Overview: Much more than lucky, Mike Nichols wowed movie and theatergoing audiences alike for more than six decades with a rich and deeply varied body of work. Just four months before he died, in a set of final, historic interviews, Nichols opened up to his close friend and colleague, theater director Jack O’Brien. With disarming candor, wry wit and sharp self-deprecation, Nichols delivered a master class on his craft in what would be his last in-depth interviews.
One of the great contemporary artists, Mike Nichols created a body of film work that received a total of 42 Academy Award nominations. Over his career, he won one Oscar, four Emmys, nine Tonys and a Grammy. BECOMING MIKE NICHOLS features an intimate, relaxed and candid exchange between O’Brien and Nichols, which took place over two days in the summer of 2014 at the Golden Theatre. With access to archival photographs and footage from Nichols’ days as a performer and a theater director, and an illuminating use of movie clips from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate, BECOMING MIKE NICHOLS goes inside the head and heart of this brilliant artist. He lays bare his creative process, his drive and his formidable sense of humor with touching behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
Expectations: First, and this is a comment I have made before, it is nice to have a more light-hearted documentary to watch for a change; the hard topics and VICE content we had as of late can get to you. So, a biographical and historical look at a cultural icon is should be a nice diversion. This documentary, as is indicated via the trailer below, seems to be like those Inside The Actor’s Studio pieces were the host sits and talks a creative person through their career and life. Hell, even I know who Mike Nichols was and that is past tense as he died in the fall of 2014. This should be interesting on some level for some of us.
Gut Reaction: BECOMING MIKE NICHOLS is not for everyone for sure. It is for the cineastes, cultured theater goers and classic movie fans. It acknowledges one of the great contributors to American entertainment. Everyone has surely seen one of his works whether it be onstage or onscreen. How about movies like The Graduate, Silkwood or Primary Colors or the play “The Odd Couple.” In fact, one of my all-time favorite HBO works is a Mike Nichols piece. You also got to like, as referenced above, those Actor’s Studio programs. It is a host, in this case Jack O’Brien, in two different conversations with the auteur. One is a on a closed stage and the other with an audience. The editing is perfect as it cuts between the two sessions without affecting the flow of the context.
What makes this documentary work is the perfect placement of stills and footage to not only tie us into Nichols narrative, but take us back to some great moments like seeing Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. But the best element that makes this film hold one’s attention is the storytelling. Mike Nichols can tell all the best anecdotes about celebrities, productions and the process it takes to make them. He is seen here clearly knowing his craft and knowing the right playful way to tell an audience about it.
In Conclusion: But, no question, you got to love classic Hollywood and filmmaking and all to appreciate it. If you don’t you might not gravitate to it. If you do though, I think you’d wish for a bit more of his banter. These final interviews only talk about the start of his career and the some iconic early works. It does not broach his later career at all until a sort of postscript at the end. Flashing on the screen are the playbill and movie posters for his body of work. One of them is pictured at right. He directed the awesome ANGELS IN AMERICA miniseries for HBO. In my opinion that is a Do-Not-Miss HBO presentation, but more on that another day. If BECOMING MIKE NICHOLS is of your taste then this is one you’ll savor. Find it across the HBO channels and at HBONow/Go.
Next Week: The life and career of soul and gospel singer and civil-rights icon Mavis Staples is chronicled in MAVIS! debuting 02.29 at 9:00pm.