Tuesday, July 31, 2018

FEDORA 1978

Spoiler Alert. This is a critical essay and not a review, plot points are referenced for the purpose of analysis. 

"Have They forgotten what a star looks like?" - Norma Desmond Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Such a thought occurred to me while watching Billy Wilder’s penultimate film Fedora. A they-don’t-make-‘em-like-they-used-to, post-New Hollywood eulogy for the Hollywood of old that takes place in France, Greece, and Los Angeles, yet has the nondescript, pared-down, underpopulated look of a TV-movie. An elegiac rumination on the immortality of silver screen legends and the myth-making magic of the Hollywood star-system that’s undermined at every turn by the conspicuously low-wattage luminance of its own “This will have to make do” compromise of a cast.
William Holden as Barry "Dutch" Detweiler
Marthe Keller as Fedora
Hildegard Knef as Countess Sobryanski
Jose Ferrer as Dr. Emmanuel Vando
Frances Sternhagen as Miss Balfour
In 1976, actor-turned-author Thomas Tryon (who wrote the bestseller The Other, and was the wooden, lantern-jawed presence in the films The Cardinal and I Married a Monster from Outer Space) published Crowned Heads, a collection of four loosely-connected roman à clef novellas set in Hollywood. The screen rights were swiftly snapped up, early reports suggesting Tryon’s gossipy interlinked tales of Tinseltown (the novel’s four stories share some common characters) were to be made into a TV miniseries. Sometime later, trade papers announced that the most popular of the short stories, Fedora, about a Garbo-esque movie queen whose ageless beauty is the source of a bizarre mystery, was going to be made into a feature film by multi Academy Award-wining director/writer Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend).

Tryon’s mystery-shrouded Hollywood Gothic offered Wilder (whose most recent spate of films had all been comedies) an opportunity for a return to melodramatic form: à la Sunset Boulevard (1950); Fedora’s industry-insider angle appearing to be an ideal match for the director’s distinct brand of perceptive cynicism and dark wit. When it was further disclosed that Wilder was to reunite with longtime script collaborator I.A.L. Diamond (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment) and Sunset Boulevard star William Holden (in what would be their fourth picture together), the potential of the proposed film adaptation sounded even more promising.
Making a cameo appearance to deliver a special Oscar to Fedora, Henry Fonda plays himself but is billed simply as President of the Academy, a position he never held in real life. Gregory Peck was originally intended for the role. Fonda's bit part plays better today, far removed from '70s associations with him as the guy from The Swarm, Rollercoaster, and all those GAF Viewmaster commercials.

But Hollywood, as we all know (ironically, via Wilder’s own Sunset Boulevard) has a short memory. When it came to finding a studio willing to produce Fedora, the distinguished career and track record of the 70-something director mattered considerably less to industry higher-ups than the fact that Wilder’s last three releases (The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes -1970, Avanti!-1972, and The Front Page-1974) had all tanked miserably at the box offices.

Wilder and Diamond reworked Tryon’s novella in ways that intentionally evoked and referenced Sunset Boulevard, so securing the services of William Holden as narrator and leading man was a major coup. But progress on the project was hampered considerably when Wilder hit a major snag in the casting of the all-important roles lead of the elusive, eternally youthful Fedora and her companion, the mysterious Countess Sobryanski. Wilder’s initial casting choices (Faye Dunaway and Marlene Dietrich, then Vanessa Redgrave and her real-life mother, actress Rachel Kempson) all turned the film down due to concerns with the screenplay, the result being that Fedora fell into development hell—shifting from one studio to the next, rewrite to rewrite—before all the major studios ultimately bailed. This forced Wilder to make his film overseas with French-German tax shelter money, casting Fedora with actors who nether strained the film’s budget nor generated much in the way of marquee enthusiasm.
In yet another second-choice slot, longtime TV game show panelist Arlene Francis
 appears in a role written for Barbara Walters

Fedora, a film told in flashback spanning thirty years, set in exotic locales, and meant to depict the opulent lifestyle of individuals whose money affords the luxury of running away from time; was originally budgeted at $4 million but shot to over $6 million due to production problems. Still, it was considered by Wilder to be a B-picture, budget-wise. For a sense of 1977/1978 scale: an intimate movie like Annie Hall, shot on location with no (then) big names in the cast, cost $4 million. Major studio releases like The Boys From Brazil cost $12 million, Heaven Can Wait $15 Million.

