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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

by mark f
posted on 1/10/08
10. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966)

Elizabeth Taylor (Martha) and Richard Burton (George) give two of the greatest performances in screen history in Mike Nichols' brilliant film debut. I consider Edward Albee's awesome play to be the culmination of everything Tennessee Willaims accomplished. Williams trailblazed the eccentric, yet totally-honest characters which are present in this amazing film, which is also of a higher-cinematic quality than all of its forebears. The younger couple, played by Sandy Dennis and George Segal, get trapped in the older couple's web soon enough and find it difficult not to try to add to the situation while trying to extricate themselves.

This film pushed the envelope for frankness and language in American films, and thus was semi-responsible for the MPAA. Yet, the MPAA is better than the Hays Code, so it shouldn't be attacked for that. Most of my films, at the higher echelon of my list, are pretty damn unique, and they either created a new world for films to be made in or, at least, appreciated. Even when that's not true, they are so far away from what's considered normal films nowadays, that they should all get your attention.

Most of the film is shot on one set, but once again, what somebody might consider uncinematic is turned into a major asset by Nichols and his cast. Many of the greatest surprises in the film involve the camera moving away, if only for a few seconds, and when it returns, it completely blows your mind. The brutal honesty of two couples' relationships has rarely been brought out into the open before or since. In that way, when the film almost turns fantastic at the end, it actually deepens the tragedy and significance of everything which has come before. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Probably every normal, loving human being should be, but that still means that no one can afford to miss all of this film's truths and humor.