June 21, 2020

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

On June 21, 1966, Mike Nichols' debut film "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" premiered at the Pantages theater in Hollywood.

The film is based on the play of the same name by Edward Albee, which was a huge success on the stage of the Broadway Billy Rose theater in 1962-1964. A total of 664 performances took place, and each of them was accompanied by a full house. According to many theater critics, the success of Albee's play was provided by extremely explicit dialogues, thickly stuffed with profanity. Against the background of the prevailing norms of morality and morality in the American theater at that time, such frankness was something out of the ordinary. And, as is often the case with "forbidden fruit", this frankness and obscenity of the vocabulary attracted crowds of spectators to the theater.

The combination of the over-popularity of Albee's play, on the one hand, and serious censorship claims against it, on the other hand, led to a certain Pulitzer prize-winning scandal in 1963. Literary and theatrical critics considered Albee's play the only one worthy of this award. Censors and Catholic organizations were strongly opposed. As a result, the award was not awarded to anyone. Naturally, the question arises: how could such a play get on the stage at a time when there were very serious censorship restrictions?

It is believed that the then American censorship agreed to the release of the play on the stage only due to the special political situation that developed in the fall of 1962. This situation is known worldwide as the Caribbean Crisis. It is believed that the admission of Albee's play to the most famous and prestigious stages was intended to distract significant masses of the audience from the painful thoughts caused by this crisis in the American philistines, to serve as a kind of background on which the supposed future events will be perceived less oppressively. Quite probable.

Anyhow, in 1964, Warner Bros. purchased from Edward Albee the rights to screen his play for a very impressive sum - half a million dollars (equivalent to the current 4.1 million dollars), and on May 16, 1964, the last performance of this play on Broadway took place. However, in 1965, performances of this play began in London.

The film was created with great difficulties and delays. At first, the Studio took a long time to select a Director. In the end, the choice was made on a young theater actor and Director Mike Nichols, whose real name is Mikhail Igor Peshkovsky. Then the cast was selected for a long time. For example, Edward Albee wanted Katherine Hepburn to play the main role in this film, and for this purpose he sent her his play. After a while he received the Actress's response: "Your play is much better than mine."

After the cast was established, Sandy Dennis had a miscarriage during filming, and this circumstance also affected the timing. Many problems in the course of filming created the "star" behavior of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Besides, the "sticks in the wheels" were inserted by the guardians of morality, who constantly demanded that the filming of the movie based on the infamous play be stopped. It is said that at a certain stage, the producers had doubts about the feasibility of continuing filming, which they shared with Nichols. Nichols replied that he had allegedly arranged with Jacqueline Kennedy, by then the former First Lady, who promised to explain to the first persons of the Church that Jack (meaning John F. Kennedy-FG) would have liked the film. It is difficult to say how true this was, but work on the film continued.

All these obstacles and delays resulted in a doubling of the originally planned budget. At a cost of $ 7.5 million, "Who's African of Virginia Woolf?" became the most expensive black-and-white film made in the United States. Moreover, the choice of black and white format was a conscious decision of Mike Nichols. He believed that this format is more in line with the style of the play. And, in addition, the black-and-white color allowed to hide the real age of Elizabeth Taylor.

The largest items in the budget were actor fees: $ 1.1 million by Elizabeth Taylor, $ 750,000 by Richard Burton, as well as $ 500,000 by Edward Albee, mentioned above, for the film adaptation of the play. But the costs paid off with interest: the box office exceeded $ 28 million.

Elizabeth Taylor, who was 33 years old at the time of filming, to be more convincing in the role of a 52-year-old heroine, specially recovered by 14 kilograms and tried her best to de-glam her image. Her efforts were not in vain: she was awarded the Academy Award and the BAFTA Award for Best Actress. In her memoirs, Taylor called the role in this film her best role.

In 1967, the film received 7 nominations for the Golden Globe Award, but did not receive a single one. In the most important nominations - Best Drama Film and Best Director - the film and Mike Nichols lost to the film "A Man for All Seasons" and its director Fred Zinneman, respectively. In the Oscars, Mike Nichols was a little more successful. The film received 13 nominations, of which it won 5, though not the most important ones. In the dispute over the main nominations, the same story was repeated as on the Golden Globe. In Europe, the most prestigious film forum in which Mike Nichols' film took part was the British BAFTA Award. And "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" had got this award.

In Filmgourmand's Golden Thousand, Mike Nichols' "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" ranks 286th with a rating of 8.583.