Film Greats: Mike Nichols’ ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ (1966)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Edwin Pereyra, Aug 29, 2001.

  1. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 1998
    Messages:
    3,500
    Likes Received:
    0
    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is about the tempestuous, love-hate relationship between George (Richard Burton), a history professor, and his wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), daughter of the university president. One night after coming home from a party and inebriated, the two exchange their usual insults toward each other. They are later joined that same evening by a young couple, Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis), as their guests for some fun and games – games of self-degradation and humiliation by their drunken hosts.
    The film is based on a play by Edward Albee, which opened in New York in October 1962 and went on to win the New York Drama Critics Circle and the Tony Awards for that season. The film itself garnered thirteen Oscar nominations and won five Academy Awards including Best Actress (Taylor), Best Supporting Actress (Dennis), Best B/W Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.
    I found the film very deserving of its Academy Awards. It is well written and the performances of all four actors are very impressive, with the real-life husband and wife team of Taylor and Burton as the main standouts. The biting and sharp dialogue characterized by name-calling, insults and accusations between the two main characters can be very sad and disheartening at times because of its cruel and condescending nature while able to capture the essence of their rocky 20-year marriage.
    This is one of those black comedies where the humor is placed just at the right moments thereby giving its audiences some comic relief from its grim subject - albeit, a nervous one at times. As Mike Nichols’ (Silkwood, Biloxi Blues, The Birdcage) directorial debut, he is to be commended for successfully adapting a stage play onto the big screen. His choice of camera shots and angles is worth noting. He is able to show who has the upper hand in the numerous no-holds-barred exchanges throughout the entire film. He is able to capture the intensity of the verbal arguments that ultimately leads to an exploding climax (such as the one in the bar) along with the behaviors and hateful thoughts of the different characters at different times throughout the film. This film is an emotional roller coaster and very tense. Nichols’ impeccable pacing keeps the audience’s guessing as to which character, if anyone, would finally “lose it” and end up actually physically hurting another person.
    In the year this film was released, Fred Zinnemann’s A Man For All Seasons would go on to win the Best Picture Oscar. Maybe the content and language of Virginia Woolf was just too shocking for its time and the Academy. But I would have preferred Nichols’ film to Zinnemann’s for the top prize. Needless to say, Nichols would win the Best Director Oscar the next year for The Graduate, which is also on AFI’s Top 100 Films at #7. Having seen both films, I would be willing to swap Virginia Woolf over The Graduate for that spot. [​IMG]
    Films that have a well-written screenplay, compelling performances, beautiful cinematography, and fine direction and technical artistry stand the test of time. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of those films that captures many of these elements.
    - - -
    Film Greats – A continuing quick look at motion pictures that, in one way or another, have been called “great films” by some. Other Films In This Series: Sergei Eisenstein’s http://www.hometheaterforum.com/uub/Forum9/HTML/007237.html
    [Edited last by Edwin Pereyra on August 29, 2001 at 12:36 AM]
     
  2. Dave L

    Dave L Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2000
    Messages:
    101
    Likes Received:
    0
    The glaring oversight at the Academy Awards for 1966 was passing over Richard Burton's great performance as George for Paul Scofield. That Burton went on to accumulate seven nominations and died without ever winning the Oscar makes this loss, for perhaps his most deserving role, especially sad.
    Of course, the screenplay you laud was a Broadway play originally, that was slightly toned down in language for adaptation to the screen. Some critics at the time who had seen both the stage and screen productions, said that the Martha character dominated on stage, while in the film, Burton's power as an actor made George more forceful. However, I'd hardly call that a criticism of the performance.
     
  3. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 1998
    Messages:
    7,585
    Likes Received:
    0
     
  4. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 1998
    Messages:
    3,500
    Likes Received:
    0
     
  5. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    One of the astonishing things about Virginia Woolf is the way that you can see, underneath all the acrimony and nastiness, the remains of the marriage that George and Martha once had and, to a great extent, still rely on. They know each other so well; they do little routines that they've obviously been doing for years; at the deepest level, they're co-conspirators in their dealings with Nick and Honey. All of it is there in Albee's original play, but Burton and Taylor make it come vividly alive.
    It's probably hard to imagine, 35 years later, what a shock this film was to the movie-going public. It was deemed a breakthrough for its language and sexual frankness, which, by today's standards, is almost quaint. That the film retains much of its raw power and impact is a tribute to the strength of the material and the accomplishment of the actors and director.
    M.
     
