Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who

The phrase “actor’s director” is thrown around a great deal, but there have been very few directors who knew how to work with actors quite like Mike Nichols. A former student of Lee Strasburg and a fervent believer in the revelatory power of improvisation, Nichols has directed some of the most notable performances in modern cinema. His debut alone was evidence of his gift. For his first film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the theater performer and director took on the mammoth task of adapting one of the most raw and acerbic plays of the 1960s to a film starring the most powerful couple in Hollywood, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It’s now remembered as the best role of Taylor’s career. His second film, The Graduate, showed an equal but opposite talent: his ability to get performances out of unknown actors that match their particular strengths. That film launched and defined Dustin Hoffman’s career. Since then, every Nichols film – from Carnal Knowledge to What Planet Are You From? – carried the promise that its cast would be used to the best of their talents. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the only filmmaker we would trust to turn Jack Nicholson into a werewolf.

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You heard me – I’m dumping practically everything I can think of at you, and no doubt I’ll still miss a few. In fact, there’s one I am intentionally leaving out just so I can watch the angry comments and laugh like a Disney villain. Honestly, though – after having my memory jarred by all the comments on my first installment of 14 of the Most Impressive Monologues in Movie History, I couldn’t not make another one of these. So here are, once more, some movie monologues out there that really stick out from the rest.

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Earlier today screen legend Elizabeth Taylor passed away due to congestive heart failure. She was 79. People deal with death in different ways. If you’re one of those people who needs to wallow in good memories afterward, or it you are just woefully undereducated when it comes to the career of the late actress, then TCM is putting on a marathon of Taylor movies that should be essential viewing. The marathon will begin April 10th, starting at 6 am ET, and it is set to run for a full 24 hours. Over the course of the marathon many of Taylor’s best remembered performances will be aired, including the two that won her Oscar statues, her sexy portrayal of femme fatale Gloria Wandrous in BUtterfield 8, and her tortured performance as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The marathon in tribute of the great actress will run as follows:

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If I could finish that time machine taking up space in my guest room to travel back to visit college-aged Gwen I think the first thing I would tell her would be to take more notes in her Film Studies classes. Remarkably she would need them nearly five years later. All those hours spent in the dusty, haunted film book section of the library stacks devouring the almost forgotten tomes detailing women’s objectification in cinema, the battle between art and pornography, and the influence of 1960s era sexploitation films on modern day moviemaking would definitely not be for naught. I still have vivid memories of discovering there were in fact sexy movies being made before 1970, and they were considered treasured celluloid artifacts. In 1966 the previously used American rating standard known as the Hays Code was traded out in favor of the industry-wide rating system we now know. While the studios got used to this new form of self-governing rather than censoring, many controversial films passed through to receive national distribution. Audiences could now attend sexual charged films just as easily as they could a family-friendly picture. By the time the rating system really got its legs in the late 1960s to early 70s it was too late. The country had had a taste of something always featured off-screen, and they wanted more. In the coming weeks I’m going to explore each decade’s contribution to modern-day exploration of sex on screen. I chose to start in the middle, mostly […]

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Culture Warrior

Modern romance and the movies are arguably dependant on one another, as movies have a long history of affirming the idea(l) of the perfect relationship. Hollywood movies in particular have developed a mastery at the formula of bringing imperfect individuals together into perfect couplehood and framing marriage as the closure of all previous conflicts and difficulties. Many romance movies, thus, teach us what romance and couplehood are or, perhaps more dauntingly, what it should be. That romantic films are a staple in the box offices of commercial movie theaters to reparatory screenings or are marathon’d on television every Valentine’s Day is evidence of our ritual association of considering real-life romances in fictional terms. It is rare that movies, especially Hollywood, seem to do the opposite: reflect the distinction between ideal romance and the ostensible “reality” of relationships in all their complexity, grittiness, slow development, necessary problems, and (most of all) subtlety. Perhaps the most evident turns cinema makes in this direction is in the break-up movie, that rare narrative that situates itself as a disruption from the normal mode of portraying couplehood through representing its antithesis, the dissolution of a couple. The most recent example is Blue Valentine, the great Cassavetes-style, character-driven psychodrama about a couple who continue making the wrong turns and can’t make it work despite, or because, of themselves. Breakup movies from the light – (500) Days of Summer – to the heavy – Blue Valentine – often self-consciously (either by testament from the filmmaker like in […]

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Culture Warrior

A few months back, a fight for free expression was exercised by the Weinstein Company for the Sundance-indie favorite Blue Valentine to be theatrically released with an R-rating instead of the dreaded NC-17. Many things about this pseudo-fight are nothing special: there’s hardly anything surprising about fights with the MPAA or about the Weinsteins making a fuss – it’s how they’ve succeeded in the business for decades. But this fuss, and the anti-MPAA lobbying contained within it, seemed significantly more justified because it was exercised in the name of potentially getting an exceptional indie into more theaters across the country (and while the film does star two recognizable names, it is, economically speaking, very much a truly modest indie of the classic Sundance variety). In the end, the Weinsteins got their way, and justifiably so. The NC-17 rating has become an economic form of censorship: nothing associated with the label, or the institution that bestows that label, has the power to actively stop distribution of NC-17 films, but because of the rating’s associations with sexually-explicit content, and because of the liability and extra measures required of theaters in preventing young people from sneaking their way into such films, many theaters (and some entire theater chains) will not exhibit films with such a rating. This would have relegated Blue Valentine, at best, to arthouse theaters in big cities. Such theaters are no doubt where Blue Valentine will play best regardless, but the key word here is opportunity – an R-rating provides […]

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published: 12.19.2014
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published: 12.18.2014
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published: 12.17.2014
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