Thursday, July 19, 2018


"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 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AFT’s first season, it was screened a mere four times (twice on a Monday and Tuesday at select theaters) before being withdrawn from distribution.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, but this elite series of high-culture film releases prided itself on its now-or-never exhibition platform. 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 venture out to the movies on a school night; with almost equal certainty I can say that the chances of my actually understanding what I would be watching would be close to nil. 
One's impossible, two is dreary. Three is company safe and cheery: Every Seesaw Needs a Fulcrum

I'm likely to have had an adolescent's grasp of the play's most obvious, superficial themes, especially since Albee's 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. 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-title 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 couple living a life of comfortable (calcified?) splendor in upper-class suburban Connecticut...He, a retired businessman, she, the lady of the house and mistress of the manor; find their spacious, well-appointed home under invasion. Not from outsiders, for the “servants”: the maid, cook, and gardener 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 who seek to avail themselves of the pacts of obligation and loyalty forged between them all over the course of forty years of marriage, affiliation, and kinship.
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 seeking refuge (or permanent exile) after having been suddenly gripped by an unspecified, unnameable terror while sitting alone in their home.

Hepburn's 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 only 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 soothsayer's gift of having a crystal clear perception of everything but herself. She and Agnes share a relationship whose passive-aggressive dynamics would not be unfamiliar to that other sister act of dysfunction, 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 after each break-up. A return to the figurative womb that has remained ruefully barren since the death of her younger, rarely spoken of 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?"

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. Add to this the introduction of some form of unexpected, disruptive intrusion (say, becoming a contestant on The Gong Show) and before you know it, the resultant disequilibrium thrust upon them prompts the inevitably 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 gunplay (although a handgun materializes here), 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.
This film adaptation of A Delicate Balance has been criticized for being visually stagnant, stagy, and talky. Perhaps, but in these inarticulate times, Albee's words serve a double purpose. They establish characters who prefer talking to actually feeling anything, and they illustrate how evocative language can be in a means of keeping intimacy at bay. From a purely personal perspective,  I relished 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

Though it lasted but a brief 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 Aquitaine (The Lion in Winter) or Mrs. Venable (Suddenly, Last Summer), but within the narrow confines of these characters, Hepburn shines like no other. 

Happily, 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 = audience recognizability)—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), gives an understated performance that has an undertone of chilling forcefulness. 

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. Despite these characters being people I really wouldn't want to spend any time around in real life, Albee's beautiful words and piercing insights connected with me on some level. In the end, I 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. Whether wallowing in self-pity or putting up a front of guarded cynicism, both actors give memorable performances.

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, often 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 acknowledgment 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.

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


  1. Dear Ken: Thank you so much for this! Your blog never fails to surprise and provoke thought.

    I read "A Delicate Balance" in a theatre class in college and my reaction was exactly what you say your youthful reaction probably would have been--the whole thing went over my head. I was just too busy trying to figure out, wait, what's supposed to be real and what's not--completely missing the larger points Albee was trying to make about life's fragility and the need at times for self-delusion.

    But now, well into middle age, I can identify (even if, personally, my outlook on life remains much more hopeful than Albee's, or Stephen Sondheim's, in your very apt comparison!).

    How wonderful was the whole idea for the American Film Theatre series! Last year I finally caught up with "The Iceman Cometh," AFT's production also from 1973. Eugene O'Neill remains my favorite playwright, and it was marvelous, but grueling, finally to immerse myself in that four-hour masterwork of his. (That said, I decided I probably would not be up for a re-viewing at a later time!) And like you, I was not bothered at all by the "staginess" of the AFT productions. When you have the marvelous language of America's great playwrights and all those phenomenal actors, who needs fancy camera angles or elaborate scene changes!

