Aspen Film hosts screening of ‘Arthur Miller: Writer’
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Arthur Miller: Writer,’ presented by Aspen Film
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Saturday, Dec. 2, 5:30 p.m.
How much: $75
Tickets: Wheeler box office; http://www.aspenshowtix.com
More info: The screening and fundraiser for Aspen film will be followed by a reception at Explore Booksellers. Producer Cindy Tolan will be on-hand for a post-screening audience Q-and-A.
Rebecca Miller filmed interviews and home movies of her father, the legendary playwright Arthur Miller, over the course of 25 years before his death in 2005.
She has mined that treasure trove of private footage to craft the documentary “Arthur Miller: Writer,” a warm and personal portrait of the man behind “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible.”
“Early on I recognized that his public persona was different from the man that I knew,” Rebecca Miller explains early in her film. “And I felt I was the only filmmaker that he would let close enough to really see what he was like.”
Aspen Film will host an early screening of it on Saturday night at the Wheeler Opera House, with proceeds benefitting the nonprofit film presenter. The documentary premiered at the Telluride Film Festival over the summer and, after a short Oscar-qualifying theatrical run in New York and Los Angeles this month, will be broadcast on HBO in March.
Complemented by archival footage, personal correspondence and insight from his siblings along with stage luminaries Mike Nichols and Tony Kushner, Arthur Miller’s candid interviews with his daughter cover his work, his clash with the House Un-American Activities Committee, his relationship with Marilyn Monroe and his decades-long marriage to photographer Inge Morath. We also see him working on carpentry, gardening in his yard, carving a chicken for the family and goofing off with his children at home in Connecticut.
“Rebecca wanted to convey how funny Arthur was,” producer Cindy Tolan, who will be at the Aspen Film event for a post-screening discussion, said in a phone interview. “She wanted to make sure that the world saw that.”
Arthur Miller reflects on his urbane public image in the film, discussing the seismic impact that “Death of Salesman” had on American society and the sudden fame and status it bestowed on him.
“People were talking to me differently,” he says. “They were looking at me as an icon of some kind.”
Tolan, who knew Arthur Miller for 20 years before his death and served as casting director on acclaimed Broadway revivals of his “All My Sons” and “A View from the Bridge,” said that this documentary reveals the true Arthur Miller.
“When you watch the film, it’s like you’ve spent three days with him,” Tolan said. “It reminded me of the weekends I spent with the family. What you get is a real gift of this person who is a true artist.”
Rebecca Miller has become an acclaimed filmmaker, writing and directing indie features like “Maggie’s Plan” and “Personal Velocity.” She puts her formidable storytelling skills to work in “Arthur Miller: Writer” to reveal the man she knew as “Pop.”
In this intimate study, the playwright walks the viewer through his childhood in Brooklyn, his father’s financial collapse and the reading of “thick books” on the subway that inspired him to become a writer. He tells of the spring break at the University of Michigan when he stayed in the dorm and wrote his first play, the failure of his Broadway debut (“The Man Who Had All the Luck”) and his 1947 breakthrough with “All My Sons.”
It also delves deeply into his refusal to name names in front of Joseph McCarthy’s congressional committee, his contempt of court conviction, his being spied on by the FBI and how he channeled his disillusion into the classic “The Crucible.” And it follows the writer through a time when his work fell out of favor, and he perhaps fell out of touch, during the 1960s counterculture era, but underscores his perseverance as his plays were savaged by critics from the 1970s through the 1990s.
“I felt that I was out of place,” he says. “In Europe, my stuff was always greatly accepted.”
Rebecca Miller explains, in a voiceover, that she sat on her footage for some years after her father’s death because she needed emotional distance from it before she could make this film. But the timing of its release is apt. In this culturally and politically fraught moment at the dawn of the Trump Era, Arthur Miller’s voice and his moral clarity are vital. And the historical resonance of his time with ours is unmistakable. Audiences in 2017 may shudder with recognition, for instance, when the playwright quips: “We’re a country of entertainers — even the fascists have to be entertaining.”
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The literary nonprofit Aspen Words is restarting its writers-in-residence program that had been on pause during the pandemic. Residents include “Call Me By Your Name” author André Aciman. Public events begin June 15.