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Monday, January 6, 2014

Fashion in film: The Graduate

As of the moment, I've been going through a major Anne Bancroft obsession (expect a long winded post on this soon). So, I downloaded The Graduate (1967), which has been a favorite of mine for a couple of years, for a rewatching. I thought I would write a little blog on something that stuck out to me this time I watched: the fashion.

Mike Nichols put effort into nearly every meticulous detail of The Graduate (1967), from his innovative editing (who can forget the incredible cut of Dustin Hoffman jumping onto his raft and landing, instead, on a naked Anne Bancroft) to the sympathetic Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack ("hello darkness, my old friend.") Just as much effort is put into the selection of wardrobe in The Graduate. Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross don't just wear pretty clothes - their clothes are a reflection of their sentiments.

Consistently throughout the movie, Mrs. Robinson wears some kind of an animal print. Nowadays, the media refers to women who date men their junior as "cougars", and Mrs. Robinson is perhaps the genesis of this woman: she was one before the term was coined. Mrs. Robinson was outfitted in animal print to create the effect of a carnivorous animal seeking to pounce on her prey (Benjamin). In fact, the first shot of Mrs. Robinson is in the Braddocks' crowded living room. As scores of party guests clamor around Benjamin - to the point of his obvious discomfort - and congratulate him on his recent graduation from college, Mrs. Robinson remains lounging in a chair. Smoking her cigarette, she eyes Benjamin from a distance but does not yet approach him.


In this opening scene, Mrs. Robinson wears a shift style cocktail dress covered in black lace. The lace is reminiscent of lingerie and underneath is a zebra print. This outfit, the first she wears in the whole film, really tells us a lot about Mrs. Robinson that we will learn later: her predatory nature and her sensuality. 

After Ben decides to take her up on her offer ("I am sexually available to you, Benjamin"), Mrs. Robinson shows up at the infamous Taft Hotel in a large cheetah print coat. And both times we see Mrs. Robinson in her slip, it is once again an animal print. When Ben comes to the house to pick up Elaine for their date, Mrs. Robinson sits by the bar, angry, smoking, covered in an animal print blanket. Even at Elaine's wedding, she sports a suit trimmed with her signature print and a matching hat.


Anne Bancroft is brilliant as Mrs. Robinson because of her multidimensional portrayal: Anne plays her not as a tawdry seductress but rather, beneath her cool veneer, we find a very tragic middle aged housewife who after becoming pregnant in college was denied the opportunity to follow her dreams. (In an interview she gave in 2000, Anne said that she imagined that Mrs. Robinson had perhaps been a great artist.) The animal print, like a coat of armor, is a physical representation of her cunning exterior. Only when she is stripped of it, we are exposed to the vulnerability she hides inside. This is depicted beautifully by Anne in the scene where Dustin Hoffman attempts to make pillow talk - they are in bed and so she is naked. "What was your major subject in college?" he asks her. "Art," she says with sad eyes, expressing more there than most actors can in a whole monologue.


Elaine Robinson's wardrobe is far more conservative than her mother's. While Mrs. Robinson opts for clothes that are sexy or show off her legs, we often see college coed Elaine in turtlenecks, sweaters, and jackets. The pastel pink dress that Elaine wears on her first date with Ben gives way to her virginal, demure personality. The contrast between the two wardrobes is a tangible tribute to the clash between mother and daughter.


The distinctive wardrobe elements of The Graduate are yet another detail that adds to this film being the masterpiece that it is. While many movies have beautiful wardrobes, few films use clothes to their advantage as well as The Graduate does.

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6 comments:

LĂȘ said...

I love Ann Bacncroft! See needs more recognition.
My strongest memory of The Graduate was that my grandma didn't let me watch the film in the theater because it'd be awkward in the middle of older people (the film is called "A Man's First Night" here in Brazil). LOL
But as much as the songs are famous, you're right that the clothes are a main attraction!
Kisses!

Katy Rochelle said...

Great post and love your showcase of the fashion. Anne Bancroft's characters' style is iconic and underrated. :)

Craig Wingard said...

What a great post! This movie has been on my long list to see, but I think I need to bump it up toward the top after reading your posts! See ya around honey!

FlickChick said...

Anne Brancroft was so damn sexy in this film. She was the cougar deluxe.

Andrew said...

Well written and presented.

plastikiniai langai said...

so nice, very nice!

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