Tuesday, May 3, 2016

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?: Blu-ray (Warner Bros. 1966) Warner Archive

Elizabeth Taylor once confided in an interview she believed the best security for a ‘healthy’ marital relationship was to occasionally engage in a knock-down drag-out fight with one’s significant other. Two marriages to Richard Burton and another, prematurely interrupted, though nevertheless, tumultuous whirlwind with the monumentally charming brute, Michael Todd, and one could almost believe Taylor knew from whence she spoke, already having discovered Valhalla thrice in her relationships. All the more reason, then to view director, Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) through its inevitable paradigm between Edward Albee’s fictional feuding couple - caustic George and shrewish Martha - and the legendary, rumored fireworks taking place behind closed doors at the Burton/Taylor maison. In hindsight, the couple who would continue setting rumor mills abuzz before, after and during the filming, have, in hindsight, transformed Albee’s electrostatic prose into a veritable mirror-image grand guignol of their own love affair. Right or wrong, with the passage of time, George and Martha have continued to mature in the public’s estimation as Liz and Dick at their absolute worst – or rather, best; the acting put forth from both ‘the star’ and ‘the thespian’ probably the greatest of all their frequent screen pairings; certainly, the one picture in which they both appear to have let their creative hair down with shocking duplicity to satisfy the public’s insatiable appetite for the wickedest of tabloid fodder and innuendos that cleverly appear to copycat them with an uncanny degree of verisimilitude.
The pall of the Burtons’ larger-than-life flagrante delicto and the aftermath it rained down on three households (Burton’s marriage to Sybil - shattered, Elizabeth’s to Eddie Fisher – ditto, and Debbie Reynolds – late, nee the first, Mrs. Fisher – but apparently glad to be rid of her philandering hubby while purging herself of all bitterness) bore an unsettling resemblance to the decidedly naughty and abusive exchanges the fictional George and Martha engage in during their cataclysmic cocktail hour as mere blood sport to survive – inviting an unsuspectingly naïve younger couple, Honey and Nick (played with a masterful, wounded innocence by Sandy Dennis and, occasional begrudging bewilderment by George Segal). Nick and Honey lack the necessary jadedness, and thus, emotional armor to guard and protect themselves from George and Martha’s ‘fun and games.’ But they are not without their own peccadilloes. Honey, the mousy and insecure lush, who cannot hold her liquor, has only begun to realize how faking a pregnancy to land the all-star hunk du jour and big man on campus has trapped them both in a prematurely doomed and loveless union. In one of the play’s less hyper unguarded moments, Nick confesses to George he never would have wed Honey otherwise, except for believing his drunken one night’s indiscretion created an unexpected responsibility that his own personal integrity could not shirk. Yet, even in doing ‘the right thing’ Nick realizes he is caught in a desperate trap, relishing Martha’s garrulous and uninhibited flirtation, her mooning critique of his physical prowess and taunt body. This leaves both George and Honey feeling the spank and pall; forever, the outsiders unable to fulfill the truest desires of their respective spouses.
George had aspirations – once; gradually chiseled down to bedrock by Martha’s emasculating domination of his life and career. According to Martha, George could have been Head of the History Department - if only he had the gumption, guts and brains to succeed. Alas, wedding Martha has reduced George into a mostly ineffectual boozehound and academic, merely going through the motions on an adjunct professor’s salary without any hope to insinuate himself back into her father’s good graces and take over as Dean someday. Daddy saw through George’s lack of ambition right away, much sooner than Martha, who has held this inadequacies against him ever since.  Perhaps no other movie, save Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up (released the same year as Virginia Woolf), was as responsible for striking into the very heart of Hollywood’s galvanized Code of Censorship with such exacting complicity from then President, Jack Valenti. Indeed, producer, Jack L. Warner had been politely discouraged from pursuing the rights to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; categorically ignoring the play’s earth-shattering assault on the senses with enough ‘blue’ language to make a sailor blush. In a letter written to Warner in April of 1963, it was ‘suggested’ “…if you want to make a picture of this, you must get rid of all the profanity and sexually charged dialogue!” While few concessions were granted along the way – to blunt at least the 4-letter aspect of the loaded exchanges between George and Martha – Warner made a fortuitous decision in hiring screenwriter, Ernest Lehman to adapt Albee’s caustic barbs. He was not Warner’s first choice. In