Hindsight suggests that if Wilder couldn’t make Fedora the way it should have been made, he would have been wise to let the project go. As it was, faced with compromise at every turn, Fedora was an ill-fated production plagued with setbacks from the start. Fear of going over budget prohibited Wilder from having rehearsals (worse, it shows); he rather ungallantly referred to his leading lady as “Not much of an actress,” and bemoaned Keller’s inability to play the dual roles of Fedora and the Countess (ostensibly due to the old-age makeup proving too painful for the actress, insiders saying she wasn’t up to the challenge) occasioning the casting of Hildegard Knef. The original editor was fired after two-months of shooting, the cast didn’t get along, and the unintelligibly thick accents of both Keller and Knef necessitated the post-production looping of both voices (I’m not sure whom we're actually listening to on the current Blu-ray release, but the hollow disembodied voices – especially the terrible one used for Fedora’s little girl – tragically wreak havoc with the film’s two pivotal performances).
Marthe Keller certainly has the beauty and regal cheekbones of a classic Hollywood star,
she simply lacked the effortless hauteur

When completed, Fedora started out well with a Cannes premiere, but ultimately succumbed to poor preview response and bad word-of-mouth, resulting in it being shelved for a year and a half in search of a distributor. In the process it lost some 12-minutes of footage and sizable chunks of its lush Miklos Rozsa score (Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Madame Bovary).
With a high-degree of anticipation (I loved the Thomas Tryon novel, was infatuated with Marthe Keller, and a big fan of Billy Wilder) I finally saw Fedora when, after what felt like years of bad advance publicity, it briefly played in Westwood in the Spring of 1979…before disappearing without a trace. 
Cast as himself, the beauteous Michael York exudes so much macho mojo he literally drives Fedora to madness for want of him. It may seem like a stretch to accept that an actress who'd worked with the greats would be taken with so mild-mannered a leading man, but I recall in the '70s Bette Davis citing the transcendently bland Robert Wagner as one of her favorites.


THE STUFF OF DREAMS
The story: Desperate over being put out to pasture by New Hollywood’s breed of bearded young upstarts, 59-year-old producer Barry Detweiler (William Holden) hopes to resuscitate his flagging career by coaxing reclusive screen goddess Fedora (just one name, like Cher or Charo, played by Marthe Keller) out of retirement to star in The Snows of Yesteryear, a film that would mark the 4th American adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (“This time we can do it right!”). Tracking her down to her island compound off the shore of Corfu, Detweiler finds the aged star just as beautiful as when they worked together thirty years earlier (and shared a seaside tryst), but grows concerned that the eccentrically vainglorious actress (forever in gloves, enormous shades, and wide-brimmed hat) seems both emotionally unstable and peculiarly cowed by her motley retinue: the autocratic, wheelchair-bound Polish Countess Sobryanski; starchy personal secretary Miss Balfour; and dipsomaniacal age-retardation gerontologist Dr. Vando.
Detweiler’s fears are confirmed when Fedora confides to him that she is being held against her will because of something she knows. Detweiler’s efforts to assist her precipitate a series of cataclysmic events leading to the unearthing of a dark, carefully-guarded secret.
The Countess surrounded by her ever-present heaters 

