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« i know all there is to know about the linking game... 🎵 | Main | Review: The Mountain Between Us »
Tuesday
Oct102017

NYFF: Arthur Miller: Writer

By Manuel Betancourt

There may not be a more towering figure of the American stage than Arthur Miller. From A View from the Bridge and Death of a Salesman to The Crucible and The Price, his plays remain some of the most performed / discussed / dissected dramas of the twentieth century. Capturing men (for they were so often men) caught adrift in an ever-changing world, Miller’s protagonists laid bare the most insidious aspects of American society. 12 years after his death, Arthur Miller: Writer (a riff on what he once said he hoped his obituary would read like), comes to offer a humanizing portrait of the New York City-born dramatist. That it comes courtesy of his daughter, Rebecca (yes, Mrs Day-Lewis, The Meyerowitz Stories’ bit part player, and Maggie’s Plan helmer) means that there’s a level of access and intimacy that we may not otherwise have gotten... 

Miller recorded much of the footage for this doc decades ago, following her father around as he worked on a new play, did woodworking at home, and reminisced with her on daily nature jaunts. This lends the doc an almost home-movie feel, telling Miller’s story with the warmth and candor only a daughter could. It also means it’s a lot tidier than it perhaps has any reason to be. There is the requisite Marilyn cameo, yes, and some  insight into how the once mighty Miller came be forgotten, a victim (so we’re told) of a newer generation that he didn’t quite understand. But you get the sense that Rebecca is helpfully airbrushing her father, if ever so slightly. The guy she knew, she tells us early on, was warm and cuddly and lovable. She never knew him as the cantankerous playwright; as the lecherous married man.

Rebecca Miller shooting her father the legendary playwright Arthur Miller

And so she gives us not "Arthur Miller: Writer" but "Arthur Miller: Father". Only, a late in the film revelation about their family (which the director admits had initially made her shelve the project altogether) further muddles even that simple characterization. The lack of distance alone could surely make a fascinating entry point to the playwright’s life yet Miller insists on offering bio-doc flourishes (talking heads that include the late Mike Nichols and Tony Kushner, among others) that suggests she truly wants to tell a kind of exhaustive document (not just documentary) of and about her father. Brilliant in spurts and tender as a whole, it’s sure to be a must-watch for Miller fans, especially those eager to get peeks at the built sets of The Crucible and get some background on that one scene in My Week With Marilyn

more from NYFF | more from Manuel Betancourt

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