Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Sound Of Silence

One young man, looking completely indifferent to the world around him, stands on a moving sidewalk at an airport after exiting a plane. He seems in no hurry, as if he could just ride that sidewalk to the edge of the world. Other people walk around him, but those are folks that obviously have intention of getting somewhere.

Our attention still lands on the young man and his blasé attitude. It's almost as if he knows that there is a bitchin' rock song playing over his day, making his life artsy and even more dramatic.

In 1967, that was how movie fans were introduced to the character Benjamin Braddock in the opening scene of The Graduate. The second that movie starts, the audience is sucked into that world, wondering who this boy is and where he might be heading.

The team of Simon and Garfunkel, stoic Dustin Hoffman, and the cinematographer all played their part in that scene becoming a classic, but the knowing eye of Mike Nichols was leading the way.

When I first saw the beginning of The Graduate, I knew I would be lost in movies forever. Being a teenager, I didn't even know a movie could look like that. Mostly, I was impressed with the long sequences that were masterfully cut in rhythm to the soundtrack. Watching this was a vastly different experience than jetting with my friends to check out the latest Freddie Prinze Jr rom-com.

From just that single viewing, I had to make room on my "Top 5 Lists" for a new favorite motion picture. I too gained an overall greater appreciation for watching movies. I didn't just want to watch them, I wanted to talk about how they were made and analyze details of the story. This turning point probably sounds very familiar to other movie appreciators throughout the world.

After hearing the awful news about the passing of Nichols today, I couldn't help but be reminded of this whole story from my past. The Graduate tends to have gotten him the most attention over the years and I could talk your ear off about just that, but there's endless reasons to celebrate his life.

I'll always tip a hat to him for many of his other achievements, like capturing Joan Cusack's gorgeously giant 80s hair on the big screen, his directing of the still gut-busting comedy The Birdcage, and the fact that he had the courage to get in between screaming Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for his directorial debut, Who's Afraid Of Virgina Woolf.

Most recently though, I was hypnotized by his greatest directorial effort - the life altering miniseries Angles In America.  The plot focuses on AIDS, heaven, hell, and politics, which is quite a lot of powerful material to cover, but it all interconnects and blends seamlessly.  Much of the production also demanded large scale visuals that are, literally, out of this world. Plus, Meryl Streep plays like 10 characters. Nichols perfectly orchestrates it all. It is astounding and by the end it will leave you laying on a pile of crumpled up tissues next to a garbage can. Just the opening credits make me all emotional.

Being the big time movie director was what Nichols was known for best, but he was also part of a Hollywood power couple. Who needs tabloids plastered with Brad and Angie, when there is Nichols and Diane Sawyer? Since I grew up as a fan of Sawyer's, I first knew Nichols as Mr. Diane Sawyer, instead of the talented director I would later adore.  It's the end of a very classy era.

All that can be done now is honor a life. Mike Nichols' work made people interested in great movies. That's most definitely including me. It may seem like a small deed, but nothing that helps anyone enjoy life is insignificant. I'm grateful.

So, in the end, all we can really say is, "And here's to you Mr. Nichols. We all loved you more than you will know."

Until next time.

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