Saturday, 17 September 2016

Holding that mirror up to people

“That’s the job of the writer. Holding that mirror up to people. We’re not merely decorative, pleasant and safe.”

"If Attila the Hun were alive today, he'd be a drama critic."

“What I mean by an educated taste is someone who has the same tastes that I have.”

“I write to find out what I'm talking about.”

“You're alive only once, as far as we know, and what could be worse than getting to the end of your life and realising you hadn't lived it?”

Sad news today, as we hear of the death of the magnificent playwright Mr Edward Albee.

By way of a tribute, I am re-posting my blog about the great man over at Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle from way back in 2009:
Adopted by a high society couple as a child, Albee ran away from his constrictive upbringing to join the literary set of New York's Greenwich Village in the 1950s. And his phenomenal legacy began there, with critically-acclaimed works such as Zoo Story and The Death of Bessie Smith. He was awarded the Pulitzer prize for A Delicate Balance, Seascape and Three Tall Women, and continued to produce award-winning plays over five decades, including The American Dream, and most recently with the 2002 hit Broadway and West End play The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?.
"I'm loud, and I'm vulgar, and I wear the pants in this house 'cos God knows, somebody has to! But I'm not a monster, I'm not!!"

But it of course for his masterwork Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf that he is (rightly) most admired and remembered. This tortuous dissection of a stifling relationship between two headstrong (and drunken) characters is held up today as a classic of world drama. It caused massive controversy in the straight-laced early 60s for its uncompromising use of vulgar language and uncomfortable scenes of verbal humiliation and implicit "sexual decadence".

The 1966 film adaptation was a massive success, featuring possibly the very best cinematic performances of all the leading players' careers - Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis and George Segal. All four were nominated for Oscars (the film itself having been nominated in all thirteen eligible categories, unprecedented at the time), and Miss Taylor and Miss Dennis won Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively.

In the hands of these masters, the movie is a brilliantly disturbing and engrossing example of modern film noir, as the viewer "eavesdrops" on the agonies of Martha and George's spiteful attacks on each other, and experiences the growing discomfort of their humiliated guests.

The film, as the play before it, caused uproar in an age when cinema censorship was still rife, and apparently Jack Warner chose to pay a fine of $5,000 in order that it would remain as faithful to the play (with its profanity) as possible. His faith in the project certainly paid off.

Here are just a couple of clips from this, one of my and Madame Acarti's favourite films ever:

A sad loss, but what a legacy.

Apparently, before undergoing a major operation a decade ago, Albee wrote a statement to be released upon his death: “To all of you who have made my being alive so wonderful, so exciting and so full, my thanks and all my love.”

RIP Edward Franklin Albee III (12th March 1928 – 16th September 2016)


  1. A truly great play and film. The writing is so tight and sharp.
    It is an autopsy of a dis-functional relationship and yet funny and very moving.

    The film score too is a master stroke by Alex North who lost out to John Barry and Born Free that year.

    Sir Richard Burton lost out to Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons and George Segal to Walter Matthau in The Fortune Cookie.

    There was a well deserved win for Irene Sharaff - Best Costume Design, Black-and-White. She managed to define the characters by there wardrobe.

    Albee must have been an amazing person.

    1. A miserable old curmudgeon, by all accounts, but certainly a bloody talented one.

      And, yes, it is one of the best films of its kind ever made, methinks... Jx


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