Thursday, April 26, 2012

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?


Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

#67 on the 2007 AFI List of 100 Top American Films
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1966 American drama film directed by Mike Nichols. The screenplay by Ernest Lehman is an adaptation of the play of the same title by Edward Albee. It stars Elizabeth Taylor as Martha and Richard Burton as George, with George Segal as Nick and Sandy Dennis as Honey.

The film was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Mike Nichols, and is the only film to be nominated in every eligible category at the Academy Awards. All the four main actors of the film were nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

The film won five awards, including a second Academy Award for Best Actress for Elizabeth Taylor and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Sandy Dennis. However, the film lost to A Man for All Seasons for the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay awards, and both Richard Burton and George Segal failed to win in their categories.

* Elizabeth Taylor as Martha
* Richard Burton as George
* George Segal as Nick
* Sandy Dennis as Honey

The choice of Elizabeth Taylor—at the time regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world—to play the frumpy, fifty-ish Martha surprised many, but the actress gained 30 pounds (13.5 kg) for the role and her performance (along with those of Burton, Segal and Dennis) was ultimately praised. When Jack Warner approached Albee about buying the film rights for the play, he told Albee that he wanted to cast Bette Davis and James Mason in the roles of Martha and George. In the script, Martha references Davis and quotes her famous "What a dump!" line from the film Beyond the Forest (1949). Playwright Edward Albee was delighted by this cast, believing that "James Mason seemed absolutely right...and to watch Bette Davis do that Bette Davis imitation in that first scene—that would have been so wonderful." However, fearing that the talky, character-driven story would land with a resounding thud—and that audiences would grow weary of watching two hours of screaming between a harridan and a wimp—Nichols and Lehman cast stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Edward Albee was surprised by the casting decision, but later stated that Taylor was quite good, and Burton was incredible. In the end though, he still felt that "with Mason and Davis you would have had a less flashy and ultimately deeper film."

Edward Albee's 1962 play was replete with dialogue that included multiple instances of "goddamn" and "son-of-a-bitch", along with "screw you", "up yours", "great nipples", and "hump the hostess". Opening on Broadway during the Cuban Missile Crisis, audiences who had gone to the theater to forget the threat of nuclear war were instead assaulted by language and situations they had not seen before outside of experimental theater.

The immediate reaction of the theater audiences, eventually voiced by critics, was that Albee had created a play that would be a great success on Broadway, but could never be filmed in anything like its current form. Neither the audience nor the critics understood how much the Hollywood landscape was changing in the 1960s, and that it could no longer live with any meaningful Production Code. In bringing the play to the screen, Ernest Lehman decided he would not change the dialogue that had shocked veteran theatergoers in New York only four years earlier. Despite serious opposition to this decision, Lehman prevailed.

As filming began, the Catholic Legion of Motion Pictures (formerly the Catholic Legion of Decency), issued a preliminary report that, if what they heard was true, they might have to slap Virginia Woolf with the once-dreaded "condemned" rating, although they promised to wait to see the film. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) followed with an even stronger statement, warning the studio—without promising to wait for a screening—that if they were really thinking of leaving the Broadway play's language intact, they could forget about getting a Seal of Approval.

Warner Brothers studio executives sat down to look at a rough cut, without music, and a Life magazine reporter was present. He printed the following quote from one of the studio chiefs: "My God! We've got a seven million dollar dirty movie on our hands!"

The film was considered groundbreaking for having a level of profanity and sexual implication unheard of at that time. Jack Valenti, who had just become president of the MPAA in 1966, had abolished the old Production Code. In order for the film to be released with MPAA approval, Warner Bros. agreed to minor deletions of certain profanities and to have a special warning placed on all advertisements for the film, indicating adult content. Even the Catholic Office refused to "condemn" the film. It was this film and another groundbreaking film, Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966), that led Jack Valenti to begin work on the MPAA film rating system that went into effect on November 1, 1968. It is also said that Jack Warner chose to pay a fine of $5,000 in order to remain as faithful to the play (with its profanity) as possible.

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