The Essay Film Problems Definitions Textual Commitments Mustang


James Waters
Virginia Wright Waxman
Eddie White
Jason Wierzba
Deane Williams
Cameron Williams
William Wright
Barbara Wurm
Keva York
Neil Young
James Zarucky
Austé Zdanciuté




In no preferential order:

Il Racconto dei Racconti (Tale of Tales, Matteo Garrone, 2015). A wildly entertaining fairy tale on ‘excess’. It could be read in a feminist key, as in all three intertwined stories women try to cut out a space of autonomy from male dominance.

Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015). A lyrical essay film on the coming of age of masculinity.

Fai Bei Sogni (Sweet Dreams, Marco Bellocchio, 2016). A moving portrayal of the myth of oedipal attachments.

Cìkè Niè Yinniáng (The Assassin, Hsiao-Hsien Hou, 2015). A finely textured and stylistically sublime essay on the Chinese wuxia genre; a mood piece re-imagined by a sympathetic female warrior.

La fille inconnue (The Unknown Girl, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2016). A contemporary realistic, and stylistically minimalist, tale of moral dilemmas, about individualism, self-absorbed interests and dis-connection from social altruism. A journey towards redemption from racial prejudice.

El abrazo de la serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent, Ciro Guerra, 2015). An ethnographic film full of magic realism.

Mia Madre (Nanni Moretti, 2015). Margherita Buy at her best in marrying comedy with tragedy, and as the typically neurotic female survivor in Moretti’s best film in years. Wonderful use of flashbacks in this female oedipal narrative of loss.

Rak ti Khon Kaen (Cemetery of Splendour, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2015). This is an eerie tale of a mystical reality, where time for soldiers caught by a mysterious sleeping disorder is suspended in a liminal state, between memory and dream, and imagined as magically re-consigned to life through the help of two women – a nurse and a psychic.

On the Milky Road (Emir Kusturica, 2016). Visually bold and anarchic, inventive and passionate, this is the idealistic and romantic Kusturica depicting the life of the anti-hero male protagonist fighting to save love from war.

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016). Aside from the lyrical and visually inventive overtones, which confirm Jarmusch’s genius at juxtaposing stylistic flourishes over naturalistic portraits of mundanity, this is a very funny film.

Notes on Blindness (Pete Middleton and James Spinney, 2016). An audio-visually multi-layered, lyrical self-portrait film tracing theologian John Hull’s oncoming visual darkness.

While most of these films had a 2016 UK release, a few others were screened at the 2016 International London Film Festival. Also noteworthy is the wonderfully rich and engaging collection of experimental feminist films shown in September 2016 at Tate Modern celebrating the 50th anniversary of the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative titled From Reel to Real. Women, Feminism and the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative. Since 1969, through a wide range of expressive filmic texts, media and techniques, these feminist artists have been addressing women’s subjectivity in society and the arts to counter the constraints of patriarchal authority.




15 Favorite American Releases:

1. Omoido Poro Poro (Only Yesterday, Isao Takahata, 1991, 2016 re-release in United States)

This long-unavailable Studio Ghibli masterpiece (now my favorite film from Isao Takahata)has a radical respect for process, the quotidian, the mundane. The movie stops to watch a Japanese family learn how to cut a Hawaiian pineapple. We tear up as we see a boy relentlessly ragged for having a crush on the girl in the next class; we’ve been there.

2. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)

Reichardt’s brown-heavy tale of Montana loneliness (with the year’s best ensemble) is radical for several reasons. Besides respecting the weirdness of the most microcosmic details — an untucked Laura Dern shirt, the way Kristen Stewart dabs her mouth without removing the napkin/fork paper band — Reichardt digs deep beneath a thing’s surface to uncover the disharmony of the world, an unsettling American loneliness. Thus, her film’s quietness moved me more often than most of 2016’s other slickly conceived tear-jerkers (from La La Land to Moonlight to Mangled Drama by the Sea — and I don’t mean The Shallows).

3. Beyoncé: Lemonade (Beyoncé Knowles, Kahlil Joseph, 2016)

Lemonade‘s sheer originality in image-making blows most of this year’s movies out of the water. Queen Bey dismantles canons, assumptions, seemingly sturdy grounds. Her film staggers in its relentless remixing, enlightens in its Black Womanist insights.

4. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015)

Malick externalizes his personal tragedies and Ho’wood seductions into this heady trip through rotten-to-the-core L.A. A daring treatise on the spiritual death of cinema, and its potential for Phoenix-like resurrection.

5. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

A postmodern work for our times. Aggressive jewel tones, Demy-copped CinemaScope bulge, and a cartooned Los Angeles (really, Hollywood) are the tools Chazelle uses to both embrace and critique the #aesthetic moment. La La Land’s tragedy comes from its success at conjuring up many pasts (of the first romantic encounter, of American musicals, of revolutionary jazz), and its failure at sustaining any of them.

6. Sunset Song (Terence Davies, 2015)

Davies’ trademark humanism in full effect, channeled through stunning Scottish landscapes, a performance for the ages (Agyness Denn’s) and Davies’ pet themes: patriarchal brutality (abusive fathers), feminist resilience (battle-axe mothers), artistic escapism (through Scottish folk tunes), and the strength culled from loneliness. All are channeled through Davies’ steady hand — as knowing as late Chaplin’s (Limelight, Countess from Hong Kong).

7. Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)

  1. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman, 2016)
  2. The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig, 2016)
  3. Hail, Caesar! (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2016)
  4. Sully (Clint Eastwood, 2016)
  5. The Love Witch (Anna Biller, 2016)
  6. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson, 2016)
  7. Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight, 2016)
  8. Dirty Grandpa (Dan Mazer, 2016)

La La Land




2016 in film is a year about communication, or lack thereof. You can describe any of these films as examination of life’s misunderstandings or the difficulty of articulation. Which, funnily enough, seemed to plague the year in general.

  1. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)
  2. Arrival (Dennis Villeneuve, 2016)
  3. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)
  4. Little Men (Ira Sachs, 2016)
  5. A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino, 2015)
  6. Mon Roi (My King, Maïwenn, 2015)
  7. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
  8. The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)
  9. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2016)
  10. American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016)
  11. Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)
  12. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)
  13. 13. I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, 2016)
  14. Don’t Breathe (Fede Alverez, 2016)
  15. Heart of a Dog (Laurie Anderson, 2015)




Top Five


  • Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)
  • Jackie (Pablo Larraín, 2016)
  • Mama (Mother, Vlado Škafar, 2016)
  • Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)
  • Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello, 2016)
  • Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)
  • Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)


  • Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2016)
  • Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)
  • Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea, Gianfranco Rosi, 2016)
  • La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)
  • Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
  • La Mort de Louis XIV (The Death of Louis XIV, Albert Serra, 2016)
  • Neruda (Pablo Larraín, 2016)
  • A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies, 2016)


  • Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left, Lav Diaz, 2016)
  • Bacalaureat (Graduation, Cristian Mungiu, 2016)
  • I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2016)
  • I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, 2016)
  • Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar, 2016)
  • Ma Loute (Slack Bay, Bruno Dumont, 2016)
  • Nočna ptica (Nighthawk, Špela Čadež, 2016)
  • Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu, 2016)
  • Sully (Clint Eastwood, 2016)
  • Ta’ang (Wang Bing, 2016)
  • video haiku #3 (Vlado Škafar, 2016)


  • 24 Wochen (24 Weeks, Anne Zohra Berrached, 2016)
  • L’avenir (Things to Come, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016)
  • Beyond Sleep (Boudewijn Koole, 2016)
  • Demon (Marcin Wrona, 2015)
  • I Had Nowhere to Go (Douglas Gordon, 2016)
  • Indignation (James Schamus, 2016)
  • Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene, 2016)
  • Ne gledaj mi u pijat (Stop Staring at my Plate, Hana Jušić, 2016)
  • Porto (Gabe Klinger, 2016)
  • Rester Vertical (Staying Vertical, Alain Guiraudie, 2016)
  • The Transfiguration (Michael O’Shea, 2016)


  • The Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker, 2016)
  • Chi-Raq (Spike Lee, 2015)
  • Dobra žena (A Good Wife, Mirjana Karanović, 2016)
  • Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater, 2016)
  • La fille inconnue (The Unknown Girl, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2016)
  • Le Fils de Joseph (The Son of Joseph, Eugène Green, 2016)
  • Little Men (Ira Sachs, 2016)
  • Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman, 2016)
  • Loving (Jeff Nichols, 2016)
  • My Scientology Movie (John Dower, 2015)
  • Wiener-Dog (Todd Solondz, 2016)

+ 11 exceptional screenings

Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, Lav Diaz, 2016). Berlinale. Berlinale Palast. Berlin, February.

Flesh and the Devil (Clarence Brown, 1926). Projection of a fine grain print, restored from the original camera negative. Live accompanied on piano by Gabriel Thibaudeau. Il cinema ritrovato, Cinema Lumiere – Sala Officinema/Mastroianni, Bologna, June 28th.

Projection of the first 10 ‘vues’ by the Lumière brothers (as projected in the Grand Café on December 28th, 1895) using a projector from the time, hand-cranked by Nikolaus Wostry (»Enjoy the flicker!«) from the Filmarchiv Austria. Il cinema ritrovato, Piazzetta Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bologna, June 30th.

Yoru no kawa (Undercurrent / Night River, Kozaburo Yoshimura, 1956). 35mm colour print. Il cinema ritrovato, Cinema Jolly, June 30th.

Excursion dans la ravine d’Edmunds Klamm en Suisse Saxonne (Germania Film, 1911). 35mm print preserved in 2015 from a stencilcoloured and tinted nitrate print. Screened as part of a program of early films from the collections of the Swedish Film Institute, curated by Camille Blot-Wellens and Jon Wengström. Il cinema ritrovato, Cinema Lumiere – Sala Officinema/Mastroianni, June 30th.