fact, John Frankenheimer had already worked out the particulars of his own shooting script – and had been hired as the picture’s director - when Richard Burton informed Warner he would not be partaking of the exercise should Frankenheimer remain on the payroll. With a list of enviable screen credits under his belt (Sabrina, Executive Suite – 1954, The King & I, Somebody Up There Likes Me – 1956, North by Northwest – 1959, West Side Story – 1961, The Sound of Music – 1965), Ernest Lehman, was already considered an eminent writer in Hollywood. He would unequivocally prove it on Virginia Woolf, tweaking the play’s loaded language without blunting the effect of Albee’s carefully contrived narrative, ever so cleverly ‘opening up’ what, on stage, had been essentially one embattled exchange given full flourish on a single set.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? became the cause célèbre to put Jack Valenti’s newly established presidency in the Motion Picture Association of America to the test. Like Warner, Valenti had seen the Broadway original as directed by Allen Schneider and co-starring Uda Hagen and Arthur Hill. He too was an ardent fan from the get-go.  But Albee’s masterwork required delicate consideration to make it into a movie that would, at once, retain the potency of the original without shocking the more puritanical sect of the movie-going public right out of their theater seats. In fact, Virginia Woolf would provide the impetus for a pet project Valenti had been toying with for some time – nothing less than a complete overhaul of the system - rewritten to accommodate the transition from stage to screen. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was the first motion picture to receive a ‘rating’ under Valenti’s system of classification; an 18A, thus barring more impressionable minds from attending its’ screenings, presumably to keep their ears – as well as everything else – virginal. Nevertheless, the play’s potency could not be ignored, winning 5 Tony Awards as well as the Drama Critic’s coveted prize. For obvious reasons, the word ‘fuck’ was replaced by Lehman – first, with ‘screw’; then, altogether expunged, meaninglessly dumbed down to ‘damn’; the same ‘damn’ that had once cost David O. Selznick a considerable fine of $5,000 to keep in at the end of Gone With The Wind some thirty odd years before.
Initially Henry Fonda was approached for the part of George, despite a leaked press junket to Variety shortly after Warner had already acquired the rights, suggesting big plans were afoot to costar Bette Davis and James Mason. Fonda’s polite refusal to partake may have had something to do with the rumored belief any actor endeavoring to draw clarity from such a polarizing work of fiction was likely to forever alter – nee, wreck – his on-screen as well as his public image. Viewed from this vantage, the juiciness in Albee’s sizzler inevitably appealed to one of Hollywood’s most notorious – if Teflon-coated - couples. Edward Albee was kept out of the loop on these decision-making processes, though he quietly approved of the aforementioned stars under consideration. Albee was less sincerely enthusiastic about the final decision to costar Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor – at least, at the start. “I understand why they did it,” Albee would later admit, “They went for bankable box office.”  Albee’s discontent was chiefly centered on Elizabeth Taylor; at thirty-two, much too young to play the frumpish fifty-something Martha.  Taylor too had expressed nervous apprehensions about playing the part, considering it “a stretch”; her anxieties abated by Burton’s coaxing – “It’s a wonderful part and you must do it!”
There is a very old axiom in Hollywood to suggest that simply because a woman is beautiful it also stands to reason she can never be much of an actress. Indeed, this reputation had dogged the violet-eyed Taylor for most of her film career; considered a lightweight clothes horse, easy on the eye, though with virtually nothing for the heart, despite illustrating all evidence to the contrary in several major movies that had established her reputation as a consummate professional; including National Velvet (1944), Father of the Bride (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), Giant (1954) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). Alas, the lingering pall of Cleopatra (1963), the costly film to date, along with Taylor’s devil-may-care attitude towards the institution of marriage had effectively deprived her of a more lasting reputation in the movies. Albee’s admitted skepticism had more to do with Taylor’s age than her backstage shenanigans, by the playwright’s estimation, at least 20 years the fictional Martha’s junior, while Richard Burton was about five years too old to play George. Nevertheless, Albee was to be pleasantly surprised with the results put forth by this unlikely screen team; also, singing the praises of Jack Warner and Ernest Lehman’s contributions. “I think they gave a fairly accurate translation of the play,” Albee would later offer. Interestingly, Albee remained circumspect about Mike Nichols’ impact.
