Finding Elaine: UC Berkeley in “The Graduate” (1967)

Remember me to one who lives there.

Since I first watched it about ten years ago, The Graduate instantly flew into the swirl of my favorite films. Of course, late middle school / early high school age me didn’t fully grasp the complex themes masked by uncomfortable comedy and moody ambivalence, but this classic still spoke to me in a primal, instinctive way.

When it came time to decide where to pursue higher education, I landed on UC Berkeley – where many other onscreen characters have attended, including High School Musical‘s Troy Bolton, Looking‘s Patrick Murray, and The Graduate‘s Elaine Robinson.

The Graduate is probably the most notable film to be partially set at my alma mater, and likely one of the only to have actually filmed there. As is show business, several shots of Cal within this film are really shot at USC (sss!) but several are filmed in the places and streets I called home for four years.

  • Moe’s Books & Caffe Mediterraneum

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Moe’s Books is a still-operating independent bookstore with a wide breadth of literature, new, old, and out-of-print. I discovered this later in college and even got a book about the making of All About Eve there.

More exciting (to The Graduate fanboys like myself) is there Benjamin is sitting: the Caffe Mediterraneum. This is one of Berkeley’s most well-known coffee shops, where I’ve attended multiple study groups, political meetings, and social catch-ups. It’s the self-proclaimed “home of the caffe latte,” and they also boast a great breakfast and lunch menu.

These are in the “Southside” neighborhood, just 3 blocks from campus and 1 block from a house I lived in.

  • Unit 1 & Theta Delta Chi

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In this brief shot, we view the 2600 block of Durant Ave, just 1 block south of campus. First we see Unit 1, a large dormitory complex. I didn’t live there myself, but several friends did so I became familiar with it. Durant was also home to many popular eateries, including Top Dog (known throughout the Bay Area), La Burrita (terrific Mexican food), and a collection of restaurants known as the Asian Ghetto (I didn’t come up with the name). Durant Avenue was part of my everyday life.

As Benjamin runs into a frathouse, the camera quickly pans into another real-life location: Theta Delta Chi, or TDX. (The interior shots unfortunately are not the “real” insides of this fraternity.)

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During my later years in college this frat earned a bad rep, but I had a lot of positive memories here. When my friends and I would frequent frat row, we’d always hit up TDX and even went to a charity haunted house event they hosted one Halloween.

  • Sproul Plaza

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Possibly the most exciting on-location shots are those in Sproul Plaza, as Benjamin continues to try to win Elaine over. Sproul Plaza is the real heart of the UC Berkeley campus: where student groups recruit members & publicize events, religious fanatics preach from soapboxes, and passers-by can pick up the Daily Californian campus newspaper. It is the place to see and be seen, and I’m not even joking.

More so than the other locations in this film, Sproul Plaza is one of the most iconic images of UC Berkeley and of my own college experience. I was there for key milestones in my student tenure, like running for student government (I lost) and watching (not participating in) the Occupy UC mayhem, but more importantly it was part of my everyday. It is the main strip between campus classroom buildings and student housing, where everyone intersects within one space. It’s only logical that Benjamin sees Elaine here, as this is the one place that every UC Berkeley student can be found.

I loved The Graduate years before I even thought about Cal, and will continue to be as my memories of college slip away. But having an intimate knowledge and personal experience with several of the locations, however minor, in a cinema masterpiece will forever tie me directly to one of my favorite films.


 

This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon hosted by Outspoken and Outfreckled. Check out the other great entries here!

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3 thoughts on “Finding Elaine: UC Berkeley in “The Graduate” (1967)

  1. How fun to view real life locations in a favorite film! This was the case with me for BREAKING AWAY, as I attended grad school at Indiana U-Bloomington. It’s always amazing to see how quickly the place changes! I visited UC Berkeley many years ago and if I do again I’ll make sure to watch this movie first 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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