I had the privilege of attending last night’s opening of the two-week, 17 film retrospective of Mike Nichols’ work at the Museum of Modern Art. The opening film was Carnal Knowledge, which was an interesting film to revisit personally. I’d seen it was I was probably 12, or during the twilight of my heterosexuality, with a group of boys my age.. we had borrowed it from one of their parent’s film collection under the pretense of Ann-Margaret being naked a lot in it, and while my memory is vague, I distinctly remember it making me feel extremely frightened of sexual maturation. I was surprised this time around at how insightful the film remains in its detailing of three stages of two men – both incapable of finding any sort of real satisfaction, or connection, with the various women in their lives – despite the fact that it was made nearly 40 (!) years ago. I was also surprised to find a twentysomething Candice Bergen (I’d forgotten she was in the film), with this soft voice that sounds nothing like the Murphy Brown/Enid on the Sex and the City I’d come to know her most for.
The highlight of the night, though, came before, when I was informed I’d get to ask Mike Nichols a question or two as he arrived at the screening. I was totally unprepared (I had expected to stand with a group of photographers – all taller than me – fighting height for a decent photo), and clamped up thinking of something somewhat interesting to ask him. While this was going on, I realized Diane Sawyer, Nichols’ wife of 20+ years, had sidelined herself from him as the journalists in front of me asked Nichols questions. Essentially standing 4 feet from me, I nervously looked up at her – so pretty she is – and we did that thing where you give each other awkward half smiles and then avert from eye contact.
But then the journalist next to me started chatting her up – asking her if she had a BluRay player because The Graduate was coming out on Blu Ray. She was friendly, saying she’d heard of bluetooth, but not BluRay. Because of my proximity to the conversation, I was inadvertently a part of it, though I said nothing (though Sawyer later told me I ‘looked nervous’). I watched her learn all about BluRay, and myself learned she had HD wide screen television, but had yet to advance past DVD.
Then all of a sudden it was my turn with Mike. I had a pad & pen in my bag thankfully, and when I pulled it out he was like: “Oh my god, thats adorable. You actually use a pad & paper? How old-fashioned!”
Anyway.. I think the question that I mumbled nervously was something like “How does it feel to be here at the MoMA?,” which does not fall in the “somewhat interesting” category I’d hoped for, but nonetheless, his response, and my only journalistic contribution to indieWIRE from the event:
“It feels wonderful,” Mike Nichols told indieWIRE as he entered the MoMA screening of his 1971 film “Carnal Knowledge.” “Especially here at MoMA where I used to come see movies as a kid. All on my own, I’d come see old movies. Now I’m here with old movies of my own.” The night kicked off a two-week retrospective of 17 films that surveys the wide range of Mike Nichols’ directing career that spans from 1966’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.” “I’ve been a little sad all day,” Nichols said when he took the stage to introduce the first screening, “because I realize I will never be able to feel underappreciated again. Those of you who know me know that will be very difficult.”
The retrospective goes on for 16 more days, going against the chronological urge and having films screen in this order: Carnal Knowledge, The Graduate, Primary Colors, Silkwood, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Postcards from the Edge, Heartburn, The Birdcage, Closer, Angels in America, Wit, The Fortune, Catch 22, Biloxi Blues, Charlie Wilson’s War. Even if youre not in New York, play along with the schedule and have your own little Mike Nichols retrospective at home.