Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (2 Disk Special Edition): Commentary by Mike Nichols. Dir. Mike Nichols. Perf. Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2006. The commentary track on the special edition DVD provides perhaps the most insightful perspective of the film as far as the on-set culture and interactions that occurred daily during the production of the film. Nichols gives a very in depth explanation of each scene, which includes filming techniques, lighting issues, relationships between actors and cameramen, as well as script censorship issues. For instance, Nichols explains how the studio forced them to change the explicative used by Martha as George opens the front door to greet the arriving guests. It was Nichols first feature film and was much different than the documentary style he was used to working with. It was very interesting to hear about the different challenges that the crew faced depending on the scene. Nichols also explains some of the back and forth battle that occurred between himself and the playwright Edward Albee as they attempted to adopt the Broadway play to the big screen. It is a valuable resource for examining the mindset of the filmmakers as they challenged the PCA in order to present the film as the artist intended.
Lewis, John. Hollywood V. Hardcore: How the Struggle Over Censorship Saved the Modern Film Industry. New York and London: New York UP, 2000. 135-191.Chapter 4, titled Hollywood v. Soft Core, examines arguably the most influential year of film censorship to date. In this year, MPAA president Jack Valenti issued a press release to stating that a new production code/ move rating system would be put into place. The same system is still used today to rate films. The chapter does a good job of outlining the events of how this code came into place. The author explains how the "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" was denied by the PCA but began production anyway, anticipating that change was to come. It talks about the controversy over the language such as "screw" and "hump the hostess" were debated and the issues Valenti faced with content regulation. In the end of the meeting, Warner Brothers appealed the PCA's preliminary ruling to deny Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the film was released. Because of the films amazing success, it marked a point in history where the industry was beginning to understand that the Production Code was a dated system. The film was released with a warning stating "for adults only" and ranked third in the box office list in 1966 behind two other mature-themed pictures. This chapter is very useful and entertaining in its explanation of the pressures and challenges that Valenti faced when negotiating the new rating system. It offers a very in depth perspective and takes the reader on a film by film journey of the controversy.
This article gives a fairly good description of the life of Jack Valenti, who arguably had more power over the motion picture industry than anyone who ever lived. Paragraphs 9 through 16 are particularly useful for formulating a perspective on the era in which Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was released. It explains how there was a compromise in which three out of four vulgarisms were cut. It also gives credit to the film Blowup for using Woolf's momentum to cause its own controversy with brief nudity and sexual themes. Fearing that censorship power might return to the individual states, Valenti acted,” I knew I had to move swiftly, and I did,” he later recalled. “I was determined to free the screen from anything like the Hays Code. But I also emphasized that freedom demanded responsibility.” Some interesting notes are the fact that the movie Gremlins inspired Valenti to add a PG-13 rating to the initial rating system. Also, the X rating was changed to NC-17. The author then touches on one of the downfalls of Valenti's rating system, "distributors have mostly spurned [NC-17 ratings] for commercial reasons, leaving many filmmakers to make wrenching cuts to adult-themed films in pursuit of an R rating." This explains some of the controversy over the rating system that still goes on today. The rest of the article continues to elaborate on his incredible life but is less valuable for examining film censorship.
Gardner, Gerald. The Censorship Papers: Movie Censorship Letters From the Hays Office, 1934 to 7968. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1987. 198-200.This part of Chapter 17, Dramas From Broadway, offers a very informative look at the process of the PCA when reviewing the script of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It tells of the meeting between Jack L. Warner and chief censor Geoffrey Shurlock. After reading a copy of the play by Edward Albee the censor gave a list of all of the explicatives and phrases that would be considered unacceptable by the PCA, which the chapter lists completely. This is a great example of the strictness of the PCA and its discretion towards strong language and sexual themes. When the film was actually made, many of these phrases are omitted or altered. The chapter goes on to explain how the Warner Brother's film held faithful to the Albee play. It was denied by the PCA and was appealed to the MPAA board. The chapter then lists the reasons why the MPAA decided to release the film after all. The reasons were: The film was not designed to be prurient; Warner Brothers has taken the position that no person under eighteen will be admitted unless accompanied by a parent, and that the exemption does not mean that the floodgates are open for language or other material. This chapter is very useful for getting an inside look at the appeal process of the time and the drastic exceptions made on behalf of who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Doherty, Thomas. Pre-Code Hollywood. New York: Columbia UP, 1999. 319-346.The twelfth chapter of Pre-Code Hollywood examines the Hollywood Cinema during an era when Joseph I. Breen and the Motion Picture Producers and Distributers of America began to enforce what is known as the Hays Production Code. The chapter gives accounts of events leading up to the adoption of the code and how it was recieved by filmmakers and the public. It gives a good representation of the extent that the Roman Catholic Church and the "National Legion of Decency spearheaded a renewed and more aggressive crusade to clean up [the film industry." Going into detail, the authors explains many of the church's tactics to try to curb its followers away from the film industry, going as far as to station people outside of theaters to make sure that Catholics weren't going to see movies that the church deemed objectionable.The NRA Code is the next turn of the chapter. Bringing up the court case ruling in Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, where the government considered the film industry as purely a business and not a tool for public opinion. This marked the beginning of more federal power over censorship, rather than relying on local state regulation. One trade press manager summed the situation up by stating, "the whole world has gotten the idea that Hollywood is Hell's home office and Hays is the District Manager.” In order to lessen the influence of the Catholic Church the MPPDA granted the Production Code Administration autonomy and power. This meant that the PCA would have to approve of a film before the banks would fund it. Joseph I. Breen was put in charge and effectively enforced the Code, even reportedly stating, "I am the Code". Many movies that carried the tones of pre-Code Hollywood were refused by the Breen Office. The chapter goes further into explaining the effect it had on Hollywood film budgets and box office sales and gives an overall impression that films were more boring post-Code. The end of the chapter briefly explains how the 60's marked a period where the Code was considered dated. This chapter is a good indicator of the type of censorship environment that the country was used to before the making of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It puts the era into a good context for considering the challenges that faced Mike Nichols and Ernest Lehman when the film was being made and released.
This article shows the sequence of events, as well as the pressure groups involved, leading up to the Hays Production Code. The article begins by explaining the strong influence the Catholic Church and the Legion of Decency began developing during the 1930's, taking formal shape in 1933. It explains the "Legion pledge," which was a prayer-like oath that every Catholic Church, school, or other group was made to recite. It went as follows: "I condemn absolutely those debauching motion pictures which, with other degrading agencies, are corrupting public morals and promoting a sex mania in our land" affirmed the pledger. "Considering these evils, I hereby promise to remain away from all motion pictures except those which do not offend decency and Christian morality." This illustrates just one of the incredibly drastic tactics that the church used to bring down Pre-Code Hollywood. He then goes into detail of a study performed by the Motion Picture Research Council that claimed strong evidence of negative influence that film has on children. Doherty then goes into detail about the tug-of-war battles that occurred between the NRA divisional administrator and the MPAA. He then goes on to put Joseph Breen's power over the PCA into its true context. The reality was that under his authority as supreme sentinel and inspector general of American cinema, no Hollywood film received a visa for exhibition without meeting Code specifications as interpreted by Joseph I. Breen. It was he who vetted story lines, blue-penciled dialogue, and exercised the moral equivalent of final cut over hundreds of motion pictures per year. "More than any single individual, he shaped the moral stature of the American motion picture."