Déjà s’envole la fleur maigre (Paul Meyer, 1960). Projection of the restored version, introduced in Italian by Paul Meyer’s daughter Claire. Il cinema ritrovato, Cinema Arlecchino, Bologna, July 2nd.

Dolina miru (Valley of Peace, France Štiglic, 1956). Slovene premiere of the restored version (on the occasion of the film’s 60 anniversary) presented in the presence of the two leading ‘child’ actors: Eveline Wohlfeiler and Tugo Štiglic. Open air projection on Congress Square, Ljubljana, August 23rd.

Safety Last! (Fred Newmeyer, Sam Taylor, 1923). Live accompanied on piano by Neil Brand. Open air projection on Congress Square, Ljubljana, August 25th.

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience (Terrence Malick, 2016). TIFF, Scotiabank Theatre – IMAX, Toronto, September.

No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, 2015). Opening film of the International Festival of Contemporary Arts CITY OF WOMEN. Introduced by, and followed by a talk with Claire Atherton. Kinodvor, Ljubljana, October 3rd.

The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971). 35mm print screened as part of the ‘Film Goes to Cinema’ retrospective at the Ljubljana International Film Festival, Kinodvor, Ljubljana, November 11th.


  1. Birkebeinerne (The Last King, Nils Gaup, 2016)
  2. Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)
  3. L’avenir (Things to Come, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016)
  4. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman, 2016)
  5. Office (Johnnie To, 2015)
  6. An (Sweet Bean, Naomi Kawase, 2015)
  7. Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke, 2015)
  8. L’ombre des femmes (In the Shadow of Women, Philippe Garrel, 2015)
  9. Beyoncé: Lemonade (Beyoncé Knowles, Kahlil Joseph, 2016)
  10. A Walnut Tree (Ammar Aziz, 2015)
  11. Çirak (The Apprentice, Emre Konuk, 2016)
  12. Förvaret (Detained, Shaon Chakraborty & Anna Persson, 2015)
  13. À peine j’ouvre les yeux (As I Open My Eyes, Leyla Bouzid, 2015)
  14. Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015)
  15. El abrazo de la serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent, Ciro Guerra, 2015)
  16. Forushande (The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi, 2016)
  17. Évolution (Lucile Hadžihalilović, 2015)
  18. Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala (Wael Shawky, 2015)
  19. Home Sweet Home (Faton Bajraktari, 2016)
  20. Goksung (The Wailing, Na Hong-jin, 2016)





My top 10 list, in no particular order:

  • Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
  • Risttuules (In the Crosswind, Martti Helde, 2014)
  • Cinema Futures (Michael Palm, 2016)
  • Cameraperson(Kirsten Johnson, 2016)
  • Austerlitz (Sergey Loznitsa, 2016)
  • Vlažnost (Humidity, Nikola Ljuca, 2016)
  • Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)
  • Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)
  • Mama (Mother, Vlado Škafar, 2016)
  • Forushande (The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi, 2016)



  1. Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, Lav Diaz, 2016)
  2. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
  3. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)
  4. No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, 2015)
  5. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
  6. Umi machi Diary (Our Little Sister, Koreeda Hirokazu, 2015)
  7. Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left, Lav Diaz, 2016)
  8. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman, 2015)
  9. 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, 2015)
  10. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)

I’m afraid the list reflects my limitations more than my wide-ranging interests: I catch what little is worth watching in either the multiplex and the arthouses, and do what I can to see the rest. I’m happy to be able to keep up with Lav Diaz, who I feel chronicles the history and soul of our country; I wish I could do the same for our other filmmakers. It’s been a grim year, not just personally but as a humane being in general; films are a consolation of sorts if little else, that somehow despite everything good work is still possible.



Cinema experiences (film + time + place + people)

  • Untranslated pink film at Ōkura Tokyo, January.
  • Chibi Maruko Chan: A Boy From Italy (Jun Takagi, 2016) at Toho Cinemas Ichikawa, January.
  • El abrazo de la serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent, Ciro Guerra, 2015) at Somerville Perth, March.
  • Mid-film ovation for Sandra Hüller in Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016), Cannes, May.
  • Kimi no na wa (Your Name, Makoto Shinkai, 2016) at Luna Leederville, November.

Retrospective (film + film + time + place + people)

‘Gaining Ground’ at Melbourne International Film Festival, July-August.

Idea expressed in film journalism (film + not-film)

“…the very notion that films can be labeled “good” or “bad”, so basic to mainstream reviewing protocol, becomes nonsensical unless one provides some context: good or bad for what, and for whom?” – Jonathan Rosenbaum, writing about Melbourne International Film Festival, September.


  • All Things Ablaze (Aleksey Solodunov, Dmitry Stoykov and Oleksandr Techynskyi, 2016) Revelation Perth International Film Festival, July.
  • Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016) Melbourne International Film festival, August.
  • The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Fred Schepisi, 1978), Australian Revelations, Perth, March.
  • Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016) Cannes, May.
  • Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016), Sydney Film Festival, June and The Backlot, Perth, December.
  • Shin Gojira (Shin Godzilla, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, 2016) Luna Leederville cinema, Perth, October.
  • Smithereens (Susan Seidelman, 1982) Melbourne International Film festival, August.
  • Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015) Event Innaloo cinema, Perth, January.
  • Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016) Cannes, May.
  • Where Are You Going (Zhengfan Yang, 2016) Melbourne International Film festival, August.

Embrace of the Serpent



This year my list of favourites seems to have been dominated by established masters and familiar names, both ones I’ve treasured for a while and ones I’ve only come to treasure over the course of the year. There’s also a plethora of debut creations by people I’m sure I will treasure in the future. And of course an abundance of glorious repertory and retrospective goodness that has allowed me to discover entire new on-screen worlds. It’s perhaps not been a year filled with films I’ve utterly adored, but it’s been a wholly interesting and eye-opening selection, as usual with a mix of festival and general-release viewing. Here it is, in a vague order:

Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
One of the first films I saw this year and probably my absolute favourite. Above all, the intricacy of the aesthetic choices is what I found most enthralling, but their combination with a real affective power elevated it to be simply divine. Expertly translates Highsmith’s riveting emotional fervour onto the screen, shifting the focus from linguistic to visual cues (so much glass! so many door frames!), and yet the structural defiance of the original remains ever-present. Even having read the source material and knowing exactly how it ended up I was still just as touched watching it fold out. A gorgeous and impeccable romantic drama.

Cosmos (Andrzej Žuławski, 2016)
Recalling this film puts me back into the frightened and daunted mood I left the cinema with. It’s another great adaptation and one that instils an immense dread and awe of the absurdity of minutiae and the terror of the enormousness of the mundane. Made ever more extraordinarily poignant by the recent passing of Žuławski, it caps off a lifetime of confrontational filmmaking and invites us to recalibrate the world in no uncertain – or even certain – terms. Confounding and contradictory and I loved it a lot.

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)
Contrary to Cosmos, Paterson embraces simplicity and quotidian existence and shares its exuberance and contentment with us all. There’s a quiet, contemplative tone that pervades the film; one of the sweetest and most wholesome films I think I’ve seen this year. Just delightful. I might go see this again. Driver gives a blissfully patient performance and the musings on art are profoundly touching. It’s also one of Jarmusch’s funniest films to date.

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)
My imagination has rarely been so captured by a recent film. Such a prolific confluence of the visual, intellectual and emotional. Phenomenal design! The aliens, their craft and their language were all super cool and detailed. Arrival balances immense scale and personal narrative very, very well, weaving worldwide panic with a tender mother-daughter tale. There’s a certain plot development which feels less like a twist and more like a key or a missing piece of the puzzle that is Arrival, and that’s very hard to pull off successfully. Films about aliens are expected to reinforce a love of humanity, but this takes that to another level with an admirable and much-needed optimism in us as a species.

Lu bian ye can (Kaili Blues, Bi Gan, 2015)
An audacious, expansive debut. The forty-minute-long single take that’s been placed right in the middle of the film’s already weaving loose structure is a feat of courage that endeared me even more to this film. I remember very little of what actually took place in the film but I remember very strongly feeling transfixed by the dreamy wave that washed over me.

11 Minut (11 Minutes) (Jerzy Skolimowski, 2015)
Speaking of audacity, I loved this angry rollercoaster of a film by a renowned punk master. Not letting up his commitment to breaking the form of filmmaking since his early days, Skolimowski delivers yet another shocking and marvellous film whose final moments are just mindboggling. Not to mention the entire film is set during 11 minutes, so the urgency is palpable as we know it all must end. And end it does, massively. It’s like riding on a rickety rollercoaster where the screws slowly unfasten and finally you’re thrown off into a shimmering explosion. Impressive stuff.

Julieta (Pedro Almodòvar, 2016)
While revisiting some familiar themes, Almodóvar makes them feel a lot different to what he usually does. Yes, it’s a film about loss and grief – and yet it’s not a film about the emotions felt when grieving, but rather the lack of emotions felt when grieving. It’s got no tears for a reason. I found this a very moving and delicate way of dealing with these issues. The immaculate colour scheme, tender score and fine acting were just the icing on the cake. Based on a set of wonderful short stories by Alice Munro.

Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier, 2015)
This is only Saulnier’s third feature, but already he’s proving to be one of the more interesting dissectors of violence in the film world. Wielding an almost Peckinpahesque fascination with the psychology and effects of violence, Saulnier has crafted an intense, gory thrillride that doesn’t let up over the course of its runtime. Heart-pounding.

Fear Itself (Charlie Lyne, 2015)
This is less a documentary and more a cine-essay, a rumination on what shapes horror as a genre. Alongside an almost hypnotic voiceover, we are led through a collage of edited clips from a remarkably diverse range of horror films and asked to ponder what exactly horror films play on, what fears they exploit, what anxieties they tap into. What they say about us as people. The whole thing ends up putting us into a calm, introspective trance, directly contrary to the intensity of the subject matter. Splendid work.

