Fireworks of a different kind are on display in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966) with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Burton providing match and wick as middle-aged marrieds who invite a younger couple (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) to their home for drinks and dysfunction. Mike Nichols, in his directorial debut, preserves the bile and bite of playwright Edward Albee’s dialogue through long close-ups of his actors as they spew invective and misery; the result is at once intensely uncomfortable and blackly humorous Burton and Segal are fine as opposing sides of the American male success story (burnt-out case/shallow aspiring type), and Dennis (who won an Oscar) employs her trademark tics as Segal’s fragile spouse, but it’s the 33-year-old Taylor’s Oscar-winning turn as a much older woman consumed by rage and regret that leaves the most lasting impression. Warner Archive Collection’s Blu-ray includes commentaries by Nichols (with Steven Soderbergh) and cinematographer Wexler, an interview with former MPAA chief Jack Valenti, who discusses how the film’s frank (for its time) dialogue helped revise the ratings system, and an overview of the Albee play with comments by the author. A 1966 interview with Nichols, Dennis’ screen test (with Roddy McDowall) and an hour-long documentary on Taylor from 1975 round out the disc.
Quieter conflicts are on hand in “Welcome to L.A.” (1976, Kino Lorber), a melancholy look at the City of Angels at Christmastime, as viewed through the complex romantic geometry formed around handsome but empty singer Keith Carradine. The influence of producer Robert Altman can be felt in the interwoven storylines and large ensemble cast, which includes Sally Kellerman, Sissy Spacek, Harvey Keitel, Geraldine Chaplin (who earned an Oscar nod) and Richard Baskin (“Nashville”), who also provides the music, but Rudolph holds his own within his mentor’s aesthetic. Longtime L.A. residents will appreciate veteran documentary photographer David (“Woodstock,” “The Last Waltz”) Meyers’ depiction of the city as a construction of sunlight hues and glass surfaces; newcomers, however, might want to put in a few months here before embracing its chilly heart.
And a beautiful singer with a vacant soul is also at the heart of “L’Inhumaine” (1924, Flicker Alley), the long-lost experimental fantasy by Marcel L’Herbier. The French opera star Georgette Leblanc (who conceived the original story and partly financed the film) stars as a singer coveted by numerous men, whom she cruelly spurns; when one rejected suitor kills himself, Leblanc is rejected by her audience and forced to reconsider her infamous aloofness. From there, the picture takes a turn towards science fiction parable (or “fairy tale,” as L’Herbier termed it) with Leblanc literally casting off her old life to find her humanity; with its blend of high art, strange science, dreamlike design and hallucinatory image, “L’Inhumaine” would essentially serve as the touchstone for French avant-garde film. A host of legendary artists collaborated on various aspects of the film, including directors Alberto Calvacanti and Claude Autant-Lara, who contributed to design, fashion designer Paul Poiret, who created the costumes, and sculptor/filmmaker Fernand Leger, who created the outrageous laboratory set. For the theater riot scene, L’Herbir filled a concert hall with society figures and secretly filmed their reactions to dissonant music by George Antheil; reportedly, the crowd included Man Ray, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Pablo Picasso. Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette with rare outtake footage, and an interview with composer Aidje Tafial, who provides one of two new scores (the other is by the Alloy Orchestra) featured on the disc.