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#1 – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

August 6, 2010

I enjoyed this movie. I spent most of it with a WTF? look on my face, but the performances are amazing. It’s about an older couple (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) who invite a younger couple over to their house after a work party. (The two men work at the same college.)  Richard doesn’t want to entertain so late in the evening, but Elizabeth is the daughter of the dean of the school, so she gets her way. (It’s been a few days and I forget their actual names now. They called each other Baby a lot.) (George and Martha! Remembered when looking for a screen shot.) It’s immediately clear that Rich and Liz have a lot of issues. They bicker and fight constantly, but what makes the movie good is the undertone of genuine affection they have for each other. I think everyone has been in silly fights that suddenly devolve into laughter for no reason. I know I have anyway, and that’s why the performances struck a cord with me.

Anyway, so they pretty much fight the entire evening, making the younger couple very uncomfortable. They try to leave several times but are always convinced to stay. The common thread through most of the fighting is R&L’s son. R doesn’t want L to mention him to their company, but because she does whatever she wants she goes ahead and does it anyway. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but this has serious repercussions. What struck me was that this couple was clearly pretty messed up, at times they seem to really hate each other, and they do things to each other that make it difficult to understand why they stay together. But by the end you realize that their love is real and they are all that they have.

An interesting note: I think this is the first movie I’ve ever seen where all of the characters are drunk for the entire film. I thought that was odd for a movie from 1966, so I wikipedia’d it afterward. This movie, and the play it was based on, was unusual for the strong language it used at the time. That was what was shocking to the movie and theater goers of the era, not the drinking! The film version was a catalyst for the MPAA rating system that we have today—films used to just get a Seal of Approval, or not. (Also? The MPAA rating system article is fascinating. Did you know that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins were the reasons we have a PG-13 rating? There’s also a list of movies with nudity that received G, PG and PG-13 ratings, and explanations for everything (drugs, profanity, nudity, sex) and how that translates to a rating. There, you learned something new today.)

So, I liked the movie. I was impressed by Elizabeth Taylor’s performance, and not surprised to learn she won an Oscar for it. My only complaint is that Sandy Dennis’ character really needed a bra— it was pretty distracting. Costume designers, don’t overlook chestal support. It’s very necessary!

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