Hymyilevä mies (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, Juho Kuosmanen, 2016)
The most un-sporty sport film I think I’ve seen. Like so many films on this list, it deals with love, the decisions we make in relation to it and the effects it engenders. Surprisingly a biopic, the grainy black-and-whiteness suits the mood of the film perfectly. A notable near-absence of non-diegetic music helps authenticise and immerse us and overall this is a simple and sweet film.

Zir-e Sayeh (Under the Shadow, Babak Anvari, 2016)
The debut of Iranian filmmaker Babak Anvari is startlingly good. Effectively mixes parental and political themes into a horror setting, with Narges Rashidi giving a wonderful performance as a beleaguered mother in 1980s Tehran dealing with not only wartime but also a young, fragile daughter – and the possibility of an otherworldly presence. An unbelievably slow burn with a shriekingly huge payoff, the tension simmers from the very beginning and just gets bigger from there. Stylistically spot on, too. Probably my favourite of the first-time entries on this list.

The Eyes of My Mother (Nicolas Pesce, 2016)
Seems like it’s a great year not only for debuts but specifically for horror debuts. Nicolas Pesce’s is stunningly poetic and macabre. Equally mesmerising as it is horrifying, the film does not shy away from incredibly graphic horror violence but it’s enveloped in such a blissfully meditative and soft atmosphere that you don’t seem to notice. Kika Magalhães as the demented daughter is a creepy, melancholy piece of acting.

Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari, 2015)
Attenberg was one of my favourite films the year it came out and I’ve been waiting for Tsangari’s return ever since. As dry a film set on a boat as you’ll see. A gleefully twisted take on the foibles of hypermasculinity, it’s hilarious and poignant. So many great moments and a very dark undercurrent.

Francofonia (Alexander Sokurov, 2015)
Where Russian Ark explored themes of art and war in the Hermitage during the Russian Revolution, Francofonia transposes these same questions to the Louvre during the Nazi invasion of France. At times baffling and dense, in a good way, there are some remarkable blends of the past and present, of truth and fiction.

Girl Asleep (Rosemary Myers, 2015)
A charming and curious take on the coming-of-age story. Fabulous art design and a great sense of humour push this along and turn an ordinary, familiar narrative (new girl doesn’t fit in at school, doesn’t get along with parents, etc) into something lively, lovely and altogether unique. There’s also a striking dream sequence that ties the whole film together, an inventive amalgam of the protagonist’s subconscious with great aesthetic sensibilities. Definitely one of the better Australian films I’ve seen for a while.

Mustang (Denis Gamze Ergüven, 2015)
Powerful and well-crafted, this story of five Turkish sisters living in an oppressive traditionalist household seems (unfortunately) timelessly relevant. Sparkles with engaging performances, especially the five lead girls. It’s a very moving film and the structure and script are complemented by superb technical work, too, most notably for me the remarkable editing. I’m sure many have pointed out the aptness of the title, but it’s something that sums up the spirit of the film strikingly well: a majestic wild horse that must be free.

The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015)
It’s strange to use the word “mature” when describing the films of Quentin Tarantino, but that’s exactly how The Hateful Eight felt. Yes, there was the trademark violence and snappy dialogue, but the air it all gave off was grounded and frank – as were the discussions surrounding racism. Much more so, I thought, than the more explicitly racially-themed Django Unchained. (Though I’m still not sold on this film’s treatment of women, which seems at times knowingly brutal, to make a statement, but at other times just needlessly so.) Maybe because it’s the first of Tarantino’s films I’ve actually seen in a cinema – and on 70mm at that – but it’s the first of his films I’d genuinely describe as beautiful. The buckets of blood don’t hurt, either.

Nasty Baby (Sebastián Silva, 2015)
What begins as a semi-hipsterish New York story of boyfriends trying to convince their mutual friend to conceive and carry their baby slowly but surely turns into a nightmarish spiral of horror and destruction. Farce does not get much darker.

45 Years (Andrew Haigh, 2015)
Oh the heartbreak. I love love stories and particularly ones that break down what it means to love. And there’s nothing quite like finding out information 45 years into a marriage that casts your entire relationship in a shocking new light to break down what it means to love. I admired the clever centering of the story around Rampling’s character as the action unfolds. Smoke gets in your eyes indeed.

Hail, Caesar! (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2016)
I have no idea how accessible this film is to people who aren’t Old Hollywood enthusiasts – I hope it is – but as an Old Hollywood enthusiast I vigorously ate up this delicious filmic meal. Moments of hilarity, moments of wonder, and, of course, a healthy dose of the Coens’ obsession with the joyful inevitability of life’s ultimate meaninglessness.

Honourable mentions
Free Fire (Ben Wheatley, 2016), Malgré la nuit (Despite the Night, Philippe Grandrieux, 2015), Hrútar (Rams, Grímur Hákonarson, 2015), Taxi, (Jafar Panahi, 2015), Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman, 2015), Operation Avalanche (Matt Johnson, 2016), Suntan (Argyris Papadimitropoulos, 2016), Le Fils de Joseph (The Son of Joseph, Eugène Green, 2016), The Love Witch (Anna Biller, 2016), Down Under (Abe Forsythe, 2016), Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016), Killing Ground (Damien Power, 2016), Ta luo (Tharlo, Pema Tseden, 2015), Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton (Evan Johnson & Galen Johnson, 2016), The Autopsy of Jane Doe (André Øvredal, 2016). I would write about them individually if I had some more time.

Retrospectives, repertories
The Patsy (Jerry Lewis, 1964), The Ladies Man (Jerry Lewis, 1961), Children of Hiroshima (Kaneto Shindô, 1952), Romance X (Catherine Breillat, 1999), Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay, 1999), Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti, 1960), Roadgames (Richard Franklin, 1981), Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964), Phantasm (Don Coscarelli, 1979), A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971), Girlfriends (Claudia Weill, 1978), Born in Flames (Lizzie Borden,1983), Early Summer (Yasujio Ozu, 1951), Stan Brakhage retrospective, Nosferatu, the Vampyre (Werner Herzog, 1979), For Your Consideration (Christopher Guest, 2006), How the West Was Won (John Ford et al, 1962) Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950), Yama no oto (Sound of the Mountain, Mikio Naruse, 1954). Again, all of these I would write about one by one. I loved them all and will be thinking about them for a long time, for various reasons.




Films of the Year

Bad Black (Nabwana I.G.G., 2016)
Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, Lav Diaz, 2016)
Nuestra amiga la luna (Our Friend the Moon, Velasco Broca, 2016)
Qingshui Li De Daozi (Knife in the Clear Water, Xuebo Wang, 2016)
Lampedusa in Winter (Jakob Brossmann 2015)
Lucifer (Gust Van den Berghe, 2014)
The Other Side (Roberto Minervini, 2015)
Noite Sem Distância (Night Without Distance, Lois Patiño, 2015)
Pow Wow (Robinson Devor, 2016)
Heart of a Dog (Laurie Anderson, 2015)



In general, artistic consciousness continues to lag far behind objective events. 2016 witnessed various political earthquakes, Brexit, a near-coup in Turkey, the election of Trump, etc. Many of the events, in a contradictory manner, expressed mass popular disaffection and anger. Right-wing, nationalist parties gained the most at this point, because of the utter worthlessness of both the traditional “left” parties and the upper middle class pseudo-left, totally obsessed with race and gender. This is a temporary situation. I’m submitting three short lists:

New films released this year in the US

  • Free State of Jones (Gary Ross, 2016)
  • Loving (Jeff Nichols, 2016)
  • Snowden (Oliver Stone, 2016)
  • Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)
  • Indignation (James Schamus, 2016)
  • Wiener-Dog (Todd Solondz, 2016)

2015 films released this year in the US

  • Colonia (The Colony, Florian Gallenberger, 2015)
  • Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer (The People vs. Fritz Bauer, Lars Kraume, 2015)
  • Ixcanul (Volcano, Jayro Bustamante, 2015)
  • Microbe et Gasoil (Microbe & Gasoline, Michel Gondry, 2015)

Films viewed at festivals this year and not yet released in the US

  • Sameblod (Sami Blood, Amanda Kernell, 2016)
  • El elegido (The Chosen, Antonio Chavarrías, 2016)
  • Marija (Michael Koch, 2016)
  • Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd, 2016)
  • Past Life (Avi Nesher, 2016)
  • Radio Dreams (Babak Jalali, 2016)


  1. Landscape Suicide (James Benning, 1987)
  2. Sanrizuka – Heta Buraku, (Sanrizuka – Heta Village, Ogawa Shinsuke, 1973)
  3. Quick Billy (Bruce Baillie, 1971)
  4. Music with Roots in the Aether – Landscape with Pauline Oliveros (Robert Ashley, 1975)
  5. Lu bian ye can(Kaili Blues, Bi Gan, 2015)
  6. Second-hand Reading (William Kentridge, 2013)
  7. Boston Fire (Peter Hutton, 1979)
  8. HyperNormalisation (Adam Curtis, 2016)
  9. An Unreasonable Man (Henriette Mantel, Steve Skrovan, 2006)
  10. Visita ou Memórias e Confissões (Visit or Memories and Confessions, Manoel de Oliveira, 1982)
  11. He Fengming (Fengming, a Chinese Memoir, Wang Bing, 2007)
  12. Staub (Dust, Hartmut Bitomsky, 2007)
  13. The Forgotten Space (Allan Sekula, Noël Burch, 2010)
  14. Auge/Maschine I-III (Eye/Machine I-III, Harun Farocki, 2001-2003)
  15. Juke: Passages from the Films of Spencer Williams (Thom Andersen, 2015)
  16. Rak ti Khon Kaen (Cemetery of Splendour, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2015)
  17. JLG/JLG: Autoportrait de décembre (JLG/JLG: Self-Portrait in December, Jean-Luc Godard, 1995)
  18. New York Portrait, Chapter II (Peter Hutton, 1981)
  19. Here I Am (Bruce Baillie, 1962)
  20. Bakit Dilaw Ang Kulay ng Bahaghari (Why Is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow, Kidlat Tahimik, 1980-1994)
  21. Informe General II. El Nuevo Rapto De Europa (General Report II. The New Abduction of Europe, Pere Portabella, 2015)
  22. Natural History (James Benning, 2014)
  23. Vivir para Vivir (Live to Live, Laida Lertxundi, 2015)
  24. When It Rains (Charles Burnett, 1995)
  25. As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 3, O Encantado(Arabian Nights: Volume 3, the Enchanted One, Miguel Gomes, 2015)
  26. Sakda (Rousseau) (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2012)
  27. Before the Flood (Fisher Stevens, 2016)
  28. Sixty Six (Lewis Klahr, 2015)
  29. Our Stars (Mark Rappaport, 2015)
  30. Ascent (Fiona Tan, 2016)
  31. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)
  32. Bacalaureat (Graduation, Cristian Mungiu, 2016)



A list of films this year – both old and new – seen at festivals/some kind of cinema environment that somehow nudged and tapped away at my inner being, whatever that is. Even if the notion of the soul is a somewhat foreign concept within my lived in experience, the films listed below gave me a sense of peace and holistic discovery that somehow connected me to something outside of myself, the best thing art and documented forms of expression can achieve.

