Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive - WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Warner Archive - WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? on Blu-ray

Though I'm sure they weren't just like this as a couple, it is mesmerizing to watch a real-life couple like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton play an older married couple that have become a bit tired of each other. It's very simply the story of an evening with two married couples (one older, one younger) and we follow them as they start to get more and down and dirty with each other as the night wears on.
This is absolutely one of those films that had a whole different feeling this time around versus my last viewing. I'm now with my wife for more than ten years so I have a much greater understanding of relationships in the long term. I've navigated many social situations with her and though none were as ruthlessly awkward as what goes down between the two couples in VIRGINIA WOOLF. I do know what it's like to have tension in a scenario where it's not really appropriate to show it and that is always tricky to navigate. What's interesting and compelling is to watch other couples navigate it. Sometimes, you can see the train starting to come off the rails as it were. And sometimes, as with George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor) the train jumps off the track and flips over and smashes into kindling. VIRGINIA WOOLF as a film has a pretty cynical perspective on marriage, but it's more complex than that. The older couple have gone from a point where they were in love to a point where the greatest pleasure they seem to take is in torturing each other in front of others. It a scenario wherein they perhaps have stopped trying to talk to each other about the problems in their marriage and instead would rather call each other out in the presence of strangers. At least strangers can be more objective. At least strangers don't have years of resentment and anger cutting them off emotionally and not allowing them to hear what's being said. Strangers don't have the context of all the secrets that such a couple might normally keep to themselves. And normally they would keep it all to themselves, but once one of them admits and requests sternly that a specific topic be off the table for conversation - then all bets are off. To see that situation inhabited by some truly great actors and in this case, actors that were intimate with each other, is really a specifically unique experience in art imitates life. Taylor and Burton are of course great, but what I had forgotten about is how good George Segal is too. Sandy Dennis ain't no slouch either. Segal has been one of my favorites for a while. He can play a kind of a big, gregarious bear of a fella, but he can also really mix it up one on one and play subtle when needed. Watching Segal and Burton play off of each other is quite a treat. Taylor and Burton though - that's in a league by itself. It's hard to fake the familiarity that Taylor and Burton had with each other and even when they are fuming with passive aggressive rage at each other, you can still genuinely feel the connection between the two of them. This was probably Liz Taylor's most critically acclaimed performance in her entire career. She won her second academy award for the role and Sandy Dennis won for Best Supporting Actress. The film was nominated for thirteen oscars in total and it won five (including best B&W cinematography, costume design and art direction). It probably helped that the movie was directed by the great Mike Nichols (in his feature film debut). Nichols was of course a director for the stage and that no doubt had a big impact on the excellence of the performances in VIRGINIA WOOLF. Despite losing out on the Academy Award for best picture, director, and actors, to A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS - this movie is an astonishingly assured beginning to a remarkable career for one of the better directors of his generation. 

Special Features:
On top of showing off Haskell Wexler's award winning cinematography with a good-looking new transfer, this Warner Archive disc also has a bunch of extras as well:
-Audio Commentary by Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh.
-Audio Commentary by Haskell Wexler.
-Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: Too Shocking for its Time (Featurette).
-Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: A Daring Work of Raw Excellence (Featurette).
-1966 Barbara Walters Interview.
-6 Sandy Dennis Screen Tests.
-Intimate Portrait: Elizabeth Taylor (Documentary Feature)

Dan Ireland on VIRGINIA WOOLF for Trailers from Hell:

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