I won’t lie and say I wasn’t disappointed when Fedora's end credits rolled (with its misspelling of Michael York's name). I enjoyed it, for the film’s central mystery is compellingly weird enough to sustain interest (although, given the extreme lengths the bizarre characters go to protect their secret, the ultimate reveal can’t help but have an air of “Is that all there is?” to it), plus it was nice to see William Holden reprising his Joe Gillis bit again. But as movies go, Fedora struck me as a bit of a puzzler. 
I left the theater that day with the impression that Fedora was an admirably ambitious effort on Billy Wilder’s part that somehow got away from him. Sunset Boulevard embraced its themes and delivered an outlandish tale shrouded in a baroque style that recalled the melodramatic excesses of the silent era. Fedora, a melancholy a paean to the Hollywood of yesteryear and the days of the studio system, is too often visually at odds with its own themes.
Oscar Winners
Jose Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac (1950
 William Holden (under Billy Wilder's direction) for Stalag 17 (1954)

It’s disconcerting to watch an entire film devoted to heralding the magisterial splendor of immortal screen goddess when there is not one in sight. Fedora cries out for a dynamic screen presence like Faye Dunaway, its conspicuous lack of any real star quality at the center of the film torpedoes the credibility of a preposterous story that needs all the verisimilitude it can get. Wilder seems to be aware of it himself when he ends the film with this exchange:
“This would have made a much better picture than the script I brought you”
 “Yes, but who would you get to play it?”
 Fedora  shoots a scene recalling Hedy Lamarr's scandalous nude swim in Ecstasy (1933)


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Much in the way Alfred Hitchcock’s lesser works have come to be triumphed after his death, cinephile Billy Wilder appreciation combined with Fedora’s longstanding unavailability have proved a kindness. Fedora plays much better now in the age of greenscreen and indistinguishable, gym-trained actors than it did in 1978. I don’t think Fedora is an underappreciated masterpiece, but I do think it’s Billy Wilder’s best film since 1966’s The Fortune Cookie, and superior to some of his more unwatchable fare like One, Two, Three (1961) and Kiss Me, Stupid (1964).
Because I hadn’t remembered the film so fondly, revisiting Fedora via the pristine, restored Blu-ray, I’m able to enjoy it as a kind of extended The Twilight Zone episode. (In fact, it recalls a 1964 Twilight Zone episode titled “Queen of the Nile” in which Ann Blyth stars as an ageless movie queen with a secret.)
I confess to not being able to take the film as seriously as some, finding Fedora’s flaws too substantial and numerous to engage me emotionally. But the film is made with a sincere (if bitter) conviction, some style, and great deal of wit (“Not there! That’s the cat’s chair!”). Which, when combined with the abundant unintentional humor, gives Fedora its own a loopy, absurdist grace.
Mommie Dearest
Little Antonia (Christine Mueller) learns it's no picnic being the daughter of a movie star 

One of my favorite things about Fedora (which couldn’t have been intentional and will sound like feint praise) is how its execution and construction seems designed to call attention to the more far-fetched aspects of the plot rather than conceal them. Fedora begins on a note of implausibility and just keeps stacking the crazy from there. The first leap of faith we’re asked to accept is that during the waning days of the ‘70s nostalgia craze, when real-life screen legends Mae West and Audrey Hepburn were appearing in embarrassments like Sextette (1978) and Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline (1978); when Golden Age stars gained visibility by subjecting themselves to being trotted out like waxworks displays on the TV shows Fantasy Island and The Love Boat; and when movie theaters were overflowing with youth-oriented fare like Star Wars (1977) and Superman (1978), or gritty dramas like Saturday Night Fever (1977) and The Deer Hunter (1978)—that anyone in their right mind would think there was an audience clamoring for a remake of Anna Karenina starring a 67-year-old Anna.
Sunset Boulevard -1950
Fedora - 1978
There’s fun to be had in catching all the Sunset Boulevard references, the mystery elements that don't quite make sense (Fedora goes around in gloves and dark glasses even when no one but her handlers are around), but it gets a little wearying hearing Wilder vent his spleen about Hollywood through Holden’s character. Holden’s last film appearance would be in Blake Edward’s S.O.B. (1980) another movie by a battle-scarred director with a Hollywood axe to grind.
All through Fedora I kept wondering why no one commented on the fact that Miss Balfour (The Omen's Mrs. Baylock crossed with Mommie Dearest's Carol Ann) never ages. That's certainly true for character actress Frances Sternhagen who looks pretty much the same today as she always has.

