Sunday, September 30, 2007

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, Mike Nichols)

I've seen this before, but the older you get, the more it hits home. I really liked the way the filmmakers didn't really disguise the film's theatrical roots, but at the same time added some subtle touches to make it work as cinema. Of particular interest are the occasional bits of behavior that might involve a character walking offstage, doing something, and then returning to the main action, but here Nichols holds on these people for just a moment, not just as a concession to the new medium, but also because that's where the really interesting stuff is happening. And make no mistake, this works like gangbusters as cinema. Despite the theatrical acting and the talkiness of the script, the end result is a movie instead of simply a filmed play (hard to believe it was Nichols' first feature). On top of that, this is one of the few movies that actually benefits from the very public relationship between its stars. Rather than distracting us, the film assumes that the audience knows all about its principal performers, and it builds on this knowledge only to shoot it right in the ass. Liz gets the really showy moments, and she sells them wonderfully, but it's Burton who really kills here. Instead of simply indulging in histrionics, he gives a magnificent, completely lived-in performance that's a wonder to behold. Oh, that voice! Rating: ***1/2 out of ****.

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