Exactly how Nichols came to direct Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is another matter entirely. A close personal friend of Richard Burton in 1960, Nichols had planned to fly to Rome with his then fiancée and meet up on the set of Cleopatra when an unanticipated breakup in his own pending engagement put a wrench in their rendezvous. Sending Burton a cablegram to inform him of this delay, Nichols was intrigued when Burton wired back, “Come anyway.” Nichols did, and was instrumental in helping to squire Elizabeth incognito around Rome during delays on the lengthy shoot. Afterward, Nichols became a confidante to both Taylor and Burton; so much, that the pair used their clout as a power-brokering couple to help Nichols land the gig to direct Virginia Woolf.  Mike Nichols would rely heavily on his cinematographer, Haskell Wexler to create the necessary ‘atmosphere’ for the picture; the decision to shoot in B&W not entirely embraced by Albee, who was informed by Jack Warner, “color is for glossy spectacles and musicals; black-and-white, for ‘serious’ pictures.” And yet, at its crux, Who’s Afraid for Virginia Woolf? can almost be considered as a deliriously dark and mildly disturbing farce. Indeed, George and Martha’s sad realization, that, despite their share contempt for each other they are anchored by an underlying and unerring fidelity to one another’s pain – and the infliction of it on each other – is a rather ironically sad social commentary on modern marriage. 
Ernest Lehman’s screenplay retains Albee’s three act framework in exposing this hellacious breakdown of communication, rife with venomous resentment, nevertheless indulged by an escalating turpitude of verbally abusive, jealous insults and mean-spirited head games. Despite the psychotic nature of their relationship, George and Martha continue to ‘need’ each other on a more profound – and profoundly disturbing - level. Albee had, in fact, based these characters on his good friends, Wagner College literature professor, Willard Maas and his experimental filmmaker/wife, Marie Menken; legendary for the infamy of bringing unsuspecting guests into their parlor game-styled tempestuousness. Setting aside George and Martha’s proclivity for strong drink, the screenplay holds tight to Albee’s ‘theater of the absurd’ inculcated with Freudian references and fitful bouts of existentialism. Entertaining George and Martha’s passive-aggressive behaviors, Lehman telescopes themes more lengthily expressed in Albee’s play, presented within the time constraints of a manageable 2 hrs., 11 mins. as mercurial, deepening, yet foundationless; the struggle of wills between two couples, or four individuals, swirling in a toxic bath of near pathological and very self-destructive behaviors, but caught in a maelstrom of their own design. Honey and Nick lack longevity in their relationship to be both as openly cruel or as needy as George and Martha, though, in essence, they are the prototypes, foreshadowing precisely where their relationship is likely headed; George and Martha’s open vetting a real ‘eye-opener’ for Honey and Nick.
The play was divided into three acts: the first, ‘Fun and Games’ but a prelude to the nightmare yet to follow. Immediately following the main titles, in which we see a slightly inebriated George and Martha stumbling home on foot from a dinner party given by Martha’s father, the Dean of an undisclosed New England college (actual exteriors shot on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts), we catch a glimpse of Martha’s sandpaper abrasiveness as she disapprovingly surveys the eclectic disaster zone that is their home, cluttered with a lot of scholarly books, papers, old and careworn furniture, and, other academic paraphernalia, boastfully declaring “What a dump!” The line – excised from the infamous Bette Davis potboiler, Beyond the Forest (1949) - is repeated several times by Taylor; each time, with more flavorful embellishments. Aside: one ponders with mild amusement to think what Davis, the initial frontrunner to play Martha, might have done with this grotesque lampoon of herself.
George is mildly obtuse about both the line and his wife’s nagging inquiries. However, he is stirred to minor irritation when Martha informs him she has invited newly arrived academic, Nick and his wife, Honey to their place for a nightcap. Why bother? After all, they have only just met the young couple; he, a biology professor – twenty-something, ex-footballer with a strong face, shock of blonde hair and taut body Martha finds fitfully attractive; Honey, the mousy little thing lacking all the glamor and ambition Nick has in spades. George will spend the first half of the evening needling Nick about his wife’s narrowness in the hips and their lack of children; eventually liquoring up Honey and spinning her about the room until she is driven to throw-up in the bathroom. Martha thinks Nick is the new adjunct prof in the math department. Either way, it’s not a number’s game she is after, leaving George miffed and Honey mildly unsettled. In between showing Honey about the house and attempting to seduce her husband, Martha goads George and manages to tell Nick and Honey an embarrassing story about the time she sucker-punched George in front of her father. To avenge this humiliation now, George gets a rifle down from the shelf in the storage room, cautiously approaching Martha, Nick and Honey from behind; his sights squarely fixed on the back of Martha’s head.  Catching a glimpse of George out of the corner of her eye, rifle poised; Honey lets out a blood-curdling scream to startle everyone. Martha reels around, staring down the gun barrel, whereupon George pulls the trigger, letting out a trick umbrella from its chamber.  Honey and Nick are understandably relieved, sharing in the joke. But Martha escalates her verbal sparring with George; now, turned moodily acidic and against the supposed son they share which George repeatedly refers to as ‘the little bugger.
