CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, Ohio)

For those of you who live in central Ohio as I do, you will be glad to hear CAPA has posted its lineup for this year’s Summer Movie Series. I have seen a lot of these but am always willing to rewatch something if it’s on the big screen.

I’ll definitely be seeing Hitchcock’s Frenzy as I’ve been meaning to give that another chance. Other must sees if you haven’t already include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Grapes of Wrath, High Noon, Bringing Up Baby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Big Sleep.

Sadly, no Audrey Hepburn movie this year as there usually is. For those who have not experienced a favorite or classic movie on the big screen in a theater full of people who love the movie as much as you, it really is a memorable experience. I recommend it.

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Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2001

The loss of Elizabeth Taylor March 23 seems to have sparked more media discussion about her humanitarian efforts, particularly with AIDS, than the Hollywood life she had separated herself from some years ago. Her last film appearance playing a role was in 2001 in These Old Broads when she joined other Hollywood legends –June Allyson, Shirley McClaine, Debbie Reynolds– in spoof-like imitations of themselves. Her film career seemed to truly come to a close after 1989 when she appeared in Tennesee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, a second screen adaptation that had originally featured Geraldine Page in the “aging actress” role opposite Paul Newman, who had paired with Taylor in another Williams’ adaptation, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

It is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that I feel is among the two films that stand out in my mind as Taylor standbys. I assert it not only showed off the woman’s acting bravada but highlighted her sex appeal to the max, ironically in the role of a woman unable to turn her husband on. Besides that supremely tight fitting skirt she wears at the film’s start, it is the image of Taylor removing and replacing her ice cream-soiled stockings that always sticks with me, perhaps because that garment is rarely featured prominently.

Despite her overwhelming beauty, Taylor could scream and put up a fight like the best of them. She did that in Cat but she really stretched her boundaries in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  I was blown away by this picture with my first viewing of this hard-to-watch drama a few months ago. Not only was Taylor “brave” in gaining weight, sacrificing some of her looks, and playing an older part, but one feels she could rip the screen apart with her staggeringly sharp and painful jabs at Richard Burton, who played her husband and was her husband at the time and again later in her life.

Roles like Martha were rare for Taylor before 1966. She seemed to be cast primarily as the daughter of a wealthy family in films the plots of which revolved around romance and afforded the young beauty lavish wardrobes. A more complex version of that was Giant when she marries and converts to the life of a ranch owner’s wife. A more heartwarming take was Father of the Bride and Father’s Little Dividend. It is probably safe to say Spencer Tracy made those pictures what they were, but Taylor was well cast.

Taylor took to the screen early in life, however, long before her shapely figure caught up with her beautiful face. I recall watching the National Velvet movies as a kid, but haven’t indulged in them lately. It is not often that child stars can actually last past their cute youth and make it in the grown up world of film. I almost separate Taylor into two actresses because the adorable, sweet roles of her childhood contrast so differently from the later work.

TCM’s schedule indicates a number of Taylor films are upcoming, however, it does not look as if those include the traditional programming change whenever a star dies. Here’s the list:

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Wowza!

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

     I am generally drawn to movies based on dramatic plays (provided the films are considered good) and am a big fan of adaptations of Tennessee Williams’ works. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an Edward Albee piece that certainly rocks the decency boat, Elizabeth Taylor‘s image and the viewer right out of his seat. It won five Academy Awards including Best Actress for Taylor and Best Supporting Actress for Sandy Dennis.

     Taylor was in her early thirties when she took on the role of 50-something Martha whose course tongue and violent alcoholism produce an image more resembling the crazy Taylor we expect today than the sex symbol she was in 1966. Taylor took quite the leap of faith in pursuing the role that filmmakers saw as more suited to the likes of Bette Davis. The risk paid off, however, as Taylor showed the world she was capable of more than just good looks and a charming personality.

     The plot follows a married couple comprised of Richard Burton‘s academic George and his wife, Martha, daughter of the college president. Taylor’s character invites a young couple new at the school to a 2 a.m. meet-and-drink at their home in the midst of what the viewer is left to assume is commonplace verbal battle between the primary couple. The language is harsh by 1966 standards but goes to lengths to stay true to the play. Terms such as “god damn you” and “monkey nipples” abound and add to the tense circumstances.

     The first 45 minutes of the movie are non-stop shouting between Taylor and Burton, much of which occurs once the guests have arrived. Drinks continue to be poured and Taylor puts on a show for the young pair, paying little attention to their interest in conversation but having the time of her life expounding on the shortcoming of her husband. As far as the guests are concerned, I cannot foresee why they did not escape the situation early on. Insistence that they stay and alcohol might be to blame, but if I had been in the same position I would have left 10 minutes in. The chaos does eventually subside when Dennis’ character becomes ill. From there forward the caustic terms continue but in lower tones as Martha proceeds to seduce the young man (George Segal).

     The story also contains some mystery as to the shame linked to Martha and George’s teenage son, the revelation of which brings the end of the dark night, the young couple’s visit and the film. The closing shot is a tender one between Taylor and Burton, but the viewer is left in limbo as far as what lies ahead for the couple.

     I do not think if the entire picture had paralleled the first heated portion I would have liked Virginia Woolf? so well. No one enjoys being party to an intimate quarrel, so to witness the flagrant disrespect among spouses herein is uncomfortable. The reason to watch this film, however, is not so much the story as the performances and dialogue. I have often noted that a movie can be identified as an adaptation of a stage play by the dialogue. Movies like this and Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night are heavy on conversation that is artistically written. I suppose that set up is not for everyone, but I revel in it. To see Taylor at her best, you must watch Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which is why it receives my first, full-length Wowza! review.

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