PERFORMANCES
Looking (refreshingly) every day of his 59 years, William Holden’s un nip-tucked appearance fits perfectly in with the film’s “youth at all costs” theme; the actor's solid likability grounding Fedora in a reality little else in the film is tethered to. And while scenes of his running or kicking down doors had me more preoccupied with his health than the plot, and I could have gone to my grave without the sight of Holden’s granddad bod in saggy jockey shorts; he is nevertheless a major plus to the film and it's great seeing him.
In the nearly empty theater where I saw Fedora, this big dramatic scene revealing Fedora's
 hidden shrine to Michael York was greeted by giggles, not gasps 

Fedora came at the tail end of America’s brief but high-profile love affair with Swiss Austrian actress Marthe Keller. After catching the attention of the studios with her performance in Claude Le Louche’s And Now My Love (1974), America beckoned and cast her in a series of high-profile roles which made clear they hadn’t a clue as how to use her. Her thick accent branding her as an “other” or “exotic,” she was cast as a femme fatale in the films Marathon Man and Black Sunday, and the manic pixie dream girl to Al Pacino’s morose race car driver in Bobby Deerfield.
I think she's largely at sea when it comes to conveying old-Hollywood star quality, and that dubbing thing just does no one any favors. But I think she's very good here. Beautiful and fragile, she's the warm heart at the center of a cold Hollywood nightmare.
Of the cast members appearing to have the most fun in their serio-camp roles are Hildegard Knef and Jose Ferrer, which seems rather apt, as they play caricatures more than characters.

Fedora, long unavailable and rarely-seen, is definitely worth a look. As I've said, it plays much better now than in 1978. You won't find the same level of perceptive cynicism Billy Wilder brought to his far superior Sunset Boulevard, but there's still much to enjoy amongst the film's unrealized ideas.

Thomas Tryon is said to have based the character of Fedora on a number of Hollywood legends, but the one most often cited is the largely forgotten Corinne Griffith. At age 72, Griffith claimed not to be the real Corinne Griffith, but rather, the actress' 52-year-old sister. Her assertion being that following the death of the original Corinne many years before, she assumed the identity of her older sister and carried on with both her life and career. 


BONUS MATERIAL
Faye Dunaway was always the Fedora Billy Wilder needed. And by the looks of her at age 77 in this 2018 Gucci commercial (which captures more real movie star magic in 90-seconds than the entirety of Wilder's film), I'd say she IS Fedora.

Swan Song: The Story of Billy Wilder's Fedora
The European Blu-Ray release of Fedora contains many enviable extras not available here in the States. Among them, a documentary featuring deleted scenes and commentary by Marthe Keller, Michael York, and others involved in the making of the film. Watch the trailer HERE

For more on Fedora, check out the blog Angelman's Place 


Old-Fashioned, but not Old Hat
Copyright © Ken Anderson

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A DELICATE BALANCE 1973

"One is lonely, and two is boring. Think what you can keep ignoring. Side by side by side."
                                                                               Stephen Sondheim -  Company (1970)

Although I wanted to desperately, I didn’t see this The American Film Theater production of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance when it was given its brief, subscription-only theatrical run in 1973. Then, as the third filmed play in AFT’s first season, it was screened a mere four times (twice on a Monday and Tuesday at select theaters) before being withdrawn from distribution. Forever! Even network television allowed for summer re-runs. A Delicate Balance was released in December of 1973 when I was 16-years-old. And while I've no doubts that I would have enjoyed this film immensely had my parents allowed me to go out to the movies on a school night; with equal certainty I can say that the chances are very good that most of it would have also gone right over my head. 
One's impossible, two is dreary. Three is company safe and cheery: Every Seesaw Needs a Fulcrum