Listed in no particular order:

  • Na srebrnym globie (On the Silver Globe, Andrzej Zulawski, 1988)
  • Andrey Rublyov (Andrei Rublev, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
  • Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
  • A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971)
  • Something Between Us (Jodie Mack, 2015)
  • Detail (Hanna Chetwin, 2016)
  • Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)
  • Bēiqíng Chéngshì (A City of Sadness, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1989)
  • No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, 2015)
  • L’avenir (Things to Come, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016)

Toni Erdmann




Includes only films I viewed in theaters, some in Los Angeles and some in Bologna, Italy.

  1. Girl Shy (Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, 1924). One of Harold Lloyd’s most cogent and disarming comedies was screened as part of the TCM Classic Film Fest.
  2. Shooting Stars (Anthony Asquith, 1928). An extraordinarily stylish and assured first film from British writer-director Asquith, newly restored by the BFI and screened at Bologna.
  3. Ah-ga-ssi (The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook, 2016). An elegant study of servitude and revenge is set in mid-20th Century Korea, then under Japanese occupation.
  4. So This is Paris (Ernst Lubitsch, 1926). An exquisitely rendered confection from comedy master Lubitsch. Screened at the CineCon Festival in Los Angeles.
  5. (Pablo Lorrain, 2016). Lorrain (Neruda) was the perfect choice to direct Noah Oppenheim’s study of a determined woman who shapes the historical narrative following the assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy.
  6. Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar, 2016). An unexpectedly subdued, elegant study of guilt and secrecy from Spain’s premier auteur.
  7. City of Hope (John’s Sayles. 1991). LA’s Cinefamily hosted a timely revival screening of this complex, penetrating look at urban development as part of a tribute to writer-director Sayles’s career.
  8. Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu, 2016). Romania’sOscar entry portrays a tumultuous family gathering in a cramped apartment in the suburbs of Bucharest where claustrophobia and confusion reign supreme.
  9. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1973). Screened at USC as part of a tribute to screenwriter Robert Towne. Still one of the greatest films ever.
  10. Muriel ou Le temps d’un retour (Muriel, Alain Resnais, 1963). Renais makes the most of Jean Cayrol’s complicated, deeply felt scenario, which knowingly weaves together issues of personal and political identity as old lovers reconnect in a coastal French village ravaged by World War II bombing. Screened at the Cinema Ritrovato Festival in Bologna.
  11. La battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966). The urgency and political insight of Pontecorvo’s documentary, restored for its half-century anniversary and screened at the Directors Guild, seems more relevant today than ever before.
  12. American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016). Writer/director Arnold follows the adventures of a group of society’s young castaways. Dynamic and provocative.
  13. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016). Jenkins’ sensitive, lyrical examination of growing up gay and black in the American South.
  14. Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016). Verhoeven’s revisionist twist on the rape-revenge genre is dominated by Isabelle Huppert’s commanding turn as a tough video-game executive.
  15. Neruda (Pablo Larraín, 2016)Larrain’s masterful depiction of the intersection of history and myth focuses on the political travails of Chile’s legendary poet
  16. Bacalaureat (Graduation, Cristian Mungiu, 2016). A subtle, intricate tale of social aspiration and moral compromise from one of Romania premier auteurs.
  17. Divines (Houda Benyamina, 2016). Writer-director Benyamina’s riveting debut chronicles the adventures of rebellious teens from marginalized groups in Nice. Bursting with energy, it features captivating turns from its two young leads.
  18. Hail, Caesar (Ethan and Joel Coen, 2016). A hilarious, good-natured satire on Golden-Age Hollywood from the Coen Brothers.
  19. The Clan (El Clan, Pablo Trapero, 2015). Trapero’s chilling variation on The Godfather depicts kidnapping as an everyday activity in a politically connected Buenos Aries family.
  20. Arrival (Dennis Villeneuve, 2016) A provocative, hopeful take on alien encounters (of whatever sort). And a woman is the hero!
  21. The Hunting Ground (Kirby Dick, 2015). A devastating exposé of campus rape.
  22. L’avenir (Things to Come, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016). Writer-director Hansen-Løve’s quiet character study of a smart, capable middle-aged woman (Isabelle Huppert again) who must navigate her way through unexpected changes in her life course.
  23. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016). Writer Taylor Sheridan and director Mackenzie’s uncompromising portrait of rural poverty offers one way of viewing the recent election. Features a career-best performance by Jeff Bridges.
  24. Notfilm (Ross Lipman, 2015) A fascinating study that documents the relationship Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton established during the making of Becket’s Film
  25. Money Monster (Jodie Foster, 2016). Clever and witty, with three strong women at the center of the action. Also, George Clooney does the boogaloo.
  26. Afraid to Talk (Edward L. Cahn, 1932). A fast-moving, quick-witted, deftly plotted, crisply photographed, and smartly performed political satire. Screened as part of Bologna’s tribute to Universal during the early 1930s. A superlative example of classical Hollywood at its best.
  27. Miss Sloane (John Madden, 2016). Madden stages John Perera’s intricate, timely script about a ruthless lobbyist to highlight Jessica Chastain’s spellbinding lead performance.
  28. City of Gold (Laura Gabbert, 2015). Gabbert’s portrait of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold remaps the city as a rich tapestry of ethnic enclaves.

Best Female Bonding Movies: Divines, Miss Sloane, Elle, The Handmaiden
Best Live Musical Accompaniments: Speedy (Ted Wilde/Harold Lloyd, 1928: Disk Jockey J Z-Trip); Silly Symphonies (Walt Disney Studios, 1930s: Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra).




Here are my top 5 films of 2016:

  1. Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, 2015)
  2. Sing Street (John Carney, 2016)
  3. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
  4. Avril et le Monde Truqué (April and the Extraordinary World, Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, 2016)
  5. Chi-Raq (Spike Lee, 2015)



  1. No Home Movie(Chantal Akerman, 2015). Our greatest movie about death?
  2. Cavalo Dinheiro (Horse Money, Pedro Costa, 2014). Our greatest movie about dying?
  3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016). Oh, it’s about movies (and their doubles), the world, reality.
  4. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015). All Los Angeles movies are endtimes movies. This might be the most winningy narcotic. Obviously it would be an impertinence to call it a narrative film.

Page of

 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, LITERATURE ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 11 March 2018

The Influence of Arthur Miller on American Theater and Culture and the Global Implications of His Plays

Summary and Keywords

Arthur Miller (1915–2005) was the author of essays, journals, short stories, a novel, and a children’s book, but is best known for his more than two dozen plays, which include the seminal American dramas Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. A staunch patriot and humanist, Miller’s work conveys a deeply moral outlook whereby all individuals have a responsibility both to themselves and to the society in which they must live. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Miller maintained his optimism that despite humanity’s unfortunate predisposition toward betrayal, people could transcend this and be better. In the creation of Death of a Salesman, along with its director Elia Kazan and designer Jo Mielziner, Miller brought a new style of play to the American stage which mixes the techniques of realism and expressionism; this has since been dubbed “subjective realism” and provoked a redefinition of what tragedy might mean to a modern audience. Influenced by the social-problem plays of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, the experimental poetics of Clifford Odets and Tennessee Williams, and the inventive staging of Thornton Wilder, Miller created his own brand of drama that often explored macrocosmic social problems within the microcosm of a troubled family. Though he is viewed as a realist by some critics, his work rarely conforms to such limitations, and his entire oeuvre is notable for its experimentation in both form and subject matter, with only his inherent philosophical beliefs to provide connection. For Miller, people need to understand that they are products of their pasts, and that it is inevitable that “the birds come home to roost,” but through acknowledging this and actively owning any guilt attached, individuals and society can improve.

Miller was raised in a largely secular Jewish environment, and his morality has a Judaic inflection and he wrote several plays featuring Jewish characters; however, his themes address universal issues and explore the impact of the past, the role of the family, and a variety of belief systems from capitalism to socialism, along with providing lessons in responsibility and connection, and exploring the abuses and misuses of power. His works provide insight into the heart of human nature in all its horror and glory, including its capacity for love and sacrifice as well as denial and betrayal. Miller was able to see both the comedy and tragedy within the human condition. His driving concern was to make a difference, and it was through his writing that he found his means.

Keywords: Jewish writers, film, television and media, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, guilt, responsibility, gender


Arthur Asher Miller was born on October, 17, 1915 in Harlem, New York, to a Jewish couple, Gittel “Augusta” and Isidore Miller. Isidore had come to America from Poland as a child to work in the family’s clothing business, while Augusta was a first-generation immigrant whose family was also in the clothing industry. She had thought about becoming a teacher but was instead persuaded by her family to marry in 1911. Arthur was the second of their three children, with an older brother, Kermit, and a younger sister, Joan, who would become the actress Joan Copeland.

