Elizabeth Taylor passed today, so I thought I would review ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’, my all-time favorite Taylor performance. Before I begin, a quick note about a television show that aired last night called ‘Best in Picture’ where ordinary Americans got to vote for best film and other categories. As if we need any more proof that Americans should not be allowed to vote. ‘Gone With the Wind’, a movie I would not piss on if it were on fire, won most awards, and anything it did not win went to Spielberg.
Now, ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ may not be as wonderfully performed at the Indiana Jones trilogy, but for the minority of Americans who breathe through our nostrils, this is one we can enjoy. The film is actually a play written by Edward Albee, who was born in Virginia and ended up in Greenwich Village. Basically, the play involves a dinner party (if gin can be considered food) with a young couple and an aging couple. Taylor and her husband Richard Burton play the aging couple, and the onscreen chemistry between the two is amazing.
Perhaps a better way to describe this movie is a 90-minute drunken argument between Taylor and Burton, and right away it is apparent they have had these arguments in real life. They were married at least twice to each other, and both drank to excess. These are not the typical drunk arguments a couple has, you know, where the guys checks out some girl’s ass at a bar and his girlfriend throws a hissy fit and by the end of the night they are babbling like idiots about how much they really love one another and will never fight again (until they’re loaded).
The Taylor/Burton argument builds slowly, but there is a clear escalation happening. The audience sits riveted, at times amused, at times horrified as to the extent to which this couple wants to hurt each other. The young couple witnessing this both serves as a contrast, and a symbol of purity that is being corrupted by the fiasco unfolding before them. The feud simmers and boils until it charges into places that were cutting edge for 1966, and still are today. The performances and the film are a timeless glimpse into humanities inexplicable instinct to hurt the one we love. The film lives on in movies such as ‘Blue Valentine’ and was parodied on an episode of The Simpsons with Bart and Homer assuming the lead roles.
I don’t know much about Elizabeth Taylor. My memories of her are as some older woman ravaged by substance abuse who hung around Michael Jackson a lot. But she actually used to be a complete show until drinking caught up with her. As an actress, her performance in this film exceeds just about any female or male performance I have ever seen on film, she took home an Oscar for it. If you love movies about the human condition, this is a must see. Just don’t try this at home.