I'd likely have had an adolescent's grasp of the play's most obvious, superficial themes, especially since A Delicate Balance (like his Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) dabbles in familial discord and dysfunction, both of which I’d had plenty of up-close-and-personal experience of my own to draw upon at this point. But the sum total of my then-accumulated life experience—a conservatively-raised teenager attending Catholic boys school—would in no way have been up to the task of navigating, let alone understanding, A Delicate Balance’s bitter dissection of the kind of angst, regret, and fear one is given to encounter in the dark corners of introspection during the waning stages of middle age. I simply wouldn’t have understood what they were talking about.
When the entire 14 film AFT collection was released on DVD in 2003 and I at last had the opportunity to feast my eyes on this superb production, I discovered about A Delicate Balance what I had learned in later years about the Broadway musicals Company and Follies—two Stephen Sondheim “The Road You Didn’t Take” suburban Gothics I fell in love with while a freshman in high-school: The more perceptive the entertainment, the more rewarding the experience it provides once one has lived long enough to have amassed a few disappointments, broken hearts, and evenings haunted by the ghosts of forgotten dreams.
Katharine Hepburn as Agnes
Paul Scofield as Tobias
Kate Reid as Claire
Lee Remick as Julia
Joseph Cotten as Harry
Betsy Blair as Edna

On a quiet Friday evening in October, Agnes and Tobias, a chic elderly, suburban couple living a life of comfortable (calcified?) splendor in upper-class suburban Connecticut, find their spacious, well-appointed home under invasion. Not from outsiders, for the “servants”: the maid, cook, and gardener tending to the creature comforts of this affluent couple of leisure—he a retired businessman, she the lady of the house and mistress of the manor—well understand the proprietorial codes of conduct in regard to the invisibility of the help, and should it arise, the silence of their insurgency.
No, the invasion is from within. From within a coterie of co-dependent and emotionally-entitled friends, relations, and hangers-on, and the pacts of obligation and loyalty forged over the course of forty years of marriage.
Agnes ponders the delicate equilibrium between stability and insanity

There’s Claire, Agnes’ alcoholic younger sister and lingering live-in houseguest; their adult daughter Julia, returning home after the failure of her fourth marriage; and, most peculiarly, lifelong friends and neighbors Harry and Edna, who show up unexpectedly at their door seeking refuge (or permanent exile) after having been suddenly gripped by an unspecified, unnameable terror while sitting alone in their home.

Agnes is another of Albee’s reluctantly strong women. A ruler of the roost and matriarchal martinet who runs her house with a staunch hand because the circumspect Tobias has abdicated his masculine duties as husband and father...and perhaps has fallen out of love with her. Maybe even fallen out of love with his life. Claire, a figure who stands both in and outside of the family at once, uses the sloppiness of her drunkenness like a battering ram against the order Agnes seeks to impose on everyone and everything. Claire, who maybe has/has not had a long-ago affair with Tobias, possesses the soothsayers gift of seeing everything clearly but herself. She and Agnes have a relationship whose passive-aggressive dynamics would not be unfamiliar to Blanche and Baby Jane.
The Souring Side of Love
The “melancholy Julia,” 36-years old and averaging a new marriage every three years, returns home with each divorce, a return to the figurative womb that has remained ruefully barren since the death of her younger brother Teddy when he was two.
The balance of this trio (and triennial quartet) is sustained through routine, and maintained by means of evasion, avoidance, and the expediently-believed lie. It sustains itself because it must (“Blood binds us. Blood holds us together when we’ve no more deep affection for ourselves than others”) and endures long after it has ceased to serve its uncertain purpose. 
But with the arrival of Harry and Edna, Agnes and Tobias' twin counterparts—angst and inertia personified—the unquestioned obligations of blood are provoked and challenged by the presumed responsibilities of friendship.
Agnes on Men:
"Their concerns are so simple: money and death--making ends meet until they meet the end."