Miller’s parents were not very observant Jews, but Miller did attend the occasional service with his grandfather, as well as Hebrew school to prepare for his bar mitzvah. Growing up, Miller always admired his older brother but also felt that their natures were profoundly different. Kermit seemed the perfect, dutiful son, while Miller saw himself as darker and more ambitious. This dynamic is related through many of the competing brothers we meet in his plays. A younger sister, however, is never in the mix, even in his semi-autobiographical pieces. Miller’s mother characters, however, tend to be very present and rooted in reality, often dominating the moral core of his dramas.

Branching out from the family business shortly after the close of World War I, Isidore built up a successful women’s clothing company employing 800 people at its peak, and housed the family in an expensive Harlem apartment overlooking Central Park. However, when Miller was a teenager, with the onset of the Great Depression the business began to falter, and the family had to relocate to Brooklyn. The firm would eventually go bankrupt, even after Kermit dropped out of New York University to assist his father. In Brooklyn, where Miller had to share a bedroom with his maternal grandfather, the Millers lived close to their extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins, many of whom would feature as characters in Miller’s future work, most notably his uncle Manny Newman and family, the models for the Lomans in Death of a Salesman. While little of Miller’s work is strictly autobiographical, his ability to create characters based upon real people makes them all the more authentic.

The experience of the Great Depression would haunt Miller as a key event in American history that altered forever the way people viewed everything around them, and it can be seen as influencing the background of several of his plays. The depression had exposed many social hypocrisies and changed the way success and failure could be considered. The Baum family at the center of The American Clock (1980) offers a version of Miller’s personal experiences during those years, although the Baums have only a single son, Lee. Miller admired and hated his father; he was annoyed at Isidore’s incapacity to fully recuperate, economically and emotionally, from the depression, yet he was able to recognize his father’s basic decency. In hindsight, Miller saw that it was the system that failed rather than his father, but at the time it was difficult to lay the blame elsewhere as he watched his father become increasingly useless as a provider. This is reflected in Miller’s depiction of Moe Baum, the father in The American Clock, whereas Rose, the mother of the family, is portrayed as having far greater strength of spirit and creativity, and with her “headful of life”1 provides the resistant core of the play against the destruction of the depression. She is just one in a series of strong, but critically overlooked, female characters in Miller’s work.

Uncommitted to academics but a strong athlete, Miller graduated from Abraham Lincoln High in 1932 with a knee injury that would keep him out of the army during World War II, and a lackluster transcript that initially kept him out of college. Rejected by the University of Michigan, to which he had applied to get away from family and join what was then seen as a forward-thinking community, Miller wrote again to the dean to plead for a chance to prove himself. He was offered a probationary placement if he could show he had sufficient funds to enroll. Finding work as a clerk at an auto parts warehouse, an experience he would later recall in the play A Memory of Two Mondays (1955), it took him over a year to save the money, but he was finally able to enroll at Michigan to study journalism in the fall of 1934.

College and the Developmental Years

Miller worked as a reporter and editor for the Michigan Daily, where his copy showed strong socialist sympathies as he covered campus speakers and nearby strikes. In his sophomore year he met his future wife, Mary Slattery, his first non-Jewish girlfriend; both politically committed, they would join the peace movement and sign the Oxford Pledge, which declared its signatories would not take part in any future war. Needing additional funds to remain enrolled, Miller submitted work for one of the University’s Hopwood Awards—competitive writing awards administered each year by the university—and wrote his first play, No Villain. Though having little experience of theater, he chose drama because he felt drawn to a form of writing that could so directly connect to its audience. The play was a semi-autobiographical piece about a father whose business is facing strike action and bankruptcy, and how his two sons respond. It won a joint first prize. This play lay in archives for many years but was resurrected in 2015 for a London production during Miller’s centennial year. It offers interesting insights into Miller’s growing beliefs.

Miller switched his major to English and studied the plays of Henrik Ibsen under Professor Kenneth Rowe, who would teach him more about the dynamics of playwriting. With his New York connections, Rowe also encouraged his pupil to submit work to the Theater Guild’s Bureau of New Plays, from which Miller won a substantial scholarship with a rewrite of No Villain, now titled They Too Arise. A later revision of this, renamed The Grass Still Grows, was turned down by New York producers as being “too Jewish,” something that may have influenced Miller to alter the tone of some of his later characters. His first two Broadway plays would also be set in the Midwest, as if to avoid any suggestion they could be about Jews. However, while Miller would, once famous, face charges of trying to hide his Jewishness, nothing could be further from the truth, given the number of overtly Jewish plays and Jewish characters that he created over his entire career.

Miller won the Hopwood Award outright the following year with Honors at Dawn—another play about strikers, corruption, and two brothers at odds—and placed second in his final year with The Great Disobedience, a prison drama in which he attempted a more original plot about a jailed abortionist and a sadistic warden. After graduation, despite an offer to write for the movies, Miller decided to return to New York to work on his plays, first for the Federal Theatre Project until it closed down in 1939, and then for various radio stations. He wrote mostly patriotic pieces for NBC and CBS, although Columbia Workshop did air a more unusual political satire: The Pussycat and the Expert Plumber Who Was a Man (1940), about a talking cat who gets to be mayor. Working for radio gave Miller practice in more tightly constructing his dialogue to fit the time slot, but also a greater sense of freedom as to what could be included when not restricted to a physical space.

In 1940 Miller married Mary Slattery, who had followed him back to New York, and with whom he would have two children, Jane and Robert. Unable to enlist, Miller took on a night shift at the Brooklyn Naval Yard as his contribution to the war effort. After having his screenplay for The Story of G.I. Joe rejected as being too downbeat, he used the research he had done for his first published book, Situation Normal … (1944). It related his experiences touring U.S. army camps to interview new recruits and veterans. He dedicated the book to his brother Kermit, who was at that time heroically serving abroad. That year, Miller also had his first full-length play produced on Broadway: The Man Who Had All The Luck, which closed after six performances. Critics were not sure what to make of this fable-like play, whose protagonist becomes reckless waiting for misfortune to hit. Though often overlooked and not successfully produced until 1990 (at the Bristol Old Vic), this seminal play illustrates a key concern that runs throughout Miller’s work regarding humankind’s capacity for eschewing responsibility and attempting to blame the other, rather than becoming agents of their own lives. It is a theme that would unnervingly echo throughout many of his plays.

After his critical dismissal as a dramatist, Miller nearly gave up plays and turned to fiction, producing a novel about American anti-Semitism, Focus (1945); he was one of the earliest American writers to tackle the topic. However, despite the moderate success of this book, he was determined to conquer Broadway, carefully crafting his next play, All My Sons—based on a story told to him by his mother-in-law—along more traditional Ibsenian lines, and persuading Elia Kazan to take on its direction to ensure a solid production. Miller had been a big admirer of the work of the Group Theater, with which Kazan had come to fame, and he and Kazan swiftly became close friends. About a man who tries to cover up selling faulty aircraft parts to the Air Force but is finally forced to face the moral consequences, All My Sons won major awards and gave Miller the theatrical success he desired, as well as the leeway to experiment more freely with his next play: Death of a Salesman (1949). It also introduced two strong female characters to the stage in Kate Keller and Ann Deever, both of whom determine the action of the play and dominate the men who love them.

Rise to Fame

In recounting the final twenty-four hours of Willy Loman’s frustrated life in Death of a Salesman, Miller strove to create a new form of theater that would convey the simultaneity in the way the memories of past events collide in one’s mind with current occurrences. Seeing tension as the very stuff of drama, Miller wanted to re-create in a play what he saw as the contradictory forces that operate on people—past against present, society against individual, greed against ethics. His first title had been Inside of His Head, but that was quickly replaced, along with Miller’s original concept of having the scenes play out inside a stage representation of a giant head. Again directing, Kazan brought along the stage and lighting designer Jo Mielziner—with whom he had successfully worked on Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire—to help visualize what would become one of the American stage’s most iconic set designs.

As Brenda Murphy explains, Mielziner’s designs “combined translucent scenery, expert lighting effect, and sets that went, as the eye travelled upward, from drab realistic interiors to light, delicate frameworks that were mere suggestions of buildings,” which she terms “subjective realism.”2 Miller wanted a set that would convey aspects of both the claustrophobic present and the idealized past within the same space, and Mielziner obliged with an inventive use of scrims and lighting in a design that allowed all the scenes to be played out with minimal stage management. The forestage was essential to allow for breakout space to play the scenes beyond the Lomans’ house. Through this format, Miller, Kazan, and Mielziner suggested a whole new way of presenting a play on stage, and it would become increasingly influential.

The play’s tremendous impact was also due to the authenticity of its depictions. This is perhaps the reason why Miller—despite the expressionistic elements of the play—was wrongly dubbed a realist for many years. Miller had grown up around salesman and knew the pressures they faced, especially in a changing society that no longer did business in the ways it once had. By the 1940s, planned obsolescence was affecting people as much as innovative appliances, and Miller’s rendition of an everyday family trying to find its way to success in a society unsupportive and unsympathetic toward failure hit a distinctive cultural nerve in an America increasingly materialistic and intolerant of “failure.” The problems faced by the Loman family have since proven timeless and transcultural, representative of all people struggling to navigate their lives in societies inherently hostile to their dreams. As the playwright Marsha Norman suggests, “In writing about Willy Loman, Arthur Miller wrote about all of us, about our indestructible will to achieve our humanity, about our fear of being torn away from what and who we are in this world, about our fear of being displaced and forgotten.”3

Miller recognized the social and historical forces operating against the Loman family. From the wagon-laden peddlers who often made their own wares, such as Willy’s father, through the early drummers like David Singleman, traveling by rail, down to the car-driving Willy, whose traveling days are clearly coming to a close when business is no longer done with a smile and a handshake, the play neatly depicts a history of American business practices. Willy is being replaced by a new kind of corporate salesman. This is modeled by Happy, who toils as assistant to an assistant buyer, stuck in a store. Willy’s boss, Howard, seduced by technology and time-management studies, is fast moving toward a pared-down workforce and automation, illustrating the dehumanization of the worker with scientific and engineering advances. At times comic, yet also poetic and tragic, with a realistic veneer that made it easy to involve any audience, Salesman was a new type of serious drama that merged the forms of realism and expressionism to suggest new directions and possibilities for all of American drama, as well as offering a challenge to previous definitions of tragedy.