  6. Tom Rhea

    Tom Rhea Second Unit

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2000
    Messages:
    292
    Likes Received:
    0
    >>This is one of those black comedies
     
  7. Dave L

    Dave L Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2000
    Messages:
    101
    Likes Received:
    0
    Black comedy? Yes, it is quite funny at times. Another twist you might want to think about is that it is really about two gay couples. (all childless, Bette Davis impersonations, bitchy dialogue, etc. -- I know, I know, stereotyping) There has been some discussion of this possibility, and a production with four male actors was proposed (and possibly rehearsed), but Albee would not give the green light. Somewhat surprising considering, but perhaps he wanted to maintain a broader appeal for the play.
     
  8. Tom Rhea

    Tom Rhea Second Unit

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2000
    Messages:
    292
    Likes Received:
    0
    >>but Albee would not give the green light. Somewhat surprising considering
     
  9. Coressel

    Coressel Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    May 26, 1999
    Messages:
    665
    Likes Received:
    4
    I directed a production of this play a few years ago, and Mr. Albee said that while it is not "about" a gay couple, there is the distinct possibility that George is hitting on Nick. Not literally, but symbolically. I had the opportunity of meeting Albee, and when I started to ask him his opinion about other "interpretations" of his plays, he simply said, "they should do somebody else's play..."
    His concern is not making a work for a broader audience, his goal is to write a play that means something. Casting it with 4 actors would be a gimmick, not a performance.
    [Edited last by Coressel on August 29, 2001 at 06:40 PM]
     
  10. Mitty

    Mitty Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 1999
    Messages:
    886
    Likes Received:
    5
    You know it's funny, I've always thought that if George were indeed hitting on Nick, it's because he wishes to contravene Martha's attempts to seduce him - to "win" - but not because he himself is a homosexual.
    On another train of thought, I've never thought of it as a comedy. It dances the line, where the audience doesn't know quite what to make of it. We don't really know if George and Martha are really fighting, or if this is just their method of communication, their dance. Like Nick, who isn't sure if he and his wife should leave, if they've come in the middle of something or not. So, like him, we don't quite know what to make of the situation. That's why it's so intense and why it makes audience so uncomfortable. But the ending...the end is the reason I can't call it a comedy. It's just too bleak and somber.
    In our age of irony and detachment, I can see how it would play as a comedy to an audience. When modern audiences don't seem to know how they're supposed to feel - whether to be scared or sad or uncomfortable or whatever - they laugh, as an emotional out I suppose.
     
  11. Greg_Y

    Greg_Y Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 1999
    Messages:
    1,466
    Likes Received:
    0
     
  12. Dave L

    Dave L Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2000
    Messages:
    101
    Likes Received:
    0
    Some interesting comments here. However, I think calling it a "comedy" is a bit off target. Yes, it is funny, but the black humor comes through after repeated viewings and familiarity with the characters and events. I find it hard to believe that a first-time viewer would catch much of the humor. In some ways, the film is similar to "Psycho," which plays as a thriller the first time out, but on subsequent viewings the black humor in the lines emerges, and it becomes quite funny.
    Not sure I agree that an all male or even all female cast would be a gimmick any more than some of the ethnic casting that has been done on Broadway. Also, there have been actresses who have played Hamlet and other male characters, so such a production could be intriguing. While still a long way off, at some point, the rights will fall into the public domain and any kind of experimental production will be possible. I'm sure some people thought that casting Pearl Bailey as a Jewish matchmaker was off target, but it was a huge success.
     
  13. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

    Joined:
    Apr 15, 1999
    Messages:
    3,756
    Likes Received:
    1
    I am a recovering alcoholic, and when I saw this movie for the first time, about a month or so after I quit drinking, I laughed my ass off. I don't know if it was the writing or the performances of Taylor and Burton that so perfectly captured it, but the film was so accurate in it's depiction of a typical dysfunctional alcoholic couple that I could not stop laughing.
    On subsequent viewings I've gotten much more out of this great film, but my first impression was of a hilariously realistic romp through boozeland.
    ------------------
    Steve S.
    I prefer not to push the subwoofers until they're properly run in.
     
  14. BrianM

    BrianM Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2000
    Messages:
    85
    Likes Received:
    0
    So......How's the DVD?
     
  15. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 1998
    Messages:
    3,500
    Likes Received:
    0
     
  16. Greg_Y

    Greg_Y Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 1999
    Messages:
    1,466
    Likes Received:
    0
    The DVD also has a commentary by Haskell Wexler (DOP.) I listened to it so long ago, I can't remember if it's any good or not. [​IMG]
     

Share This Page