One of the foremost American playwrights, Arthur Miller remains a literary icon studied and performed globally. Indeed, his works presented on Broadway continually exceed expectations, and celebrity directors and actors eagerly choose his plays to showcase and evolve their craft.
Interestingly, daughter Rebecca Miller’s loving and acute portrait of her father in Arthur Miller: Writer shines. Her spotlight beams into new territories of Miller’s persona and being. Thankfully, in selecting family videos of Miller who comments during homely interviews, she peels back layers and drives toward his soul. What an amazing and memorable look at the man and the mythos! Surely, the Arthur Miller mythology splinters. Rather through her lens it becomes filtered through the dynamic of transforming American cultural and social perspectives topped with Miller’s (daughter and father), and we welcome these intensely human views with understanding and empathy.
In the case of Arthur Miller’s entire history, the daughter glances briefly at her grandparents’ personalities, upbringing, lifestyles, religion. Additionally, she threads in choice tidbits from sibling interviews. In particular Kermitt Miller and Joan Copeland pronounce the aftereffects of a childhood that began with wealth and ended with want. Unfortunately, more should have been gleaned from these two. For they remain personages in their own right. Surely, both knew more intimate details about their brother than Rebecca Miller sourced.
However, this weakness in Miller’s portrait of her Dad’s family fades with Arthur Miller’s overlay of comments. Interestingly, he discusses comparisons between family members who inspired his characters, and he highlights how the differences between his Mother and Dad created undercurrents. As we think about his profound characterizations in many of his works, we recall the themes of hidden and unspoken grievances. Thus, Miller targets these themes in his relaxed interviews with his daughter. Illumination reigns in this documentary.
Rebecca Miller chronicles her Dad’s career and family life. Although it would appear his writing prioritized his time, family appears to be vital to Miller’s well being. Thus, from black and white photos of childhood to marriages and children he had with his first wife (Mary Slattery) to photos of his successes, we see the unities.
Importantly, the director reveals his beginning play failures through Miller’s commentary. Then she moves to the Broadway success of All My Sons, the play’s inspiration and Miller’s take on it. After its opening, theater took another path.
During this period Miller rode waves of success with his other works (i.e. Death of a Salesman). As he became the renowned genius playwright, New York City feted him. Filling in with video interviews and voice-overs by her Dad, his pithy statements intrigue. Yet, he continued to write even after his divorce.
But then came his relationship with Marilyn. Unfortunately, her celebrity darkened their time together. Indeed, this time became a crucible in his own life and work.
Because the House Un-American Activities Committee yearned to feather its own nest with publicity, they called Miller. And Marilyn Monroe accompanied him. Miller includes a brief film clip and photos of this. Though he testified about his own leanings, he refused to name names. To add insult to injury one committee member said all would be forgiven if he could have a picture with Marilyn. Rebecca Miller includes her Dad’s view during a fascinating interview segment. Significantly, such crass behavior signaled the beginning of the end of HUAC.
Meanwhile, Miller’s marriage to Monroe suffered. Because of her demons, drugs, miscarriages, and terrific unhappiness, Marilyn couldn’t be a supporting wife. Instead, Miller became the daddy figure, the nurturer, the caretaker, and this was the most unproductive time in his career. Though he wrote the screenplay The Misfits for her, Marilyn could barely get to the set. As a Clark quote states in the film, Miller’s view of Marilyn became true. Indeed she was “the saddest girl he ever met” and married. Subsequently, he wrote and produced little during their marriage.
Again divergences happened in his life and career. He and Monroe divorced. Unaccountably, reviews of After the Fall pressed him harshly. Notably, Rebecca Miller cleverly grounds us by switching back and forth between video segments showing her father at his workshop sharing ideas and feelings. Alternately, we understand the stresses of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe and the peace and productivity of his marriage to Inge Morath, his third wife.
Because Inge Morath video interviews reveal how she and Miller met and fell in love, immediately, another shift in Miller’s growth pops up. Inherently, the restfulness in his soul allowed him to resume writing. Sadly, with Marilyn Monroe, his career suffered. However, a healing took place for Miller in his home in Connecticut after he and Inge Morath married and had Rebecca Miller. For the first time we have the sense that Arthur Miller found contentment and could write daily. His output continued to be prodigious.
Rebecca Miller has created a definitive and ground-breaking documentary of her father. Most assuredly, his works presented themes that resonate for all time, and his characters whisper elements of ourselves. They travel to remote places in our psyches. Yet, they become as close as the dirt under our fingernails which much be cleaned daily. Her documentary infuses an understanding of why this might be so. Thus, in her loving and insightful portrait of Miller’s depths and heights, Rebecca Miller’s Arthur Miller: Writer vibrates gloriously. Colors of the man and the icon merge into a layered and new understanding. This is a must-see if one is a writer, a playwright or you just enjoy Miller’s work. Indeed, the film gives a bountiful view of the tide of that time and Miller’s cultural influence.
Arthur Miller: Writer screens at NYFF at Lincoln Center on 9, 10, 14 October. Check the festival website for tickets and times.