Mike Nichols: A Tribute

By Chantal Victor

In honour of the late Mike Nichols, who passed away in November this year, we thought we would take a look at his outstanding influence in the film and theatre industry. Nichols is one of very few who has managed to claim the status of an EGOT; an individual who has received at least one award in each of the four entertainment awards (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). Nichols has an impressive awards list with a total of fourteen, one which was his Academy Award for directing The Graduate in 1967.

Based on the 1963 novel by Charles Webb, The Graduate follows young student Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) who is seduced by an older family friend, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) after returning home from finishing his degree. As the story unfolds, Benjamin tries to figure out his future in terms of his affair, and his career, whilst his parents question his lifestyle and his decisions. It’s a comedy and a drama that perfectly balances these two elements. The awkwardness between an older married woman, and a sexually inexperienced young man, makes for a quirky film to still be enjoyed almost fifty years later.

The director of photography Robert Surtees (Ben-Hur) said he had to do a lot more work than he had ever done for any one film before, and was allowed to experiment with different lenses and framing techniques when shooting The Graduate. This worked really well because it gave the film a fresh look, and lent itself rather generously to the film’s dramatic intentions, while the script stayed comedic.

Simon & Garfunkel songs are the main music influence, where The Sound of Silence sets the pace of the whole film, playing for lengthy periods at various times, just like that of California Dreamin in the Hong Kong film Chungking Express (1994). Paul Simon was contracted to write another 3 new songs for the film but only managed to create one. He was writing a song, not for the film, which was about Mrs. Roosevelt, which Nichols then said to Simon; it’s now about Mrs. Robinson, and made it part of the film. Nichols also took a big risk by casting Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man, Tootsie) as the lead role as in 1967 Hoffman was not the experienced actor that we all know him to be today; this was Hoffman’s first major part.

Mike Nichols was also the first to produce the Broadway musical Annie, based on the Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie. Nichols went along to win the Tony Award for Best Musical that year in 1977. Annie has since been a musical favourite, with several remakes produced for the theatre and on film around the world in the last 37 years. The latest film remake will be opening in Australia on December 18, and stars Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, and Quevenzhane Wallis as Annie.

These are only two examples of the many influences Mike Nichols has left us with in film and theatre. If I had to list them all you’d be reading for days. A great thank you goes to an amazing and inspirational man of his time.


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