Act Two of the play is esoterically referenced as the ‘Walpurgisnacht’ or ‘annual witches meeting; ironic, since it has much more to do with the menfolk; Nick staggering after a berated George; the boys meeting up near a modest swing hanging from a backyard tree. The men share stories about their wives. Nick confides he only married Honey for her family’s perceived wealth; also, because he believed she was pregnant with his child. Too bad for Nick, Honey’s pains and bloating turned out to be a ‘hysterical pregnancy’ instead. Now, Nick’s stuck with an unattractive wife he doesn’t love and a future unclear, except to say it may or may not involve another stab at firing up the ole furnace for another try at parenthood. Herein, Richard Burton delivers what is probably one of the top ten best soliloquies ever put on film; George relaying a tall tale, presumably from his youth, about a trip to a gin-mill he took with a few fellow classmates; one, having accidentally killed his own mother the summer before while cleaning his rifle in the kitchen. Burton’s incantation of this shy and retiring lad is so vividly recalled that one might almost anticipate seeing him suddenly – if ethereally – materializing from the bushes. What an exceptional actor Burton was, the tenor of his recall shifting from relatively lightheartedness, as George relays how this inexperienced drinker was practically laughed out of the mill for mispronouncing bourbon as ‘bergin’, to a lower timber achieved to retell a rather sinister coda; the boy losing control of his car the following summer and accidentally driving it into a tree, thereupon killing his father, who was in the passenger seat at the time. According to George, the boy, who narrowly survived the wreck, nevertheless lost his mind from grief in the process. He was committed to an asylum, and never spoke again.
In the play, this riveting account was immediately followed by the men rejoining Honey and Martha; George, telling another fictitious story – this one thinly mirroring Nick and Honey’s loveless marriage. Ernest Lehman’s screenplay delays this wounded trust and betrayal, long enough for Nick to openly admit to George he has intentions to charm and screw his way to the top; getting a little of his own back by suggesting Martha might be as good a prospect as any to begin his debaucher’s journey. George is mildly amused. So the stud thinks he can outfox an old campaigner, does he? Insisting on driving Honey and Nick home, George is mildly perturbed when Martha once more begins to talk about ‘their son’; the conversation delayed when Honey, still tipsy, urges an impromptu stopover at a nearby roadhouse. Sandy Dennis’ performance, throughout Virginia Woolf, is one of the most fragile, tragic and striking; truly, a lost soul, masking life’s disappointments by constantly stroking her husband’s ego. Intoxication has its liberating effects on Honey, who whirls about the vacant roadhouse, screeching “I dance like the wind” – her embarrassing lack of coordination stifled by Nick’s embarrassed insistence.
However, Nick has designs on Martha, proving he can be just as cruel to both George and Honey by rubbing up against Martha suggestively on the dance floor. Eventually whipped into a frustration, George unplugs the jukebox from the wall, announcing ‘the game’ is over. Undaunted, Martha alludes George may have murdered his parents as the protagonist of his unfinished novel; a revelation causing George to lunge at Martha and attempt a strangulation until Nick pries George’s hands from her neck. Convincing the owner to serve them one last round before their departure, George proposes a game changer, from ‘Humiliate the Host’ to ‘Get the Guests’, before crudely moving on to another ‘group’ activity - Hump the Hostess. To inaugurate this new game, George tells Martha he has written a new novel, one about a young Midwestern couple – a good-looking teacher who enters into a loveless marriage to a ‘mousy’ wife on the falsified pretext she is pregnant. Suddenly realizing the story is about her and Nick, a thoroughly humiliated Honey takes ill for a second time and rushes off. Nick vows to avenge this betrayal before hurrying off to comfort his wife.
