Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (rewatch)
Posted by martinteller on May 28, 2012
Truth and illusion, illusion and truth. Albee (and by extension, Lehmann and Nichols) tears down the facades of marriage and erects new ones and tears those down too. This is the kind of brutal interaction that gets right me in the gut, where the fights and games are so vicious that they make the vulnerable moments that much more poignant. Films about couples in turmoil (Scenes from a Marriage, A Woman Under the Influence, et cetera) have a special appeal to me, maybe you need to have been in a turbulent relationship or two yourself to fully appreciate the complex emotions behind them. Love and hate and disappointment and power struggles, using your partner’s weaknesses against them, seeing how far you can go. It’s heady stuff, but it all has the ring of sad, sad truth to it.
I got into a discussion recently about “theatrical” performances in film and why some bother me and some don’t. Certainly the language in Woolf is theatrical, the (gorgeously composed) quick-witted barbs wouldn’t fly so fast and furious in real conversation, much less between four such inebriated individuals. But the performances here don’t have that staginess that bothers me. I don’t feel like I’m being played to as an audience, especially not when the characters are so busy playing for each other. Taylor and Burton are both so unbelievably riveting and spot-on, there isn’t a moment in the movie that isn’t compelling to me, and when they’re facing off in marital battle it’s electrifying. I’ve even warmed up to Dennis… her character is irritating, but that’s as it should be. In some ways, she’s the most tragic character in the story; one wonders what the conversation between her and Segal will be the next day, the next week, the next 20 years. This evening could be the beginning of their own “George and Martha” dynamic.
It’s a film that grows on me more and more with each viewing, to the point where it’s now surpassed The Graduate as my favorite by Mike Nichols. The explosive intensity of it is overwhelming, building to a wild and deeply upsetting crescendo. The final ten minutes are some of the most affecting cinema I’ve ever witnessed. Outstanding performances, brilliant dialogue, engaging subject matter, and done with rich cinematography by Haskell Wexler. Rating: Masterpiece