Against much opposition, Miller argued for Willy Loman’s status as a modern tragic hero. Not a highborn or even intelligent figure, Willy’s nobility lay in his willingness to lay down his life rather than accept the erasure of his dignity. Miller pled his case in two controversial articles in the New York Times, “Tragedy and the Common Man,” and “On Tragedy,” which redefined the way American dramatists, in particular, would view the genre. For Miller, “In the tragic view the need of man to wholly realize himself is the only fixed star.”4 Thus, tragedy could be drawn from the travails of anyone who refuses to give up what he deems his “rightful position” in society. Miller’s tragedies ask audiences to examine and perhaps even fix the social flaws that create such circumstances. Miller produced many essays over his career in which he expounded his opinions on theater, politics, history and social theory, thus indicating a desire to be not just a playwright, but someone who might shape the direction of American drama, if not America itself.

In its effectiveness as a human story, a cultural commentary, an engaging theatrical experience, and a tremendously successful stage experiment, Death of a Salesman is perhaps Miller’s most important play; however, the play that followed, The Crucible—a reaction to Miller’s concern regarding what he saw as the bullying behavior of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and the morality of informing on others—has become his most produced one. Like Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, although written to address a specific historical climate—1950s McCarthyism through the lens of the 1692 Salem witch hunts—has remained powerfully relevant, in part because The Crucible is a study of the nature of society itself. It effectively conveys striking lessons on the responsible role of authority and the rights and needs of the individual which speak to people who have never heard of Salem or Senator McCarthy. As Matthew Roudané suggests, “The Crucible remains a powerful theatrical experience precisely because it continues to define key political and religious issues of a nation as such issues are reflected within the private anxieties of the individual.”5

Another modern tragic hero, the play’s central protagonist John Proctor, must confront his own culpability through his past affair with Abigail, the girl whose accusations have initiated the witch trials. Mapping the typical progression of so many of Miller’s characters, from betrayal and/or guilt through to the embrace of active responsibility, Proctor comes to an existential self-awareness that gives his self-sacrifice—to preserve his own name and the names of others—a timeless relevance. A person’s name, for Miller, is the trope by which his characters convey a sense of their own moral and personal essence, and the loss of a name can only be devastating.

Miller spent much of 1952 researching witch trials at the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts. Thus he ensured that the play would have an accurate historical basis that could guard him against accusations of creating a flimsy social satire. He also avoided trying to create a one-to-one analogy, which he felt would be reductive. Although The Crucible is more historically accurate than many of Shakespeare’s plays, it was accused by some of being untruthful, and by others of making an unfair analogy. In hindsight, these seem like strategies to discredit its authority, but at the time it made it a highly controversial play to applaud for fear of being viewed as a “red” sympathizer.

Combining what Brecht called “historification”—by which the playwright would comment on current events through historical analogy—with a more complex linguistic style of the agitprop plays of the 1930s that he admired, in The Crucible Miller produced a drama that addresses key social, moral, and political issues, yet also remains great theater that tugs at its audience’s emotions. The Crucible has something for everyone: sympathies can be drawn to the disenfranchised black slave, the suppressed group of young women, the tortured souls of the unhappy and unlucky Proctors, or the self-important Reverend Hale who gets his certitude stripped away; audience distaste is fired up against the self-righteously pompous, the jealous and cold-heartedly venal, or the blind, rigid enforcement of painfully ridiculous reasoning and rules. Thus the play’s impact and longevity are understandable.

Miller himself was called to appear before HUAC after his marriage to Marilyn Monroe brought him into the spotlight. He refused to name names, telling the committee, “I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him.”6 With this clear echo of the words he had put in the mouth of John Proctor three years earlier, Miller was cited for contempt and given a $500 fine and a thirty-day suspended jail sentence. Two years later, his conviction was overturned on the grounds that the questions he had been asked to answer served no legislative purpose. Elia Kazan, however, driven by his disgust at what communism had become under Stalin, and his need to work in Hollywood and abroad, had named names in 1952, and Miller swiftly terminated his close friendship with Kazan as a result.

How close Miller had been to the Communist Party during the 1930s and 1940s remains a matter of critical contention, and HUAC produced little firm evidence during his hearing. Miller’s resistance was more moral than political, as he felt the HUAC hearings to be socially and psychologically harmful. It is certain that Miller, like Kazan and many others during that period, had seen hope for America in the socialist aspects of communism, but it is also clear that he held Stalin in contempt. In a recent study, Alan Wald explores Miller’s initial alignment and later disillusionment with Soviet socialism, and posits that Miller may have written for New Masses in the 1940s under the pseudonym Matt Wayne.7

The Critical Slide

While Miller wrote other successful modern tragedies, such as A View from the Bridge, Incident at Vichy, and Broken Glass, he was not content to stick with this single format and continued to experiment with both form and subject for the next fifty years of his career. Many of these experiments would be met with disdain by a cadre of critics determined to view him as a simplistic realist, but his work flourished in Europe while neglected at home; by the 1990s, critics began to offer a more measured reassessment of many of these overlooked later pieces. As his most insightful biographer, Christopher Bigsby, suggests, “[Miller] wrote metaphors rather than plays, and that is why they continue to live on the pulse, constantly reinvented, earthed in new realities.”8

Miller has been both hailed and scorned as “America’s conscience,” for the exploration of moral choices that underlies much of his work. Philip Gelb once claimed Miller as a prophet, describing him as a man who “warns us of the possible bitter harvest that may be reaped from our present limited way; he calls attention to the moral and ethical decisions that must be made; and he dramatizes the problem and the need for individuality and will. These may well prove to be the ultimate meanings of hope.”9 Miller’s works are certainly rooted in a profoundly humanistic philosophy that is fiercely patriotic, but just as determined to bring attention to America’s flaws. His driving concern was always to make a difference, and he was convinced that theater was a public art which could do that. For example, his translation in 1950 of Henrik Ibsen’s Enemy of the People (done for Fredric March), was a means of allowing both playwright and actor to highlight what they saw as the growing mob hysteria against the left during the Cold War. Not for the first time, Miller would be accused of creating anti-American propaganda, even though his intent had been to strengthen a nation in which he fiercely believed; similar charges had been made against All My Sons for its indictment of war profiteering that many refused to accept existed.

While in Hollywood with Kazan in 1951, unsuccessfully trying to find a producer for his screenplay The Hook, about a young dockworker who challenges corrupt union bosses, Miller was introduced by Kazan to Marilyn Monroe. The two bonded, but Miller decided to try to keep his admittedly rocky marriage going, and swiftly returned to New York. However, the two continued to correspond. After her failed marriage to Joe DiMaggio, Monroe came to New York to enroll in the Actors Studio, and rekindled her relationship with Miller.

In 1956, Miller divorced his wife and married Monroe, accompanying the actress to London where she was filming, which also gave him the opportunity to expand his one-act version of A View From the Bridge into two acts for its British premiere, and to write an “Introduction” to his forthcoming Collected Plays, which has been called “one of the most important texts in the modern theater.”10 It remains one of the longest modern American essays on the state of the theater in general and offers insights into the writing process of many of Miller’s best-known plays. The marriage lasted over four years but placed great strain on them both. It was already falling apart by the time Miller wrote the screenplay for The Misfits (1961), based on an earlier published short story of the same title, about a group of cowboys catching wild mustangs for slaughter. He expanded the role of one cowboy’s girlfriend into a central character at his wife’s request to create a serious acting role for her. What he in fact wrote was an elegy on their disintegrating relationship.

After his marriage to Monroe collapsed, Miller wed the Austrian photographer Ingeborg Morath, whom he had met on the set of The Misfits, where she was taking photographs for Magnum Photos. With Morath he would have two more children, Rebecca and Daniel, and live happily for the next forty years, both of them with important careers that they occasionally merged to produce several books of photographs and reportage, including In Russia (1969), In the Country (1977), Chinese Encounters (1979), and Salesman in Beijing (1984). On the birth of his new daughter Rebecca Miller also published a children’s picture book called Jane’s Blanket (1963), with illustrations by Al Parker, in evident acknowledgment of his older daughter.

Morath often traveled as part of her work, and Miller—who before marrying her had rarely left America—now began to travel abroad frequently. Though not Jewish, Morath took Miller to visit several of the Nazi concentration camps. In 1967, the couple’s second child, Daniel, was born severely affected by Down syndrome. Like many other such parents in the 1960s, they enrolled him at Southbury Training School, a facility close enough to visit. Miller always kept this very private, and it was not until later in life that he was able to come to terms with his son’s disability.

Meantime, Miller and Kazan had reunited, albeit on a less friendly basis, with a request for Miller to write a new play to inaugurate the Lincoln Center Repertory Theater, which Kazan was leading with producer Robert Whitehead. A 1962 visit with Morath to the Mauthausen concentration camp had provided further ideas for the drama, which Miller would title After the Fall (1964). Advancing the subjective realism of Death of a Salesman to borderline expressionism, After the Fall takes place within “the mind, thought, and memory” of its central protagonist, Quentin, against a split-level set that conveys a “lava-like, supple geography in which, like pits and hollows found in lava, the scenes take place” against the backdrop of a “blasted stone tower of a German concentration camp.”11

Despite his denials, the loose plot of Miller’s play, about a man trying to commit to a third wife after two failed marriages, seemed openly autobiographical, especially the similarity between the singer Maggie and Marilyn Monroe. Despite Miller’s request that the play be judged on its artistic merits, he found himself excoriated by critics for what was felt to be a vindictive portrayal of the now-dead actress. Monroe’s suicide made her a tragic figure, and portraying her as a promiscuous, temperamental, self-deceiving individual, even in a sympathetic light, was considered scandalous. Regardless of its autobiographical roots, the play was also inspired by Albert Camus’s novel The Fall (1956), about a man haunted by his failure to save another’s life. After the Fall is Miller’s most earnest exploration of humankind’s heart of darkness, as he carefully dissects Quentin and forces him to finally face his dissembling and avoidance of reality.

