Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

George and Martha have a child, Martha boasts of it, George calls the game due to rain.

There you have the play. The film descends into Hell outside the roadhouse with a quotation from the staging of the Stravinsky/Balanchine Orpheus.

A swiftly-directed film, not in the editing.


The Graduate

There is a close relationship to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by virtue of the Hostess and the Houseboy, also on another plane to that work’s foundation in The Glass Menagerie for the young man (the Gentleman Caller) with a future (“plastics”), the main reference point is undoubtedly A Streetcar Named Desire, however.

A major scene (the Berkeley bus) echoes Lean’s Doctor Zhivago and is the punchline of a British joke about “acting” that supposedly dates from Schlesinger’s The Marathon Man but goes back to Alec Guinness on the London stage.

Benjamin underwater suggests Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai, his obstacle course Yossarian’s in Catch-22.

This depends on the geometrical technique employed to achieve an asymptotic deadpan. In essence, the material is not far from Sweet Bird of Youth (nor, if it comes to that, Gigi, nor The Philadelphia Story) and it culminates in an effect out of Constable—dark clouds just before springtime.



Randall Jarrell never won the Nobel Prize but he wrote “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” while serving in the U.S. Army Air Force.

Yossarian out of uniform is Cadet Poe at USMA (where Whistler learned mapmaking).


Carnal Knowledge

Feiffer & Nichols’ film works backwards, you recognize the political and social types finally presented, they arrive slowly, “Tory or Whig?”

The critics did not recognize them, “a rather superficial and limited probe”, said Variety.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times finessed it with backhanded deprecation, “more profound than much more ambitious films.”

“Clearly Mike Nichols’ best film” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).

Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader) finds a “stab at an American art cinema that never materialized.”

“Never quite the major assault on sexism and male chauvinism it set itself up to be” (Tom Milne, Time Out Film Guide).

“Self-righteous and dull” (Film4).

Halliwell’s Film Guide has it down as “pretentious”.


The Day of the Dolphin

This is rather heavily hoked, as Variety would say, to sustain the theme of Fa’s excitability toward Ma leading to an attempt on the President’s life. “Sure miss the porpoises,” as Phil Harris would say (“dolphinks”, says Popeye).

The filming tends toward the virtuosic, and is not without tender feeling, a fact usually ignored in the many imitations that have followed.


The Fortune

The usual damnation, not “a coherent narrative” (Canby), yet “farce of a rare order”.

The Quintessa sanitary-napkin heiress falls prey to a pair of fortune-hunters, who plan at first to fleece her. She gets wise after a fashion.

The masterminds drunkenly stumble on a new course of action, one of them is smart but married, he has hitched the dumb one to the heiress for a cover.

Variants of this analysis include Sidney Lumet’s Lovin’ Molly and Elaine May’s Ishtar.



The very heavy hoke element is a prophylactic against the grotesquerie of the satire, which is still secondary to the alarming consideration that the plutonium processing facility is a crackerbox operated with evident carelessness and even disregard, from this arises the main point on a constant Nichols theme, the great divide.

Canby wanted to see a gutsy gal raised to consciousness and found only “utter confusion” (New York Times), nevertheless Variety observed “a very fine biographical drama” and Dave Kehr “basic smugness” (Chicago Reader).

The case is “too simple to merit a film of this length,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, giving a word from the Monthly Film Bulletin, “concentrated soap opera.”



The director of Primary Colors has his goodbye to all that here on an essentially trivial theme.

The Manhattan harmonies are especially notable, the filming is very fine throughout, of course.

“A meal it’s not” (Walter Goodman, New York Times), “fails to give us a real sense of the New York-Washington media axis” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times), “Nichols’ direction is strictly low voltage” (Pat Graham, Chicago Reader), “a bad attack of wind” (Time Out Film Guide).


Biloxi Blues

The formation of soldiers in World War II, late in the war, a classic study and the perfect analysis of Catch-22 Nichols acknowledges it to be here and there.

This is how we won the war, the soldier in the latrine is from LeRoy’s No Time for Sergeants, the general resemblance to Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is essentially fortuitous, as it happens (cf. Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge).

A work of genius by Neil Simon treated as such by Nichols.


Working Girl

The title is laid out over the Statue of Liberty, with “Let the Rivers Run”, and also at the end.

A work of genius and observant satire on the Cinderella theme at the stock exchange.


Postcards from the Edge

Perdition, Hollywood style. A memorable opening shot somehow says it all.

Perry’s Mommie Dearest also, by playing the material straight, sends it up.


Regarding Henry

What do we do with a New York shyster? Shoot him in the head till he’s a “goddamn retard”, there seems no other way.

The main reference is nevertheless to Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict, the opening shot is greatly magnified in The Birdcage.

“A veritable commercial for political correctness” (Rita Kempley, Washington Post), “a film of obvious and shallow contrivance” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times), “a subtle emotional journey” (Variety), “an uphill battle” (Time Out Film Guide).

“By the final fadeout”, Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times, “it seems as if Henry has been saved for a cookie.”

The title is a fashion of the day, like Fucking Morons, the theme is nevertheless that of The Graduate.



We say, “the writing bug has bitten him.” Writers are wolves in a snowy landscape representing Vermont, to a New York editor-in-chief.

His powers increase, he sniffs the air knowingly, he resists a billionaire’s takeover and a lackey’s usurpation of his wife.

