WHEELING, WV, Feb. 4, 2011 — Just in time for the 83rd Academy Awards, Professor John Whitehead has written a book on an American film classic, "The Graduate."
Whitehead is assistant professor and director of fine arts at the University. His academic focus is on film and visual studies, contemporary literature, and creative writing. "The Graduate" is a film that he often uses in class so he saw a real need for a scholarly look at the pivotal American film that was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1968.
Whitehead has been a member of the faculty since 1990 and he was pleasantly surprised when copies of his new book were delivered several months early. His book, "Appraising the Graduate: The Mike Nichols Classic and its Impact on Hollywood," wasn't scheduled to be published by McFarland until spring, but the publication "jumped the line" and is available now on Amazon and locally at Words & Music at Stratford Springs.
Whitehead first got interested in this hit film when he
was in college.
"It's a film that I admired since the first time I saw it in its entirety. That was when I was a freshman in college at Eastern College, in St. David's, Pa. (now Eastern University)," he said. Incidentally, he dedicated the book to six people and two are professors from his undergrad days.
Whitehead feels that the 1967 drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft has a lot to say to students, even today.
"It said important things about accepting responsibility, and I knew that if I ever taught, I'd want to teach this film," he said.
"But about 10 years ago, I was preparing for class, composing a book list since I like to have students read about what others say about films, and when I came to 'The Graduate,' I discovered that there was little written. I could find nothing of significance."
"This seemed to be a serious oversight, considering how long it's been well-regarded. Especially in terms of our ability to pass down our respect for the films that remain part of our heritage, I found it disappointing. So I thought it was a book I ought to write."
He got started and really tackled the project during his sabbatical in 2007. "Once the book was started, I could fit it into my academic schedule and I completed it this year."
Wheeling Jesuit offers a 100 level class in film every semester. Many students take it as an elective in addition to their classes in another area of study. Whitehead also teaches a seminar class on film that is considered a capstone class, for upper level students and communication majors. The new book will be used in both of these classes and of course, other film professors may decide to add it to their reading lists.
"The Graduate" is especially appropriate to college students because the action centers on recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock, who is trapped into an affair with Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's business partner. Benjamin then finds himself falling in love with Mrs. Robinson's teenage daughter, Elaine. Benjamin is full of doubt and unsure about his future during the film, making the movie accessible to college students.
"The movie continues to challenge students with questions that remain very relevant. The point is do you have a better answer than Benjamin," Whitehead said. "One of the things that Benjamin seems like is a hero … but he never really finds what he wants to be, so this identification of Benjamin as heroic is questionable."
Whitehead said that he enjoys his students' reaction to the film and he credits his students with deepening his insights every time he watches the film and discusses it with them.
Whitehead also thanks his colleagues who make sacrifices to allow sabbaticals to take place. "I'm very thankful to my department for allowing me to get the book started."
The book will also be available as an eBook soon. For more information on purchasing it, call Words & Music at 304-232-6539 or check with the Campus Shop here at the University, 304-243-2231.