These individuals, each with their authentic claim on the illusory obligations of their interrelationships, converge one factious weekend under the precariously balanced roof of Agnes and Tobias. A refined, art-filled, alcohol saturated, separate-bedrooms for Mr. & Mrs. household that, while never appearing to have ever been a home, stands as such a bastion of constancy and predictability, it becomes something of a reassuring sanctuary for souls caught in the throes of existential panic.
"We haven't come to the wrong place, have we?"

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
My favorite kind of “action movie” tends to require no more than what a typical Eunice & Ed “The Family” sketch on the old The Carol Burnett Show comprises: a group of neurotics with interconnected relationships and barely-suppressed hostilities forced, by circumstance, to interact; the intrusion of a significant external element (say, becoming a contestant on The Gong Show) prompting the cathartic confrontation and reevaluation of all that had heretofore been strenuously avoided. The dramatization of the human condition—the struggles of ethics, identity, morality, compassion, and the need to communicate—has always been more thrilling to me than CGI, car chases, and superheroes.
Those Carol Burnett skits (created by the comedy team of Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon, variety show staples during my youth) are but the comedic progeny of the dramatic Southern Gothic tradition of Tennessee Williams and William Inge. My personal predilection for these confrontational pressure-cooker confabs is evident in how often they serve as the structural basis for so many of my favorite films: Carnage, Autumn Sonata, Closer, Hot Spell, Hedda, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Practically percolating with pent-up familial tensions, A Delicate Balance is a drawing room drama of domestic dysfunction with WASP world-weariness at its core. Indeed, watching these individuals who value order and civility above all, who treat emotions as so many dirty dishes that must be cleared away from the dinner table as quickly as possible, feels a bit like spending the weekend with the parents of Mary Tyler Moore’s character in Ordinary People.
A Delicate Balance has been criticized for being visually stagnant, stagy, and talky. Perhaps, but in these inarticulate times, Albee's words not only convey how much these characters prefer to think more than feel, but they are exquisite to hear. Similarly, for the opportunity to see complete, unexpurgated Edward Albee performed masterfully by a brilliant cast, I can't say the film's clear theatrical origins bothered me in the least.

Theirs is a world where alcohol acts as a sort of truth serum, and chain-smoking is the means by which distress is conveyed. It’s a film bathed in the brown tones of the ‘70s, all kaftans and cocktails amidst the refined clutter of collected art. Within all this decorous emptiness are people fumbling around in search of something each is ultimately unable to give the other.
Tobias confronts the Three Tall Women

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Though it lasted but two years (1973-1975), Ely Landau’s American Film Theater experiment produced an enduring (if uneven) legacy of 14 book-faithful plays filmed by acclaimed directors with once-in-a-lifetime casts.
A Delicate Balance, Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play first produced on Broadway in 1966, is every bit the witty and caustic commentary on domestic dysfunction as 1962’s infinitely more popular and widely-seen Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. But lacking that play’s cinema-compatible sound and fury (A Delicate Balance stylistic restraint is representative of the play’s repressed, emotionally reluctant characters), and possessive of a potentially alienating metaphysical twist at the end of the first act (the appearance of the terror-stricken Harry and Edna); made A Delicate Balance’s prospects for film adaptation less than guaranteed.
Albee chose Katherine Hepburn because he noticed how good she can be in roles which don't require her to move too far from her own personality. He's right. There's not a great deal of variance between Hepburn's Agnes and Hepburn's Eleanor of Aquitane (The Lion in Winter) or Mrs. Venable (Suddenly, Last Summer), but her performance is faultless and a pleasure to watch.