    1. Hi David
      I’m so glad to know you had an advance familiarity with this play. And the fact that you found it a tad impenetrable in college makes me feel better about my fruitless tackling of the text in high-school when I got the play from the library when I knew I wasn’t going to be able to see the film. I gave it a try, but it just didn’t make much sense to me. I didn’t finish it.
      So yes, age DOES have its advantages. Wasn’t it great when the words “For Mature Audiences” or “Recommended for Adults” meant movies that were complex and dealt with serious themes that asked us to think while challenging our perceptions of reality in absurdist ways?
      I can’t say the ‘70s succeeded in changing the perception of ADULT entertainment to mean sophisticated, but for a brief time the New Hollywood and innovations like Ely Landau’s AFT experiment gave it a good try.

      Of the 14 films in that series, I’ve only seen Rhinoceros and The Maids. I’ve yet to take a look at THE ICEMAN COMETH, I had no idea it was four hours long. I made it through the marathon Hepburn version of O’Neill’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY and enjoyed it a great deal. But like you say, it’s difficult to imagine wanting to revisit it.
      That’s not the case with A DELICATE BALANCE, I’ve seen the film several times now and reread the play and find it to be one of my new favorites, as I’m not really familiar with Albee’s work.

      I’m impressed that your essentially positive nature still affords your appreciation of these sometimes ponderous plays/films; but I suspect (like Agnes’ monologue about darkness and the light), your ability to maintain your sunny outlook is in part due to your not being one who needs to deny the existence of the night.
      Thrilled that you took the time to read this. And your comments are not only kind but consistently thoughtful and reflective. Readers (including myself) get to know a little bit more about you each time, and it’s reflects well on you.

  2. Ken! OMG, I must, must, must see this film. Have been reading about it for years and your glorious article has brought it to vivid life—I knew Hepburn led the cast, but was not aware of Remick, Betsy Blair, Kate Reid, Joseph Cotten, etc.

    The ironic thing is, I am very familiar with Albee's searing play and had the pleasure to see it performed on Broadway in the mid 1990s with an unforgettable cast led by a mind-blowing lead performance by Rosemary Harris, who played the mother role as a frighteningly steely magnolia...all sweet and fragrant on the outside, but poisonous and hard on the inside...

    And if Miss Harris's turn was not enough to send me into paroxysms of orgasmic theater-lust, in the role of the alcoholic sister was none other than Miss Elaine Stritch. Words cannot describe Stritch's mind-blowing drunk scene in Albee's play (knowing that she was a recovering alcoholic and AA member herself at the time) had to be seen to be believed.

    I must get a copy of this film. It is indeed something one has to seek out.
    Thanks as always for covering so many of these these "esoteric" cinema treasures for us all!

    1. Hi Chris
      That production of A DELICATE BALANCE you describe sounds like a remarkable theater experience. There is a brief clip of Stritch in the production on YouTube, offering only a hint of what must have been the electricity of the live performance.
      In interviews with Albee and Betsy Blair included with the DVD (I've included a link in the Bonus Materials area above) it's suggested that real-life dancer-with-demons Kim Stanley brought a similar veracity to the role of Claire before she was fired. I think it's hinted by Albee that her dismissal might have been equal parts due to concerns with her alcoholism and Hepburn's concern that Stanley would possibly walk away with the film.
      As one familiar with Albee's works, I think you would enjoy seeing this film. Tony Richardson does some interesting things with close ups and staging. Especially during the dramatic scenes.
      Thank you for commenting, Chris! I always appreciate when you shed light on some of the more forgotten gems of cinema on your site, as well!

  3. "...kaftans and cocktails..." You sly puss! It's your writing that brings me back here, time and again. "Kaftans and Cocktails" would be the perfect title for someone's autobiography, but I hope not yours.

    I learn from this essay that I am about two years older than you. I had a part-time job and a driver's license when the AFT films were originally presented. I bought the series with my meager funds earned from working in a roller rink. I was hardcore at 16. Almost all of the films went over my head so totally and completely that I was surprised at the titles when I reviewed them to write this response. "A Delicate Balance" is remembered only for being excrutiating. But, of course, to a 16 year old midwestern boy what else could it be? It was not until the 1996 Broadway revival led by Rosemary Harris, George Grizzard, and Elaine Stritch, that I understood it. By the age of 40, I had begun to understand giving up and seeking refuge in a neighbor's care.