Though humanistically optimistic that people could change and become better, Miller strongly believed that the initial human impulse was always toward betrayal. Once those betrayals are acknowledged by the less villainous, guilt takes over, but passive guilt or a refusal to do anything to fix the problem are equally worthless. The true Miller hero—either male or female—strives beyond acceptance of guilt to take on a responsibility for change, for themselves or for an entire social system. Later the same year that After the Fall opened, Incident at Vichy also played at Lincoln Rep, though to less fanfare. It is a more tautly realistic piece about the round-up of Jews in Vichy France during World War II. Through the sacrificial character of Von Berg, who tries to save a Jewish psychiatrist from internment, this play clearly depicts these central beliefs. And while the play illustrates Miller’s allegiance to Jewish concerns in its exposure of Nazi anti-Semitism, it is also intended to convey humankind’s seemingly intrinsic desire to scapegoat, as one character explains: “Each man has his Jew; it is the other.”12

Irving Wardle marks After the Fall as the turning point in the American public’s attitude toward Miller: “Almost overnight, the image of a heroic public spokesman was replaced by that of a confused private man: and thereafter Miller was punished in the only way America knows how to punish a fallen idol. Death of a Salesman and The Crucible remained great national classics, but in the work he has written since the sixties he was treated as a bankrupt trying to pick up the pieces.”13 Robert Corrigan, a strong supporter of Miller’s earlier works, dismissed the playwright, calling his post-1960s plays “abortive failures” that are unable “to give expression to the conflicts of contemporary experience.”14 Robert Brustein declared Miller’s sensibility to be so outdated that it should be relegated to “the eighteenth century, which is the age of Newton, rather than to the twentieth, the age of Einstein.”15

Production reviews of Miller’s later dramas revealed a prevalent perception of Miller as a playwright in decline, producing unsatisfactory plays that lack credibility and are riddled with problems. However, as the playwright David Rabe points out, “People act like his early plays are the only ones he wrote … the critics have praised him for a certain kind of play and dramaturgy of moral ideas and then they have maligned him for not growing when in fact what has happened is that they have refused to admit he has grown.” Rabe concludes: “What is really insane is not to recognise the value of the later plays, the development of the writer, the evolving struggle of his relationship to the idea of a moral position.”16

Politics and the Experiments of the 1970s and 1980s

When The Price opened in 1968, it seemed a return to more familiar Miller territory: the division and connection between family members as two brothers argue over their legacy. A more realistic piece, it was well received though viewed as a lesser play by Miller. A humiliating exchange that year in the New York Times debated his merits as a playwright, and rather oddly, given his history of experimentation, dismissed him as an old-fashioned realist.

Miller had rarely utilized strict realism, but The Price would be the last play that came close to realistic drama that he would write for a long time. During the 1970s and 1980s, he experimented with several different forms. While addressing real issues using real people in real situations, he strove to incorporate new techniques into his overall design to keep his plays fresh, exciting to produce and watch. Sadly, while directors and actors were keen to work with these plays, most of the U.S. productions were ignored or dismissed by critics, partly because they did not resemble “Miller plays.”

Miller began to spend more time tending to his Connecticut property, as well as becoming engaged in local and national politics, including attending two Democratic national conventions in 1968 and 1972 as an elected delegate. From 1965 to 1969, he served as the President of pen, an international organization of playwrights, poets, essayists, and novelists formed after World War II to combat censorship and repression of writers. During the 1970s, he helped free the Brazilian playwright Augusto Boal from prison, appeared on a panel before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to support the freedom of writers throughout the world, and petitioned Czechoslovakia to halt arrests of dissident writers.

During the 1970s, Miller wrote a broad comedy about Adam and Eve (The Creation of the World and Other Business, 1972), a full-blown musical based on The Creation of the World (Up From Paradise, 1974), and a political drama ostensibly set in eastern Europe and inspired by his knowledge of Vaclav Havel’s treatment by the Czechoslavakian government (The Archbishop’s Ceiling, 1977). These were all very different from his usual fare, and none was well received in America, although The Archbishop’s Ceiling was successful in subsequent productions abroad.

During the 1980s, Miller penned two full-length works followed by a series of more experimental shorter pieces. The American Clock (1980) was first performed at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina, then transferred to New York. It closed after a mere twelve performances, even with Miller’s sister Joan Copeland playing the role of Rose, based on their mother. With music and a cast of more than fifty, Miller envisioned it as a shifting collage of American life in the 1930s, and an encomium to the concept of American democracy. It would not be until Peter Wood’s 1986 National Theatre production in England that it really came together and caught the audience’s imagination and approval. The other full-length piece was the televised Holocaust drama Playing For Time (1980), loosely based on the memoirs of Fania Fénelon, a French pianist and singer imprisoned at Auschwitz. The controversial choice of Vanessa Redgrave—an outspoken supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization—to play the Jewish Fénelon caused a greater stir than the film itself, but Miller defended her right to appear. He would later adapt his screenplay for a theatrical production that was performed briefly in 1985 to little notice or praise.

His intriguing and inventive shorter plays produced during the 1980s were also virtually ignored in America, but well received in Britain. In 1982, Elegy for a Lady and Some Kind of Love Story were also directed by Miller and performed under the collective title of 2 by A. M., changed to Two-Way Mirror for the London premiere in 1989. In Elegy for a Lady, a man appears to get advice and enlightenment from the proprietress of a boutique. In Some Kind of Love Story, a private detective interviews a possible witness in a criminal case who may also be schizophrenic. The latter story would evolve into the screenplay Everybody Wins at the end of the decade. In 1987, a production was staged of Danger: Memory!, made up of the one-acts Clara and I Can’t Remember Anything. Clara shows a man’s reactions to the vicious murder of his daughter; I Can’t Remember Anything depicts the squabbling relationship of two elderly friends. All four short plays used minimalistic or highly representational sets, with great use of lighting, sound, and image, to get their points across, showing firm evidence of Miller’s constant exploration of theatrical limits.

Trying to explain why he felt Miller was better received on British shores, the critic Michael Billington suggested it was because Miller displayed a European dramatist’s tendency “to ask daunting questions rather than provide [the] comforting answers” American audiences and critics seemed to prefer.17 During this period, Miller became more vocal than ever against the dominance of Broadway and the difficulties of producing serious drama in America. Others, though, have suggested that it was his marriage to Marilyn Monroe and subsequent divorce that most poisoned the well of approval. Monroe haunted Miller and her ghost hovers behind many of his characters, from Abigail in The Crucible to his final play, Finishing the Picture, which returns to their time together while filming The Misfits (it was not written until after his third wife had died). Even though it is clear that he loved Monroe, and her marriage to him was the longest and best of her three, many felt that Miller was unfairly profiting from her fame and tragedy. It must be noted, however, that several of the plays from this period contain central female characters beyond the shadows of Monroe, contradicting the common misunderstanding that Miller wrote important roles only for men.

Return to National Attention

As a sign of his stature abroad, Miller was invited by Cao Yu and Ying Ruocheng in 1983 to direct Death of a Salesman at the Beijing People’s Art Theatre, and thus became the first foreign director to mount a play in the People’s Republic of China with Chinese actors. The Chinese were excited by the innovation of the play’s form and how that might affect a Chinese theater that had so far only experimented with realism, and not yet witnessed the more complex subjective realism of Death of a Salesman. Cultural differences, especially in Chinese acting styles, presented Miller with many obstacles, but he and the cast created a successful production by focusing on the inner tensions and various motivations of characters. On his return to the United States, Miller published a day-to-day journal he had written during rehearsals, titled Salesman in Beijing. Around the same period, Dustin Hoffman’s 1984 stage production of Death of a Salesman, with which Miller had been involved, grossed over 3 million dollars in ticket receipts within three days of opening, and the subsequent televised version aired on CBS in 1985 to an audience of 25 million. These events brought Miller back into the American public eye, although his reinstitution as America’s leading playwright would take time.

In the 1990s, still struggling to find an American audience for his new work, Miller refused to slacken. His next full-length play, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, premiered in London in 1991. Miller chose London partly because of his growing despair over getting fair press in America, but also because he was particularly keen to have the British director Michael Blakemore tackle the play’s complex entwining of reality and imagination. The play, about one man’s ego and the troubles he causes in his desire for complete autonomy, was later revised and presented to full houses at the Williamstown Theater Festival, Massachusetts, in 1996. Its planned transfer to New York did not take place until 1998 at the Public Theatre, and it was not performed on Broadway until 2000. Still, its jokey, ribald tale of an unrepentant bigamist did not sit well with the American public.

Another play written in 1991, which Miller first produced in a short one-act version in the United States, was The Last Yankee. It is a much quieter and subtler dramatic exercise than The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, and the extended version that he introduced in 1993 was lengthy enough to stand alone. Set in a mental hospital, it depicts the pressures facing married couples in a postmodern age of chaos and insecurity. In this understated but masterly piece, the four-person cast interact as though performing a musical quartet; but again, the play was better received in Britain than in America. However, Miller’s academic reputation was slowly being rekindled on his home shores.

In 1992, the first International Arthur Miller Conference was held at Millersville University in Pennsylvania; at the second International Arthur Miller Conference in 1995, the Arthur Miller Society was founded. In 2006 the biannual society newsletter became the Arthur Miller Journal. The society has done much to reassert and reassess critical attention on Miller’s life and work.

Miller’s 1994 play Broken Glass had moderately successful runs on both Broadway and London stages, and it was filmed for television in England to reach an even bigger audience. It returns to Miller’s interest in both the Holocaust and the 1930s; and many saw this realistically rendered tale of a woman’s paralysis and her husband’s inability to face his complicity in it as a return to an earlier style. Miller emerged once more as a mainstream dramatist. In 1995 several major tributes were held in both Britain and America to celebrate Miller’s eightieth birthday. In 1997 a film version of The Crucible opened, for which Miller would receive an Oscar nomination for his screenplay, and he won a series of lifetime achievement awards, including the William Inge Festival Award and the Edward Albee Last Frontier Playwright Award; he was also named a Distinguished Inaugural Senior Fellow of the American Academy in Berlin.

