The Pop Innovations of a 50-Year-Old Soundtrack

When Mike Nichols’s low-budget comedy-drama The Graduate premiered in December 1967, it arrived during a time of national unrest. Many Baby Boomers were pushing back against the status quo: The military draft and the escalation of the war in Vietnam, combined with movements calling for civil rights and women’s liberation, prompted students and activists to protest the political and social establishment of the time. For those Boomers feeling alienated from their parents’ generation, The Graduate mirrored their disillusionment via a more personal, rather than ideologically charged, story.

Adapted from what was then a little-known novel of the same name by Charles Webb, the coming-of-age film follows 21-year-old Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) as he finishes college and struggles to find purpose in a world of meaningless consumption. Uncertain about his future, Benjamin embarks on an empty affair with an older woman—Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft)—while desperately pursuing her daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross). The Graduate quickly became a hit after its release (grossing $104.9 million on a $3 million budget) and garnered several Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture.

Though its storyline was certainly provocative, The Graduate stood out for another reason: Nichols’s groundbreaking decision to use previously released songs for the soundtrack, which came out 50 years ago this month. Previously, traditional orchestral film scores were used simply to provide background music for onscreen action. So The Graduate’s heavy reliance on the folk-rock songs of the popular duo Simon and Garfunkel was unprecedented: By the time the film was released, many of the major tunes were already well known. “The Sound of Silence,” now indelibly associated with the movie, had already reached No. 1 on Billboard’s charts in January 1966. The Graduate’s musical innovations are all the more notable for how the soundtrack meaningfully commented on the plot, the characters, and, by extension, the viewers themselves.

The folk-rock sound of Simon and Garfunkel’s most beloved records both defined and belonged to the youth of the period, a notion driven home by how Nichols uses the songs in the film: No scene in which older generations are the focus contains the group’s music. “Young people at the time may have had idiosyncratic or subjective relationships, or intimate bonds with Simon and Garfunkel’s music,” David Shumway, a professor of English who studies American culture and popular music at Carnegie Mellon University, told me. “But many of them also would have understood it as a way

Source:: The Atlantic – Culture

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