Magazine article American Cinematographer

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Article excerpt

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Special Edition

1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)

Dolby Digital Monaural

Warner Home Video, $26.98

It's nearly 2 a.m. on a crisp autumn night when George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) stumble out of a faculty party and head to their home on a small college campus in New England. Far from sober, the couple banter while pouring fresh drinks and cleaning up for their guests; Martha has invited eager new faculty member Nick (George Segal) and his mousy wife, Honey (Sandy Dennis), over for a nightcap. When Nick and Honey arrive, interrupting George and Martha's loud argument, the hosts proceed to make false pleasantries and glare at one another over cocktails. As the liquor flows, it's clear that this party will grow long and uncomfortable, and before the night is over, the savage and miserably unhappy hosts will play several games with their unsuspecting guests.

After Warner Bros, purchased the film rights to Edward Albee's groundbreaking play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in the early 1960s, producer/ screenwriter Ernest Lehman was given control of the project. Warners hoped to cast Bette Davis and James Mason as Martha and George, but Lehman insisted on Taylor and Burton, who were at that time a real-life couple and a tabloid sensation. Although she was much younger than the character Albee had written, a nervous Taylor agreed to the challenge, with the stipulation that New York theater director Mike Nichols direct the picture.

Nichols, who had not directed a film before, insisted Virginia Woolf be shot in black-and-white for two reasons: it fit the tone of piece, and it would help hide the heavy makeup designed to age Taylor. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler, ASC was brought on board to fashion the stark, bold images needed to bring the play to the screen. Shooting on location and onstage posed numerous challenges for Wexler, who acknowledges in an audio commentary on this disc that he was occasionally unsure of himself, and wanted to bring as much truth to the images as possible. Crisply lit by practicals and the ever-present moonlight that flows from windows, the film's interiors exhibit several different levels of blacks and shadows from room to room. …

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