In the parking lot, George tells Martha he will brook no more of her humiliations. She hisses back before driving off with Nick and Honey, leaving George to find his own way home on foot. Back at the house, George discovers his abandoned car in the front drive with Honey fast asleep in the backseat. From her semi-conscious ramblings, George deduces Honey was, in fact, pregnant at the time she ‘tricked’ Nick into marrying her, but secretly had an abortion thereafter. Meanwhile, George spies Nick and Martha’s silhouettes through the half-drawn shades of their upstairs’ bedroom, presumably about to engage in the sexual act. Too bad for Martha the young buck has had a little too much to drink. All that ‘bergin’ has affected his libido. Martha is ruthless in her admonishments, George suddenly appearing in the doorway holding a bouquet of snapdragons he hurls at Nick and Martha. George makes a veiled reference to ‘their son’, causing Martha to reflect how George was too rough with the boy during his formative years; George swatting back insinuations of a possible incestuous attraction between mother and son that Martha vehemently denies.
Now, George relays news supposedly received in a telegram, informing him their son was killed in a freak accident on a country road after swerving to avoid a porcupine.  This declaration is verbatim what George told Nick about his friend earlier and Nick suddenly realizes George and Martha have been playing a sadistic game with them all along. Martha and George have no son. As day breaks over the horizon an emotionally distraught Martha is cradled by George. Horrified for having been played the fools, Nick takes Honey home. What a ghoulish couple George and Martha are; he, quietly whispering ‘who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?’, to which a careworn and tear-stained Martha openly confesses, “I am, George…I am.” The penultimate exorcism of this night’s blood sport suffers from quiet defeatism; Martha, momentarily drawn to George in her presumed grief…or rather, her realization George has ‘won’ the game.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is nothing less – and sadly, nothing more – than a showy bit of theater with most of Edward Albee’s articulate profanity lovingly preserved in Ernest Lehman’s uncompromising screenplay. Director, Mike Nichols’ go-for-broke staging of the piece is a tad too predictable and pretentious; relying on something live theater can never give an audience – the close-up. Virtually all of the confrontations we suffer through herein are photographed by Haskell Wexler in tight medium shots and/or close-ups. To some extent, a goodly part of the play’s influence has been blunted when viewed today – not by the enforced ‘changes’ made to land the picture a suitable rating under Jack Valenti’s revised production code – but because, in the interim, there is not much audiences have not been exposed to in the name of high (or even lowborn) dramatics and cinema. Peeling back the layers of Albee’s verbal pyrotechnics reveals just how fragile and nonexistent Virginia Woolf is as ‘a play’ and certainly, as a movie. The whole exercise is anchored by a two hour plus diatribe, drawn out in academic/existentialist nonsense and represented almost as ‘debate’ between a pair of rudimentary theorists on the art of living, but who get off on dismantling each other’s reputations and crippling their psyches in public.
The big reason to see the movie today is the same as it was back in 1966: Elizabeth Taylor’s monumental performance. Arguably, Taylor is vindicated in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as ‘an actress’ rather than ‘a star’; and this, after a prolonged latent period, like a snake shedding its second skin; void of glamour, elegance or even a shred of decency as the bitchy, disheveled and impious Martha. To be sure, Albee’s dialogue is an actor’s dreadful dream, full of vicious humor. But Albee gives most of this clever-cleverness to George; the venom to Martha. Lines like, “I swear, if you existed, I'd divorce you”, “Hey swampy”, “You make me want to puke!” or the ambiguous, “Damn you” (changed from ‘Fuck you!’ in the play) carry a certain thirty second bravado – particularly as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was preceded by forty some years of studio-sanctioned innuendo fervently stamped out at every possible turn by the Production Code. Yet, here, in Taylor’s resurrection of Albee’s Medusa, is the undiluted manifestation of truly wicked beast only hinted at in Taylor’s Oscar-winning performance as the high-priced call girl, Gloria Wondrous in Butterfield 8 (1960). Five years of hard-living with the likes of Richard Burton; also, some intense and deliberately unflattering makeup, have physically transformed the one-time shapely and violet-eyed beauty into the epitome of this shockingly evil and castrating anti-Christ. With her vituperative tongue, capable of painful lacerations to the heart as well as the mind, was there ever a bigger bitch in heat, either on stage or in the movies, than Albee’s Martha? 