    Such a keen observation that Hepburn is a severely limited actress. In the '80's, I studied acting with Stella Adler and she had amaaaaaazing stories about everyone. In the 1930's, Harold Clurman held now famous midnight acting workshops in the Theater District, attended by NYC's working actors. Katharine Hepburn attended just one of the workshops. Afterwards, Harold and Stella asked her what she thought of the work. Stella told us that Hepburn replied, "It's great, if one wants to be an actor. But I'm going to Hollywood to be a star." Stella may have sharpened up that quote a bit over the decades, but it sums up Miss Hepburn to a fare-thee-well. She was a great star.

    And you are a great writer. I shall forever try NOT to think of you swathed in a kaftan, seated at a typewriter, with a martini at the ready.

    1. Hi George
      I can't see the words "you sly puss" written down without hearing Bette Davis' marvelous delivery of that line to her betraying producer in ALL ABOUT EVE.
      And, had not one already been written, "Kaftans & Cocktails" sounds like the title of a book about the late "Grease" producer Alan Carr (although Kaftans and Coke would be more accurate).
      I think we are, if not the same age, then just a year apart. I was actually 16 in December of 1973 (I can't imagine what possessed me to write 15 above--since corrected, save dramatic licence all the better to make my point about my adolescent naivete).
      You had a driver's licence at 16!! Good lord, such autonomy. Having grown up in vertiginous San Francisco only to later transplant to the winding alps of the Oakland Hills, I was terrified of learning to drive, and only did so once I moved to the spread-out flatlands of Los Angeles at age 20.

      Also, how cool to work part-time at a roller rink (cool for your sounds so Americana). You're the only person I've ever "met" who actually purchased a series and saw these films in original release. And as a teenager yet!
      I see that you, too, saw the Broadway production of A DELICATE BALANCE with Elaine Stritch. You were in a rare position of being able to appreciate/compare the independent assets of both the film and theatrical versions.

      I liked Albee's observation about Katharine Hepburn, as well. Even fans have to admit that once high collars, folds of fabric, mounds of coiled hair became her visual trademark, there was little variance in her nonetheless excellent screen appearances.
      And I absolutely love the Stella Adler anecdote! Makes me wonder how (if) Hepburn and Joan Crawford got along. I think Hepburn was once quoted as saying something along the lines that Crawford should never have been a mother, but they must have had a mutual respect for their shared slavish devotion to being stars. (I posted a link to an interview with Betsy Balir in which recounts Hepburn's Crawford-esque regimen during the making of A DELICATE BALANCE).

      Thanks very much for contributing your enlightened comments and generous compliments. I'm not exactly the kaftan type, but were I to adopt a similar title for my memoirs it would be "Nightshirts and Gummi Bears"--the former for the cold LA mornings when I like to write, the latter a confirmed remedy for writer's block. Much appreciated, George!

    2. In the past week, I have tried looking at the YouTube stream of this film. It comes as a complete surprise that some of the things I remember disliking about it when I was 16 years old... I still dislike.

      Tony Richardson certainly gave it a distinctive look, but I hate it. It's so dark! It makes the writing seem darker than it is. The house is so dark it looks like Dracula's castle. The lighting strikes me as quite unlike the lighting of any other movie I know. How strange to find the actors stuck in a very dark room with one lamp on, said lamp burning brightly and upstaging the actors who are all in some sort of quasi-silhouette. The entire look of the film is off, the lighting accentuating it all the way.

      A house like that used in the film may exist somewhere in Connecticut, but Upson Downs would have been a better choice. Gerald Gutierrez and John Lee Beatty created an entirely different environment for these people, one that much better suited the play. Sez me, anyway. Rosemary Harris was the very picture of control, with every hair in place and always dressed simply and tastefully. She and George Grizzard were, from start to finish, a believable husband and wife. I just can't get any of that from this strange film. Hepburn seems as mannered as that ridiculous dalmation print caftan and the costume jewelry pearls. They all do, really. In any event, The Katharine Hepburn Show annoys me deeply. But it was good to take a look back, if only to more greatly appreciate the genius of Gerald Gutierrez.