Happily, before A Delicate Balance was taken up by the AFT before it had a chance to fall to TV and be given one of those PBS treatments with a cast of affordable actors with the appropriate TVQ (TV-Quotient: recognizable to TV audiences—i.e., A Delicate Balance starring Hal Holbrook, Sada Thompson and Lindsay Wagner as Julia).
Blacklisted actress Betsy Blair,  one-time Mrs. Gene Kelly and Oscar nominee for Marty (1955), Her understated performance has a chilling forcefulness that contrasts with her meek appearance. 

Ely Landau’s American Film Theater selected Albee’s play for its debut season and wooed Edward Albee by offering him cast and director approval, along with the assurance that it would be a faithful filmed “translation” of his play, not a film adaptation. (The distinction being that there would be no attempt to edit or “open up” the play to superficially render it any more cinematic beyond the contributions of location shooting and the subjective eye of the camera.)

Albee’s first choice for director was Ingmar Bergman, who'd directed a stage production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in Sweden, but he was unavailable. Academy Award-winning director Tony Richardson (Tom Jones, A Taste of Honey) was the welcome second choice, he taking on the job chiefly to work with actress Kim Stanley (Seance on a Wet Afternoon) cast in the role of Claire. Unfortunately, Stanley was fired from the production due to her alcoholism and Method Acting eccentricities prompting a “She goes or I go!” ultimatum from Hepburn.
Edward Albee (who passed away in 2016) has cited this film as one of his favorites of the screen translations of his work. I've seen the film many times, and though I don't think it's for everyone, I consider it to be a masterwork. I loved every minute of it and found Scofield and Hepburn to be quite moving.
Playing different ends of the provocateur spectrum, Lee Remick's displaced Julia and Kate Reid's dispossessed Claire are two of my favorite characters. Both actors give strong performances and add much to an already exceptionally accomplished cast 

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
As one of Edward Albee’s traditionally blistering looks at the institution of family, the film’s title suggests the delicate balance of pretense, obligations, self-deceptions, betrayals, and denial of feelings required to keep a dysfunctional family functioning. It also serves as an all-purpose metaphor for what has been called the fabric of life.
With each news day reminding us how easily toppled are those institutions and principles we once felt to be rock solid (democracy, the unequivocal nature of facts, the basic decency of human beings), Albee's bracing treatise on the fragility of life and the elusiveness of the human bonds we label love, friendship, and responsibility feels troublingly relevant. 
I've only seen the magnificent Paul Scofield in two films: 1990's Hamlet and his 1966 Best Actor Oscar-winning A Man For All Seasons. He is astoundingly good here. Especially in his bravura Act III scene with the always welcome (and solid) Joseph Cotten

I will soon pass the threshold of my sixth decade, and yet it never ceases to amaze me how closely insight and absolute terror co-exist. Fear becomes easier to handle as I grow older, for one does learn (intellectually if not always emotionally) that there is little worthy of being afraid of. But terror, which I define as a kind of unfocused dread, comes out of nowhere and hits at unexpected times as one ages. Most powerfully in the form referenced frequently in the film: the terror that “time happens” while one is going about the meaningless business of self-distraction, self-medication, amassing material objects, and trying to avoid feeling too deeply about anything—seeking a life of no mountains or chasms; only to arrive at a moment when everything becomes “too late.”
Too late to read those books you always promised you'd make time for. Too late to learn that language. Too late to make amends. Too late to develop a soul after a lifetime of moral compromise. Too late to be loving after a lifetime of self-insulating. Too late to see that change is always a possibility with the acknowledgement that bravery, while always a necessity, doesn't come with a guarantee of a win. It merely keeps the doors open. And without those doors there can be no sunlight, and without sunlight there can be no new day or second chances. Only chaos and the dark side of reason.



BONUS MATERIAL
Edward Albee interview on the making of A Delicate Balance HERE
Betsy Blair interview on the making of A Delicate Balance    HERE


Copyright © Ken Anderson