The billionaire’s rocky daughter warms up to him.

He bites the lackey, they snarl and tear up one another in a barn.

He bites the billionaire’s daughter, they roam the woods together.

Around a million years, it would seem, is required nowadays to produce such a masterpiece, from Clarence Brown’s The Yearling to Ken Russell’s Altered States and on to Peter Yates’ Curtain Call, out of George Waggner’s original, by way of Baudelaire for instance on slack-paying editors.


The Birdcage

Nowadays you can go to an art opening and see all the boys facing one way, and all the girls another—like the hop in West Side Story—throw in a dose of politics, and you have a good farce.

The Birdcage opens with a Wellesian camera trick, a display of virtuosity sustained in the nightclub, preparing Nathan Lane’s bombshell number. This is a device from Minnelli, for example, because the actual business of the film is quiet, pervasive and diligent in another way.

The joke is based on Architectural Digest’s assessment of two décors, Senator Keeley’s Americana and Armand’s Hollywood, Florida. They meet in the no man’s land of a church residence.

A pox on both your houses, according to Romeo and Juliet. The culture war is similarly viewed in Club Paradise (this is the Ishtar view), from Carnal Knowledge.

There is material from The Boys in the Band, camp is analyzed as a summation out of Victor/Victoria, and such things as Butley and The Women are evoked. The ending is properly surreal, in that polar opposites are seen to be united.

The prodigious settings in place, Nichols occupies himself (apart from occasional camerawork) with lighting. He shows himself to be in possession of a technical mastery shared with Altman, Rafelson, Eastwood, et al., whereby natural lighting is realized with great interest and authenticity. He carries this so far as to industriously unify interiors and exteriors under the circumstances of Florida light, and this ultimately serves as a kind of gag in itself. After much preparation, Armand and Albert walk outside into diffuse sunlight with golden highlights, and passing under the orange glow of sidewalk café umbrellas, sit down at a shaded table of pastels and primaries. Miraculously, this opulent color scheme goes with them in a car while a ship is visible behind them in a sea-gray light, and again at a bus stop, where again a ship passes behind them (with the city as background) in the ordinary color of a Miami day.

The construction of the script owes a debt to Fanny and Alexander that it repays with a magic trick of its own. These “showfolk fags,” as Buford T. Justice would say, are pressurized by the Senator’s visit so much that they actually do present at least an image of a real family for the nonce, and this is enough to set up the dramatic confrontation of the piece. The spirit of the family is made to face that of the Coalition for Moral Order, and there is no comparison.

Nichols’ greatest comic effect might be the Furie view around the coffee table, with the camera placed so that the filigree of an incongruous, out-of-focus ecclesiastical chair partially fills the immediate foreground in mocking witness.

It’s a two-party system, you take your choice, according to ancient political wisdom, of public servants found in bed with dead girls or live boys.


Primary Colors

The candidate is all mouth and won’t wash, but once the old guard bows out with ill health, his opponent is reckoned as even worse, a cocaine-snorting faggot.

A close study of presidential politics from a Democratic campaign staffer’s point of view, an amusing caricature, an analysis that mirrors The Birdcage.

Todd McCarthy lamented “the Rhodes Scholar side to the man” (Variety). Time Out Film Guide follows suit, “Bill gives much better sincerity than this.” Barbara Shulgasser was angered by the “lugubrious and preachy” screenplay (San Francisco Examiner).


What Planet Are You From?

The cloned operative, emotionless and sexless, numbered, straps on a mechanical probe and leaves his digital world in outer space to conquer Earth by impregnating a human female.

It was the extra dimension of computerized ping-pong balls and painted Styrofoam standing in for the universe that somehow escaped the critics.

Regarding Henry prepares the alien’s bit of pickle, the final shot of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is reproduced in the breakfast nook, cp. The Graduate for the turnabout.

“A romantic comedy without a romance” (Elvis Mitchell, New York Times), “nowhere in the picture, in fact, is there to be found anything resembling interpersonal harmony” (Todd McCarthy, Variety).

Roger Ebert expressed his opinion that this Star Wars/E.T. spoof wasn’t “filmable” (Chicago Sun-Times), etc.



Nichols’ masterpiece is entirely founded on the hospital scenes of Catch-22 and the general understanding of that film, with a significant feint toward Bergman’s Wild Strawberries in the professor assailed by her students, and a direct quote from Cries and Whispers.

Both the deadpan satire and the infinite compassion are in the earlier film, so is “there, there” upon the dying, an authority on the metaphyslcal poets surrounded by “health care professionals” who consider her a boojum, if you get right down to it, a fright or a figment, and one took her class.

“So” (Nemerov, “To Lu Chi”) “in our day wisdom cries out in the streets / And some men regard her.”



Yuppie “meet-cute rom-com” set in London, to end all yuppie meet-cute rom-coms set in London, W.A. not to the contrary.

For the Aquarium see The Graduate and John Irvin’s Turtle Diary, for the strip club Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion and The Graduate.

Plain Jane Jones recalls Little Johnny Jones, “just to ride a pony”, and she reappears after a fashion in Match Point.

John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday has the Cosi fan tutte trio, “retro and the future.”

The obit writer at his computer and “deep freeze” in the postmodern tower and his cerise-tinted girlfriend (“The Blower’s Daughter”) from Postman’s Park.

The doctor and the photographer.