A curious claim about the late Mike Nichols is made in a 5.15.16 L.A. Review of Books piece by Manuel Betancourt (“Mike Nichols’s Disappearing Act”). He writes that “Nichols’s aesthetic (or lack thereof) denied him access to the most enduring of film studies labels, that of auteur. [Because] if there was a signature to be found in his films, it was perhaps that he had none.”
Betancourt mentions that Bruce Weber‘s N.Y. Times obit stated that Nichols “did not create a recognizable visual style or a distinct artistic signature.” He also writes that “Nichols’s direction is often seen as one that merely gets out of the actors’ ways,” and that his films are known “for [a] lack of obvious visual flourishes (no dolly zooms, no distracting jump cuts) that suggest a transparent style that attempts to mimic the mere observation of reality.”
In fact Nichols was known for an unmissable auteurist signature that he relied on for about eight years (’67 to ’75) — the static, ultra-carefully composed, long-take visual scheme that defined The Graduate, Catch 22, The Fortune and particularly Carnal Knowledge.
I explained it in my 11.20.14 Nichols obit. The long-take observation was passed along years ago by longtime Nichols collaborator Richard Sylbert. This signature, Sylbert believed, was what elevated Nichols into the Movie God realm.
True, Nichols didn’t use this shooting style for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff? and it wasn’t as much in evidence in Day of the Dolphin, and he abandoned it altogether after the flop of The Fortune, but there was no missing it during that five-film run.
Obit passage: “Nichols withdrew from feature films for eight years after The Fortune, doing little or nothing for a certain period and then focusing on plays for the most part. He rebounded with Silkwood in ’83, but the way he shot and paced that successful, well-reviewed drama showed that the great stylistic signature of his mid ’60s to mid ’70s films was no more.”