Thursday, June 9, 2011

IOU: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Who I Owe: My good friend Kevin gave me a copy of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) eons ago. It was so long ago I don't remember why he gave it to me. It could be for various reasons. He got a newer enhanced version of the DVD and passed down his older version to me (I've gotten several really great films this way!). I created a boxed set of films that tested the Hays Code/Production Code back in grad school. This film was very influential in bringing down the code in the 1960s which was then replaced with a rating system. It's a depressing film and boy does Kevin like depressing films. I apologize to Kevin for being so late to the game in watching this one!

Review: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) (TCM link) is based on Edward Albee's play by the same name. It's the only film to have been nominated for every single Oscar category in the Academy Awards (although now with so many categories, that will be impossible to achieve again). It won 5 including Best Actress (Elizabeth Taylor) and Best Cinematography (Haskell Wexler). It's the 4th out of the 11 films real-life couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made together. It also co-stars Sandy Dennis (who miscarried during the filming) and George Segal. Elizabeth Taylor gained 30 pounds for the role and looks noticeably different with special makeup and some gray hairs. Oh and the swears! Everything from "god damn you" to "bitch" is used. My favorite phrases include "angel boobs", "monkey nipples" and "hump the hostess".

Elizabeth Taylor plays Martha, the daughter of the president of a Northampton, MA college and wife to History professor George (Richard Burton). They like to play very emotionally abusive games with each other and shouting matches are regular conversations from them. They have Biology professor Nick (George Segal) and his demure wife Honey (Sandy Dennis) over for drinks. With the liquour flowing, the mind games start and they get worse as the film goes on. Then there is the question of Martha and George's son. Where is he?

My reaction? This film is fucked up. Twisted. Demented. It messes with your brain. It's angry and loud. It's uncomfortable to watch yet the cinematography will hypnotize you. Each actor delivers wonderful performances, the dialogue is cutting and frank, there are no subtelties here. It's all shoved right into your face. Even though I own it now, I think I will put this film away until I forget the details. So I can pick it up again and be newly traumatized. So Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I am!


  1. I loved reading Albee's script, but I haven't seen the movie yet. I love all the little phrases too. "Hump the hostess", "get the guests," etc., are so clever and creepy.

  2. I've read the play. I avoided seeing it because it is so damn brutal...

  3. Can you believe that this film was Mike Nichols first film in Hollywood? Talk about moxie. The guy comes into Hollywood which is full of "old money" classic Hollywood characters, and companies making road-show films like Ben Hur and 10 Commandments. Nichols enters Hollywood with a simple, yet vulgar film and has two major stars to direct in Taylor and Burton. On top of that they were a star couple with their own issues. Craziness. So much for starting with a slow pitch.

    If you like reading about this period, I enjoyed "Pictures at a Revolution" by Mark Harris. It took the 5 Oscar nominated films of 1967 and told "their story" (one of them of course being the Graduate).

  4. Like Requiem for a Dream, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is one of the best films I never want to see again. Oh, it's a great film, there's no doubt about that. It's just so damn disturbing. What's funny is that all the controversy over its language was in vain. The following year the walls were shattered once and for all when the F-word was used in I'll Never Forget What's 'is Name and Ulysses (there's some debate as to which was actually the first).


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