Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The flick suffered from only a few minor concerns.
Sharpness appeared positive. The movie consistently seemed nicely detailed and distinct. No issues connected to softness or fuzziness showed up throughout the film. Jagged edges and shimmering failed to appear, and I noticed no edge enhancements. Source flaws also remained minimal. I noticed the occasional speck or mark, but not many of these mar the presentation. It usually looked clean.
Black levels looked very good throughout the movie. Dark tones came across as deep and tight, and shadow detail also was solid. Low-light scenes appeared concise and well defined. Contrast also seemed strong, as the movie exhibited the appropriate balance between light and dark. Overall, I felt very pleased with this consistently solid transfer. It only fell short of “A”-level standards due to the smattering of source flaws.
The monaural soundtrack of Afraid seemed unmemorable but perfectly fine for its age and scope. Speech remained reasonably natural and always came across as clear and intelligible. Effects played a small role in the proceedings but they were perfectly clean and distinct given their background participation. Music also was a minor element and sounded good when it appeared. This was a limited mix that suited the material well.
This two-disc set packs a mix of extras. On DVD One, we get two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Mike Nichols and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific effort. They discuss how Nichols came onto the project, rehearsals and working with the cast, crew details, staging complications, censorship issues, script and adaptation concerns, and other filmmaking specifics.
This ends up as a simply terrific commentary. Soderbergh helps elicit good observations from Nichols as they explore film-related issues both factual and interpretive. The material seems frank and useful, and the track rarely slows for any reason. It gives us a solid examination of the movie.
For the second commentary, we discover a running, screen-specific piece with cinematographer Haskell Wexler. He chats mostly about technical issues like camera techniques, lighting, and various cinematographic choices. Wexler also digs into issues like sets and locations, working with the actors and Nichols, and the tone during the shoot.
This track will work best for those with a significant interest in the technical domains. Much of the time Wexler sticks with details about cameras, lighting and angles that become rather dry. The commentary also suffers from a lot of dead air, especially during the third act. In fact, Wexler vanishes during the climax and never returns. Indeed, we hear nothing from Wexler for the movie’s final half-hour! While some good moments appear, this ends up as an erratic and less than satisfying piece.
Over on DVD Two, we open with a vintage featurette called Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait. Created in 1975, the one-hour, six-minute and 20-second shot comes hosted by Peter Lawford and offers comments from actor Roddy McDowall, director Vincente Minnelli, actor Rock Hudson, costume designer Helen Rose, director Richard Brooks, producer Sam Marx, and mother Sara Taylor. “Portrait” covers Taylor’s life through 1975. It alternates standard biographical notes with thoughts about Taylor from the folks involved. Along with many movie clips, the latter elements dominate; most of the show focuses on the remarks made by the folks who knew her.
The biographical side of things gets only minor discussion, and that creates a weakness to “Portrait”. Too many of the celebrity remarks about Taylor remain superficial. Sure, it’s good to get personal observations about the actor, but these tend to stay on the surface and don’t really give us a terrific feel for the woman. Most of them just talk about how wonderful Liz is. Highlights come from Brooks’ notes about Taylor’s behavior after the death of husband Mike Todd, and Marx provides useful info about discovering Taylor. Overall, however, the show ends up as a mostly unsatisfying mix of history and anecdotes.
Next we find two new programs. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: A Daring Work of Raw Excellence fills 20 minutes, 11 seconds with remarks from Wexler, critic Richard Schickel, USC film professor Dr. Drew Casper, playwright Edward Albee, and biographer/editor/editor’s wife Bobbie O’Steen. “Raw” starts with info about the original stage production of Afraid and then moves into the adaptation for the film. Additional topics include casting, bringing in Nichols as director, the atmosphere during the shoot, the cinematography and editing, performances, and the flick’s reception and legacy.
Short and sweet, “Raw” offers a solid overview of the production. At only 20 minutes, it indeed isn’t long enough to offer great detail. Nonetheless, it packs a lot into its running time and provides many useful notes. It moves briskly and informs well.
For the 10-minute and 34-second Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Too Shocking for Its Time, we hear from Casper, Schickel, O’Steen, and former MPAA president Jack Valenti. In “Shocking”, we go into the movie’s controversial elements and issues related to censorship. We see how the Production Code worked in the Sixties and what impact Afraid had on changing it as well as the development of the ratings system. The program touches on these important issues as it gives us good details on the state of censorship in the era.
A 1966 Mike Nichols Interview goes for eight minutes, 53 seconds. Shot for a July 29, 1966 episode of The Today Show, Nichols chats about his reactions to reviews and the effects of success, the movie’s performances and working with the actors, his behavior as director and how he got into that area, collaborating with Elaine May, and a few other life reflections. Some decent notes emerge here and it’s nice to get something circa the flick’s original release, but don’t expect much meat from this clip. Nichols proves much more interesting in his commentary.
For a look at a supporting actor, we go to a Sandy Dennis Screen Test. The seven-minute and 10-second clip shows Dennis as she auditions along with Roddy McDowall as Nick. It’s a great little archival piece.
Finally, we find an Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Trailer Gallery. This includes ads for Woolf, The VIPs, The Comedians and The Sandpipers.
Cold and cynical, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? isn’t a film to watch when you’re depressed. Actually, maybe it is - you might feel better about your life when you see how miserable its characters are. The film provides an intense and satisfying glimpse of its personalities. The DVD offers very good picture along with adequate audio and a mix of pretty interesting extras. This is a strong DVD for a top-notch movie.