring Tony Bill and Jennifer Leak, and then another piece featuring Robert Lipton and Cathy Carpenter. Interestingly the Hoffman/Ross footage (running 7-minutes) revolves around their discussion of marriage while the other segments (running 4-minutes and 2-minutes respectively) revolve around the rape accusation. At any rate, itís great seeing this, but thereís no question Hoffman and Ross were the right choices, at least based on the footage here.
The release then closes with the filmís theatrical trailer and an insert featuring an essay by Frank Rich, who goes over the filmís impact, helped by perfect timing.
Itís a little disappointing Criterion hasnít carried over everything from previous editions, and itís still a little disappointing there isnít any deleted material (thereís obviously a lot based on comments from the participants in the features), but Criterion has still managed to put together a very thorough set of features covering the filmís production while also effectively examining its impact on audiences and future filmmakers. 9/10