    3. Didn't know this was on YouTube! I checked it out hoping it might be a good copy, but alas, a little hard on the eyes.
      I'm impressed you gave a film you didn't like another look-see, something (because I've got such a stubborn streak)I don't think I often do. I of course love your description of how dark it is and how it looks like Dracula's castle! took me back to when I used to wonder why they never turned on any lights on that old TV show DARK SHADOWS.
      It's useful to read that you find fault with the presentation, not the play itself, hopefully inspiring others who might feel the same to seek this work on live stage if the film is not to their taste. Thanks for the post-16-year-old update!

  4. What a terrific post: your "The Stuff of Fantasy" is beautifully written and poetically insightful. Perhaps when we see how finite life is we "white-knuckle it" in the desperate hope that we can at least make time stand still, unable to see that fear and dread in themselves are the death we've already embraced.

    I'd much rather a filmed play which is true to the play than an adapted movie which isn't true to much of anything at all. "A Delicate Balance" is straightforward Albee as I see it: equal parts humanism and absurdism. I've always seen Hepburn as an absurdist actor anyhow - she tends to chew dialog rather than scenery, which doesn't get in the way of other good performances. She does "deluded" rather well...I always laugh when she's invoked as a "strong woman in film."

    I would have like to see more of Albee's work filmed. He was much more than "chaos behind the civility", which defines a surprising number of highly-intelligent films about America and Americans, by Americans. Albee's layers of cool when it comes to everything from politics to identity to the human condition are quite remarkable, and I'm OK with feeling no comfort while I access his brilliance through works like "A Delicate Balance."

    Again, great work on your part Ken!

    1. Thank you, Rick! Your observation "...unable to see that fear and dread in themselves are the death we've already embraced," is pretty insightful in its own right.
      I think one of the side-effects of having such a (Capitalism-based) youth-oriented culture is that the voiced of the elderly are seldom ever heard from unless they're spouting "feel good" platitudes and bromides about how to stay and look young. As if that is a rarefied place we all need to stay.
      America is learning the price paid for promoting arrested development in its people. Teaching them to chase empty things like success and money and power, while teaching them nothing about what you actually need as you age...a little wisdom, compassion, and the kind of common sense born of not revering ignorance.
      The maturity of Edward Albee's work, the attention paid to what matters when all the insurance is paid up, the retirement has kicked in, and you're left to face what kind of person you've ignored noticing you've become over all that time.
      I like Albee because he does seem to reiterate (and as you so rightfully note, in both humanist and absurdist ways) that fear is a function of being alive. It's human and OK, but it can't be the master of thoughts, not the reason to justify self-deception.
      With careers nowadays ruined by the flick of a quick rash opinion and a tweet (devoid of that nanosecond of reason where you might ask yourself "do I really want to publish this idiotic thought?"), a leisurely film like A DELICATE BALANCE is a marvelous reminder of the benefit of thought and consideration. The idea of mulling things over in an age of instant expression wouldn't be a bad idea.

      I very much like your take on Albee (it's his playing with reality in his sometimes gruelingly realistic plays that threw me so much when I was young), and on Hepburn. With her darting, wounded eyes and brittle face of strength, she does indeed do "deluded" rather well. I recently re-watched her in "Suddenly Last Summer" and all the mannerisms and attitudes are intact--complete with her unique delivery; but like a true star, the repetition doesn't result in a lack. She informs each character in a strong way.

      By the way, a brilliant observation on Albee's work and the recurring trait in American works about America "chaos behind civility." I really like that. I hadn't thought of it, but it's so much of our history. The cries for "civility" today while the country is being whisked away and innocent children are being murdered due to greed and that "fear and dread" that feeds upon itself; is no different than when I was growing up and America, when faced with it's brutally violent history, could only respond by asking the marginalized and brutalized to be civil while denied their basic human rights.

