Saturday, July 31, 2004
Don't Talk About Our Son, Martha

As you can see from the previous post, I desperately need some time to wind down. Something with an edge is good for this kind of mood, so it was off to Black Lodge for movies, something to assuage my inner tension.

And I knew exactly the thing to aid in purging some of the bile, one of those films that I never seem to include on my top 10/50/100 lists, but which really does rank among my all-time favorite movies: Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

I have to admit, for a long time I didn't really "get it" about Elizabeth Taylor. As a horse-mad little girl, I'd seen her in National Velvet, and as an adult I saw her in Suddenly Last Summer. She was okay and all, but seriously, why the adulation? Then I saw her as Martha, and she was absolutely fucking phenomenal. I know not everyone likes this particular performance, but I've never seen a performance of the play with anyone other than Taylor and Sir Richard Burton, so for me they are George and Martha; I love them as they are, and I'm reluctant to see anyone else in these roles. I'm open to conversion, but only just.

I'm not even a particularly big fan of the deep character piece -- I detest Bergman's Persona for example, but the writing in this film is staggeringly good, and genuinely funny. Dour Swedes quietly tormenting each other is intolerable, but drunken Americans wittily tormenting each other is pure dark, sick pleasure. This is highbrow dysfunction, and endless stream of perfect lines, all subtext and allusion.

A quick plot summary: George, a history professor, and Martha, his wife and the college president's daughter, invite a new biology professor and his wifey little mouse over for late-night drinks after a party. They then spend the rest of the film peeling away layers of pretense and neurosis, slowly and painfully, until everyone has been thoroughly humiliated and humbled. Sounds like fun, no?

The weird thing is, in a twisted sort of way, George and Martha are very likeable characters, and not the demons they appear to be. George isn't as weak as he seems; Martha isn't as dominant, nor as cold. George may not be much of a history professor, but he can still give the new blood a few hard lessons; Martha, for all her venom, really does love him. It's kinda touching in its way; I think there are probably worse marriages than George and Martha's, if none more volatile.

Anyway, if you haven't seen it, you should; it's one of those "classic" films that really does deserve the honor. And as far as pivotal realizations go, I'll take George and Martha's son over "Rosebud" any day.
3:03 AM ::
Amy :: permalink