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Director Mike Nichol’s blistering film version of Edward Albee’s play WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? ($25) is a required purchase for any film fan building a personal DVD library. WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? is an important film because at the time of its release there was still censorship in Hollywood. The film version left the adult themes and language contained in the play, pretty much in tact, effectively eliminating the prevailing censorship. WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? placed Hollywood on the road to a ratings system which allowed filmmakers greater creative control.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? is basically a four character, one set play opened up ever so slightly for the cinema. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton give two devastating performances as an embittered couple whose marriage literally self-destructs in the course of an evening. Taylor’s Oscar winning turn as Martha is the finest performance of her career. She brings reality and volatility to the role of Martha, the overripe, middle-aged wife of a college professor, who resents her lot in life. Martha’s dissatisfaction with her life seems to give her license to lash out at her husband George. With her shrewish behavior, Martha tries to beat down George, but the old dog proves he’s still got his teeth and he is willing to use them when necessary.

Richard Burton is in top form as George, going toe to toe with Taylor and earning an Academy Award nomination for himself. The plot concerns the guests who are invited to George and Martha’s home late one night after a faculty party. The young couple is new to the university and Martha goes out of her way to make them feel welcome, especially the very attractive husband. As the evening progresses, both marriages go through the shredder, as do the psyches of all four characters. Sandy Dennis received an Academy Award for her supporting performance as Honey, the wife of the young professor. George Segal is great in the role of Nick, the young professor. He also earned himself an Oscar nomination for the performance. Segal has done so much comedy in his career that it is easy to forget that he is capable of strong dramatic performances.

Warner Home Video offers WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? In both Letterboxed and pan and scan presentations on opposite sides of this DVD. The pan and scan version of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? is disappointing since it crops Haskell Wexler’s Academy Award cinematography, destroying the marvelous compositions. However, the black and white image is sharp and has respectable contrast. The Letterboxed transfer is fantastic and restores WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? close to its proper 1.85:1 theatrical framing. The cropped transfer has a bit more top and bottom information, but the Letterboxed transfer adds quite a bit to the periphery, which is where it counts. WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? has very deliberate framing, which uses the full width of the screen to place the characters in a specific space to create tension. The Letterboxed image flawlessly reproduces Wexler’s spectacular black and white cinematography, with phenomenal detail and contrast. This film shows exactly why black and white cinematography is a lost art form that should be revived by Hollywood.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is crisp and reproduces quite well. The track should be amplified for Alex North’s marvelous Oscar Nominated score. Other soundtrack options include an audio commentary with cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Wexler’s talk is interesting, but offers more by way of technical information about the film’s cinematography and production than about the personalities involved with the film. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

The interactive menus offer standard scene access, plus cast and crew biographies/filmographies and extensive production notes.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? features powerful performances, spectacular cinematography, great direction and a beautiful score. It is everything that a film should be. As I said above, this DVD is a required purchase for anyone building a personal library. Absolutely recommended!




DVD reviews are Copyright 1998 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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