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4.The Graduate is a great example of a film where lens and camera choices were used effectively to convey the director’s point of view. It seemed like every choice made by the director Mike Nichols director and the director of cinematography Bob Surtees was justified. The outcome of each shot played an important role in shaping the message of the film. The cinematography of Bob Surtees is very complicated and thoughtful but at the same time seems poetic and spontaneous.
All of Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin’s scenes pass in a musically backed montage sequence, a segment that uses rapid editing, special effects and music to present compressed narrative information. This shows the endless pass of time. One scene is edited so that it appears Benjamin is walking directly from his parents’ dining room into the hotel room he shares with Mrs. Robinson. This seems to accent the separation of him and his parents, though they still live under the same roof.
Cinematography is the discipline of making lighting and camera choices when recording photographic images for the cinema. It is closely related to the art of still photography, though many additional issues arise when both the camera and elements of the scene may be in motion. In order to explain the techniques that were used in The Graduate, I decided to focus on one scene and examine the choices that Mike Nichols and Bob Surtees made.
The scene I am describing is the day after Ben and Elaine went on their first date. Ben drives in the rain outside the Robinsons’ house and a pair of women’s legs runs up to the car. They are not Elaine’s legs but rather Mrs. Robinson’s. She intercepts him before he can get out of his car. She hysterically threatens an ultimatum. She will unpleasantly divulge everything about their affair if he continues to show any interest or have contact with Elaine. During this whole scene, we see that it is raining very hard outside. The scene in the car was filmed in a very interesting way. At first we see a view from the front. Two characters sit on the opposite sides of the frame. The image seems very flat. The viewer cannot focus on anything but the characters’ faces. The depth of field and depth of focus are very small. One of the reasons why this scene was shot like that was because of the rain. Mike Nichols wanted this scene to take place on a very rainy day. Of course no one would ever think about waiting for real rain in Beverly Hills during the summer so they had to create it by themselves. The crew set up a rainmaker over the car in which the actors were riding. They shot from alongside and from in front using a 500 millimeter telephoto lens which threw the background so far out of focus that it was impossible to tell whether it was pouring in the distance or not. This was a great example of a practical use of lenses. The Graduate, however, was rich in many experimental uses of the camera that were mainly chosen to more directly describe the characters’ state of minds.
Thinking that confessing the truth to Elaine will solve everything, Benjamin makes a major miscalculation. He rushes towards the house with Mrs. Robinson pursuing close behind. Here again, the scene of Ben running towards the house was shot with a telephoto lens. This lens was chosen to create an illusion that rain is present everywhere, not only over Ben’s head. The use of the telephoto lens and the movement of the camera created another very interesting effect. The moment when Ben is running was shot from a farther distance. One can notice that the camera hardly keeps up with the character. A couple of times Ben almost runs away from the frame. Then the camera catches up and Ben runs away again. The movement of the camera is very jerky. The whole shot was intended to be like this in order to create a feeling of insecurity, panic and paranoia that Ben experiences at that moment.
When Benjamin runs into the house and up the stairs, we see the first shot with a large depth of field. The camera is positioned upstairs and is not moving at all. The viewers’ eyes follow Ben entering the building and running upstairs. Having two major plans within a frame creates the depth of field. The wall and the door have the function of a background. The upper steps and railing present the foreground. Here, on the other hand, a wide lens was used in place of the telephoto lens. We can clearly notice that Ben covers great distance from the distant door to the first floor. We can also notice a very deep depth of focus. As Ben comes very close to the camera, we can still see a sharp image of rain in the door downstairs.
As soon as Ben gets to Elaine’s room, he begins to confess the identity of the older woman of his affair. Glancing at her mother and then looking back at Benjamin, Elaine’s out-of-focus face slowly comes into focus as she realizes the woman is her mother. In this case, focus was used to graphically present the moment when Elaine realizes the fact that Ben had an affair with her mother.
Totally offended, Elaine refuses to speak to Ben and orders him out. Mrs. Robinson bids him goodbye as the camera pulls back from her black-clothed image in the corner of the white hallway. In this case, zoom was used to emphasize the psychological distance that suddenly occurred between Ben and Mrs. Robinson. Once so close to each other, they suddenly become enemies.
There are many other examples of creative use of lenses throughout the movie. I think that both Mike Nichols and Bob Surtees succeeded in moving the story and conveying the themes of film by using visual medium. Because of the extraordinary cinematography, the themes of The Graduate became more clear and the film as a whole aesthetically pleasing.


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