A lesser man is George, to be sure. But he is played herein by a titanic presence – an actor’s actor, and, to rarified perfection of a different kind. Virtually all of the appeal in Richard Burton’s recital is strengthened by his abilities to command in the moment. Partly through his inimitable vocalization, that richly timbered and mellifluous baritone, oozing vileness and glib repartee in tandem, Burton can take even a know-nothing comedic line like “Martha is 108... years old. She weighs somewhat more than that” and tease it into a deliciously tart and pronounced declaration of his character’s bottomless scorn, yet equally as bizarre concern for this woman so virtually unlikeable, she would otherwise reign pointless as the repugnant harpy. And Burton gives us a man of influence even when under the influence. While virtually all the remaining principles momentarily lose themselves in the camp of playing slightly inebriated, repeatedly electro-shocked back into reality by the staggering perversity in this exercise of ‘fun and games’, Burton’s George, bookishly dense, modestly short-sighted, and sporting a perpetual scowl that can as easily find surrender as strength, is never entirely a man – surrendered to these belts of booze. Burton’s awesome discipline as a consummate actor is most astutely observed in his loaded exchanges with George Segal. Granted, Segal’s Nick is not the flashier male part, though Segal is quite obviously not in the same league as Burton. But Burton makes even Segal look better – playing to the actor’s limitation rather than overpowering him with his obvious command of the English language. One has to admire Burton for his chutzpah indeed, though also for his ability to know exactly when to pull in his horns just enough so as not to skewer the competition.
The chief problem any first-time viewer likely has with the movie is shared by first-time theater attendees. Albee’s play, as the movie, is uncompromisingly heartless, without even an iota of empathy for its antagonists. Arguably, Albee is not interested in what makes the story superior stagecraft or pure cinema. His focus is on tearing apart, stripping bare, laying to waste and making raw the crises and follies of an already desperately crumbling marriage; Albee’s cerebral pontifications occasionally stifling the forward motion of the narrative, though, in such capable hands as these, never the performances as given. Indeed, even Albee, who had had sincere misgivings about the casting of Taylor and Burton as his warring partners, perhaps fearing their dumb show within his own would too much gild the lily, had laudatory praise for the movie upon its release. Still, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is very much a product of its time. Today, it comes off as intermittently static and wordy, and, in its most bravura moments, as a work, less of daring than just plainly unhinged, gin-soaked craziness, or as noted film critic, Andrew Sarris aptly put it “…a brilliant play about living and a bad play about life”, misguidedly “projecting Albee’s familial fantasies as marital realities…neurotic (with) masks and metaphors and masquerades and tinkling symbols.” As no one under the age of eighteen was allowed to see the picture, no one – least of all the Catholic League of Decency – could accuse Jack Warner of corrupting the moral fiber of impressionable young minds. Viewed today, one sincerely wonders how it ever could, a very sad indictment on just how far down the rabbit hole contemporary society has gone in these intervening years.  
As anticipated the Warner Archive’s (WAC) new Blu-ray advances in virtually all aspects of presentation. The DVD was fairly impressive. The Blu-ray is immaculate, offering additional detail, overall image clarity and sharpness that really shows off the nuanced clutter in George James Hopkins’ stunning and meticulous production design. The gray scale pops with exceptional tonality. Close-ups, of which there are many, reveal all the craggy pocks in Burton’s skin and even a few unintentional dimples in Taylor’s otherwise porcelain visage; hair, clothing fibers, wood grain, foliage etc. all coming to the forefront in utterly startling razor-sharp clarity. Wow and thank you! The Blu-ray’s audio, upgraded to DTS is still mono but exhibits subtle refinements over the Dolby Digital mono on the DVD.
Extras have all been ported over from the 2-disc DVD edition and include two audio commentaries, one from Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh, the other featuring Haskell Wexler. I think Nichols’ is the more comprehensive of the two; covering back story, personal recollections, personal stories about Burton and Taylor, the lasting impact of the movie and so on. Wexler sticks pretty close to commenting only on his contributions. There are also two featurettes that cover, in interview format, a lot of the same ground already addressed in these audio commentaries. We continue to champion WAC for its due diligence in hi-def. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is another outstanding achievement and for this – and hopefully many others yet to follow – we sincerely tip our hats to Senior VP of Warner’s Theatrical Catalog, Mr. George Feltenstein for bringing distinction and preservation to the best and brightest of the studio’s illustrious history. Bravo and thank you again! Bottom line: very highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)

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