Tuesday, 18 July 2017

REISSUES & REMAKES: THE GRADUATE MEETS THE BEGUILED

As movie posters go, the one for The Graduate, with Dustin Hoffman's Benji staring in stunned bewilderment at Anne Bancroft's outstretched black-stockinged leg, Mrs. Robinson's temptation, is one of the best. Simple, effective, even haunting, it encapsulate's the thrust of the film and reveals much about both characters.

Even if it leg, as it turned out, really belonged to Linda Gray, who confessed just a few years ago that she'd been called in to pose for the photo and been paid $25.

So imagine my surprise as I walked past our local hall and I saw a poster for The Graduate, with Dustin Hoffman standing in a sort of mini-jungle with a big cat behind his shoulder. I had to cross the street to look close up: the Hoffman looks like an artist's rendering of a botoxed version of young Dustin. But I was still trying to figure out the cat until it came to me: Cougar!

Forget a female Dr. Who. The Graduate has now become a movie to be sold as a tale of a boy and his cougar. Plastics? The marketing guys wouldn't get it. It's got all the subtlety of that TV show with Courtney Cox. 'That's good!' they'd say. 'Friends sells!'

I was probably not in the best frame of mind to receive such a re-booting of a classic film, since a couple of days ago I listened to a powerfully anodyne discussion of Sofia Coppola's remake of Don Siegel's offbeat classic The Beguiled. It was one of those discussions framed by Coppola's best director prize at Cannes, and the residue of Siegel and star Clint Eastwood's heavily masculine approach to the film, yet the panel were incapable of suggesting any real virtue in the film. It looked very pretty, the dresses were far too nice for the situation (girls' school, Civil War, hard times) and the only black character, the maid Hattie, had been written out of the story, so all the cooking and cleaning and ironing happened as if by magic, as it would if you were Sofia Coppola or you were making another movie set in Versailles. So no one really liked the film, but only Tom Sutcliffe, the host, appeared to have seen the original, and he was being very cautious about endorsing Clintonian misogyny.

Then I read the Sight & Sound review, which tried to pretend the remake was based not on the original film, but a new take on Thomas Cullinan's novel, which would make more sense were not the screenplay of the Siegel film, by Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp (writing as John B Sherry and Grimes Grice) credited. You can fool Sight & Sound but you can't fool the Writers' Guild. The reviewer ended by praising the wonderful bits of embiguity Coppola had inserted. Like the amputation of McBurney's leg. Were they punishing him or saving his life? Oh now there's one that never occurred to Siegel. Nor demanning him, symbolically. Sheesh. They just weren't sensitive enough to make a small masterpiece some big name could come along and remake.

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