      When you say you're OK with feeling no comfort while accessing Albee's works, I'm in accord. I love to be entertained, and I love to be distracted, but sometimes we all need to be made squirm a little by confronting ourselves in the mirror held up by an artist. Thanks for your splendid contribution to the collection of very perceptive comments in this section. I perhaps don't need to say this again, but all of you who comment here add invaluably to the quality of this blog. That's the most consistent comment I hear from visitors to the site.

  5. Great, Ken. You strike just the right brooding, elegiac tone in your terrific appreciation here. An autumnal, wistful piece, this. Terrific cast. And the emotive range is not trivial. To say the least. While fumbling toward the Aristotelian verities, the film achieves a sort of ravaged grandeur.

    But a bit bloodless. Airless, suffocating. A waxworks. Most people, today, would run screaming for the exits. Edward Albee, at times, could almost top Lugosi as Dracula. And the perfect theatrical experience for sensitive-boys-of-a-certain-age, who dreaded being nagged to go out and play in the rough-and-tumble street and who longed for those long hot rainy afternoons when the entire world ground to a halt, like a piece of eternity dropped into their laps...

    Three cheers for WASP angst! Cheeveresque Sturm-and-Drang. Long since dead and buried at this point. I mean, look around, for Chr--sakes!

    Ken, you have made the observation elsewhere, but it is summed up perfectly in the title of that GREAT documentary, CULT MOVIES: FROM THE MARGIN TO THE MAINSTREAM. Oscar Wilde may have tried to live up to his blue china, but America has tried to live down to Divine's eating dog sh-t. And in the ascendant, more-or-less triumphant Culture of Trash that is now everywhere, A Delicate Balance is barely a museum piece.

    But we NEED those sensitive-boys-of-a-certain-age, to show us what has been lost. Maybe what we never HAD in the this monstrous country, but what we could at least aspire to: an aristocracy stitched together by a Singer sewing machine, that 1949 LIFE magazine Highbrow/Middlebrow/Lowbrow chart, now long forgotten. It's no accident that the most important book written about The United States since Tocqueville, The Closing of the American Mind, was authored by a the greatest-sensitive-boy-of-a certain-age-of-all time, a prima-donna with a taste for exquisite luxury...

    Thirty years after it was published, Susan Sontag wrote an mournful afterward to one of a handful of works that acted like a wrecking ball on the entire culture, her magisterial Against Interpretation: "Barbarism is one name for what has taken over," crieth Susan, "Let's use Nietzsche's term: we have entered, really entered, the age of nihilism." Indeed...

    1. Hi Rick
      Loved reading (and thinkin about) your comments. I don't know what they teach in school these days, what books are required reading, what films are screened in English classes (if, indeed, there still ARE English classes. Before social media I had no idea how many conservatives have never learned the difference between their, there, and they're!), but it would be my wish that there would be more teachers who feel as you do regarding mankind's potential.
      In order to sell us things, Madison Avenue has pitched the line that thinking is a waste of time, and that there is honor in ignorance. Unfortunately, Americans have taken it as gospel and have, after looking to the skies and finding it an exhausting climb, decided it is easier (and more populated) in the gutters of ignorance.
      You express eloquently what films like this try to impart, and what he have lost since those counterculture days of Andy Warhol and John Waters being satiric emblems of "dumb" America, not the unironic depictions of America:2019 they have become.
      With the emergence of white gay culture embracing misogyny, racism, and klannish "bro" politics, I hope there are still enough sensitive boys and girls of a certain age of all races to carry on the tradition of asking us to feel the pain of existence so that we can perhaps learn some empathy, open our minds, and strive to emerge from the too-prolonged Dark Ages.
      Again, you've contributed a marvelously thoughtful comment to this blog. A literate rumination on how this how this now 46-year-old film still has a lot to say about our uniquely Western concept of the human condition. Thanks very much, Rick. I enjoyed this a great deal.