Thursday, March 31, 2011

"I dance like the wind": Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?

I knew this film would be an exercise in being emotionally beaten over the head but goodness.

To talk about our reason for watching first: Elizabeth Taylor was beyond fantastic. Her range in just this film is more than most actors can accomplish in a lifetime of work. And then there's her vocal range from that cackle of a laugh to the screeching yell to the wistful storytelling to the quiet whisper that she's afraid. Seriously. They don't make actresses like that anymore. She was already a well-established actress when this film was made but she was supposed to be pretty. To yell while pretty is one thing. To gain 30 pounds and wear an oversized shirt and yell with smudged eyeliner and mussed hair, that's quite another thing. She's not glamorous in this movie.

And they certainly don't make actors who can hold their own against actresses like her anymore. Richard Burton somehow manages to share a screen with her without looking like he's fighting her for screen time or space. Somehow they're both larger and louder than life.

At first I didn't like the Nick or Honey characters but as soon as Honey set foot in the bar and "danced like the wind" and starting yelling "hump the hostess" she became one of my favorite characters ever.

And Mike Nicols is genius. Responsible for some damned good movies including Charlie Wilson's War, Closer, and Angels in America as well as The Birdcage and The Graduate (and others I'm sure, but those are the ones I've seen), this was his first film. Can you imagine? Directing your first film and it's based on a play written by Edward Albee and is adapted by Ernest Lehman (Sound of Music, Sabrina, The King and I, West Side Story--and those are just a few before this film) and stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton? Who doesn't feel like the most unaccomplished person in the room in that situation?

In terms of the actual film as a whole, I'll admit it made me uncomfortable for most of the time. But I think that was it's goal. I'm not meant to have a relaxing viewing of a film about people who have issues separating reality from illusion. And I'll admit that I didn't have a damned clue what was going on until the end and I'm still not sure I completely understand. But, I think that's also part of the point.

In random fun facts, this is the first film to contain "screw" and (probably not used in a film ever again) "hump the hostess" and that caused a few problems with the MPAA. Apparently Taylor shouting "Goddamn you!" wasn't as novel :)


  1. Yeah, this one is blistering. It makes you feel so uncomfortable in a can't-look-away kind of way. It's quite a thing to watch these two giants tear each other to pieces. Pretty amazing script, too. What I think other unhappy family movies (Squid and the Whale, for example) misses that this one gets right is that in these kinds of relationships, there's a pleasure both in hurting AND in being hurt. They *like* getting lacerated by each other. That's Albee of course, but I think it also would be hard to play, and Taylor/Burton got it just right. I also like how the "twist" ending isn't really the point. The point is getting there. Take notes, Shamalama.

  2. Yes! That's the point I couldn't quite make in the post--it doesn't matter that I don't get it or that there is a twist. What matters is this relationship and how it works but the viewer can't know all of that because the viewer isn't in the relationship at all and there are years and years of tiny details that only these two share. There is a great balance of knowing and the unknowable.

    And it comes off COMPLETELY differently from Taming of the Shrew in which these two rip each other to shreds on screen just a year later.

    I've never read any Albee. And, when I just went to verify that, I see he wrote a flop of a Breakfast at Tiffany's musical!

    Tee hee. Shamalama needs a lot of notes. I might rename the blog: Notes for Shamalama :)