Watch | 04. Oct 2020

How Going to The Movies Became Visiting The Theatre

You might remember "Who Is Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?", that theatre play notoriously famous for becoming a movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as the leads, shifting their emphasis from playing roles to being characters. Meaning: When actors act in a specific, dramatic way on stage, they start to become, actually, what they used to just perform.

So, when Edward Albee´s Broadway success from 1963 became a movie in 1966, the scandalously fighting and loving and fighting and loving and separating and reuniting again Taylor-Burtons filled their parts with what their audience expected, the trailer even used their names and images to advertise their psychotic emotions:

He is a professor loosing his mojo, she keeps the traumatic secret of a never been born child since over twenty years, a fighting and yelling, while heavily drinking couple, humiliating each other in front of their guests, a young couple they just met; he is also a professor, his wife is pregnant.

"Shirley" copies that story in a strange way. Because it is based on the biography of the writer Shirley Jackson, mother of four, married to book critic and college professor Stanley Hyman.

In the movie the Hymans are childless, a fate that seems to make Shirley über-sensitive about babies: just after having met the younger professor´s wife for two minutes, she sarcastically hits on her early pregnancy, her husband later uncovers, that she is able to guess the right gender of babies months before birth.

Within the first scene you witness how mean the Hymans talk to each other in front of their guests, how she loves to hit on him for his cheap dates and how he despises her for her writer's block; the young professor will be a new assistant to Hyman, he and his wife are invited to move in while looking for an appartment in town.

The story evolves: The two women are getting closer, and while the writer is finally getting back to writing, her husband seems to introduce his new assistant to the advantages of working on a only-women-college. His permanent affairs with students become a threat to the "young wifey" as well, for a moment her revenge as as sexually loaded, uneducated girl seems to be the beginning of a love affair with the elder woman.

Dream sequences mix with fiction, you lose track about what you are witnessing: a nightmare, a phantasy, the real story.

The movie premiered with friendly response in Sundance last February, then won a "Teddy" at Berlinale Filmfestival and was part of the Zurich Film Festival last week. It was co-produced by Martin Scorcese and main actress Elizabeth Moss - and I cannot help but wonder: How can two people, so brilliantly directing classic movies like "Taxi Driver" or playing "Handmaid´s Tale" and "Madmen"´s Peggy Olsen get involved with a copycat script and bad dialogues. Not to talk about the predictable plot and the exxagerated acting.

You sit in the movie theatre and watch people acting like on a imaginary stage, artificially, with a cinematography that never fits those superficial emotions. Like, when you see a tree full of young girls, obviously students of that college, you expect them to start singing and dancing. Or, at a Christmas party, when people wear masks while dancing around open fires. Excuse me?

When I want that, I´d rather got to the theatre. Or I´d watch "Who Is Afraid Of Virginia Woolf", the original.