The ethereal Mr. Peter’s Connections, a play that was firmly experimental, with multiple timelines and blurred reality, was produced in 1998. It is somewhat reminiscent of After the Fall, as a man’s past life is examined and found wanting. This was part of a whole season of Miller’s work presented by New York’s Signature Theatre. A series of successful high-profile revivals over the next four years included A View from the Bridge with Anthony LaPaglia, the fiftieth anniversary production of Death of a Salesman with Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Franz, The Price with Harris Yulin and Bob Dishy, The Crucible with Liam Neeson and Laura Linney, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan with Patrick Stewart, and The Man Who Had All the Luck with Chris O’Donnell. In 1999, an opera was staged based on A View from the Bridge and composed by William Bolcom, for which Miller wrote the aria “An Immigrant’s Land.”

Moving into the 21st century, Miller’s work remained strikingly original, and with a growing bias toward the comic, despite clear critical discomfort with Miller as a comedian. For many, the apparent broadness of Miller’s comedy seemed at odds with his moral stature, which may have been its point: Miller was ever skeptical of such nomenclature. Miller’s final works were the acerbically satirical Resurrection Blues (2002) and Finishing the Picture (2004). The first depicts a fictitious Latin American country in which the local dictator is planning to televise a crucifixion, and the second is a comedy largely based on Miller’s experiences filming The Misfits, in which he satirizes the various characters involved, including himself, the director, the acting coach, and the star. When Miller died at eighty-nine of heart failure at his home in Roxbury on 10 February 2005, he left behind a body of work that continues to be rediscovered in new compelling productions around the world.

Miller’s Impact

Miller’s work remains important and is often produced because of its strong, transcultural human resonance and breadth of subject. As Ben Brantley points out, Miller “makes us look and listen, and feel the problems and pain of others as if they were our own.”18 Miller wrote about things that mattered—on both a microcosmic and macrocosmic level. He wrote about families and the societies of which they are a part. While his individual characters resonate in the audience’s memory, he never presents them as disconnected from the ongoing society to which they are inextricably bound, and so his plays become larger than mere snapshots in time.

As the actor Sir Anthony Sher explains: “Miller writes about the experience of being human in a very raw but very compassionate way. We recognise ourselves in his characters, and that’s a timeless thing … In this respect, Miller is like Shakespeare. You don’t need an excuse to do Hamlet or Lear; contemporary circumstances don’t need to be right to make those plays relevant. I feel the same about Miller’s work.”19 It is not just audiences who enjoy Miller’s drama, but also those who create the performances. Directors, actors, and designers all jump at the challenge of a Miller play, often returning to try further scripts. Several Shakespeare companies have even included Miller plays in their repertories. As Bigsby observes, after the 2015 centennial celebrations of Miller’s life pass out of memory—and there were many around the world—“his plays will not, being reimagined, reinvented, and embraced by every generation, in every country, not as so many relics from a bygone age but as urgent messages about who we are and the world in which we live.”20

Although they are mostly set in America and heavily influenced by American politics and events, his plays’ power stretches beyond American shores; productions around the globe are sufficiently rooted in key human concerns to make them international in scope. Death of a Salesman, in particular, has been translated into numerous languages, including Yiddish, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, and Tagalog. While somewhat hampered by the availability of texts, there also has been a surge of scholarly interest in Miller in countries such as India and China, as well as Spain, Germany, and France, all of which have held conferences and published volumes on Miller in both English and their own languages.

Miller’s Influences and Techniques

Over the years, critics have considered a great variety of possible influences on Miller’s work, from Shakespeare or Chekhov to Sinclair Lewis, but the clearest influences are those whom Miller himself acknowledged: classical Greek playwrights, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Henrik Ibsen, Tennessee Williams, and Clifford Odets.

Since studying at the University of Michigan, Miller had been attracted to the sense of form and symmetry of events in classical Greek drama, and he followed their lead in believing that the best drama is social drama. By that he did not mean socialist drama, but rather plays concerned with more than the life of the individual—plays that consider the whole society and the bonds between individuals and society. Miller noted a disturbing tendency in American drama to separate the individual and society and to write about the separation rather than the connection, which he saw as ultimately dehumanizing. A fierce desire to help others evolve into better people and the belief that such evolution is possible made the Greeks humanists. Miller, too, is a humanist—concerned with examining human nature, with an aim to improving it.

Even before attending Michigan, Miller had been interested in the great Russian novelists, reading them on his way to and from work while saving the money for university. While Miller might not have had the same religious convictions as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, he was as deeply concerned as they with the issue of morality and the consequences of its lack. Miller’s morality, however, seems more deeply rooted in his Judaic roots, springing from the Old Testament (or Torah) rather than the New Testament of Christianity. At Michigan Miller studied the plays of Ibsen; one of the first Broadway plays that deeply affected him had been a 1937 revival of A Doll’s House (adapted by Thornton Wilder). Ibsen taught him the importance of creating believable, psychologically complex characters, as well as the ways in which the past might affect the present and the difficulties of finding happiness in a hostile environment.

While influenced by theatrical trends from the Greeks through to Ibsen, Miller is also closely connected to seminal American playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams, and he can be viewed as a major pioneer in the development of a distinctly American theater. He took the serious social intent of O’Neill’s earlier plays and added something of the poetic lyricism of Williams and the inventive stage design of Thornton Wilder. While O’Neill played with genre, Miller tried to invent a new one. He took the earthy common people he had met in the early work of Clifford Odets and mingled their colorful colloquial speech with the more refined Southern poetics of Williams to create a poetic dialogue of his own. Indeed, frequently he began by writing his plays in verse form, only later converting this to prose. His language may not have Williams’s flowery, imagistic heft, but it contains hundreds of evocative, resonant, and memorable lines carefully crafted for maximum effect: “Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons”21; “Attention, attention must be finally paid,” and “A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory”22; “I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another”23; “The majority is never right until it does right”24; “A whole life. Gave it away like a couple of pennies—I took better care of my shoes”25; “God is precisely what is not there when you need him.”26 And many more.

For Miller, art has only ever been of use when it tries to change society for the better, and all his plays have this aim at their heart. This directive leads to a deeper bond between play and audience as his dramas challenge us to be better. As the quiet voice of Bessie at the heart of The Ride Down Mt. Morgan reminds us, “There are other people.”27 It is hard to leave a performance of a Miller play without being changed, and that is what makes for effective drama.

All My Sons teaches us about our responsibility to others, just as Death of a Salesman teaches us about our responsibility to ourselves. A View from the Bridge, through the stage directions alone, creates a graphic depiction of obsession, and After the Fall truly takes us inside a person’s head to understand the complexities of human guilt and desire—something to which Miller returns, only from an older man’s perspective, in Mr. Peter’s Connections.

Nothing is ever simple in a Miller play. The Price and The Ride Down Mt. Morgan determinedly balance conflicting ideologies to the point where one cannot comfortably take sides. In one, he presents us with two brothers with opposite drives and beliefs; the other portrays a man who has two wives competing over him; in neither case are we allowed to be sure whose side to take. Broken Glass sets a failed marriage against the American response to news of the Holocaust, and offers a chilling tale of sympathy and the dangers in its lack. Plays like Incident at Vichy, The Archbishop’s Ceiling, or Resurrection Blues, while taking place on foreign shores, nevertheless still speak to universal concerns regarding racism, government surveillance, and the overblown power of the media. Miller left us with a wonderful legacy from which to explore the intricacies of what it means to be human and humane.

There have been many plays that echo or build on Miller’s work, but his presence in American theater is most firmly evident in the rekindling of a serious attitude toward drama that developed in his wake. Dan Sullivan, a reviewer for the Los Angeles Times, once described Miller as a “father figure” for American theater artists, most notable for his “integrity” and pursuit of truth.28 Chris Bigsby’s collection of commentaries, Arthur Miller and Company, is a telling summary of what contemporary writers feel about Miller: what they owe him, why they admire him, and what they have learned from him. Throughout the book, writers, along with directors and actors who have been involved with his work, offer opinions and assessments of Miller. Ralph Ellison, Joseph Heller, and William Styron speak of Miller’s importance and contribution to American art; playwrights David Rabe and Edward Albee praise his writing and social commitment. Kurt Vonnegut sums up their admiration when he describes how Miller’s plays “speak movingly about America to almost all Americans, while telling the truth about America. Most of the rest of us who write here can't find any way to do that while being truthful.”29

Miller’s Themes

On a general level, by constantly provoking the social conscience of his audiences, Miller’s drama attempts to create a better society in which everyone can live. He explores the demands of morality and uncovers important individual and social needs, recognizing the necessity of a balance between the two. One way in which he conveys his lessons is through asserting the importance of the past. In Miller’s view, the past informs the present, and to ignore it is to restrict the present. An acknowledgment and acceptance of the past allows people to recognize and place themselves in the present, and many of Miller’s characters are challenged by such choices. For example, Quentin in After the Fall tries to escape his past rather than embrace it, which creates a lack of direction in his life. By the close of the play, when he accepts responsibility for all he has done and all that has happened to him in the past, he and his new companion, Holga, can begin to live more fully in their present.

When properly viewed, the past can provide a comforting sense of continuity and connection, and in plays such as The American Clock or The Last Yankee Miller explores the power of personal ritual and social tradition to heal the wounds that can separate individuals and communities. In The American Clock, to avoid committing suicide like Joe, Lee Baum needs to actively reaffirm the social beliefs that pulled America out of the Great Depression. In The Last Yankee, Patricia Hamilton and Karen Frick undergo the severest test of a person’s ability to maintain a human connection while patients in a mental hospital. Patricia passes by allowing her everyday ritual of self-help to give her life meaning and she leaves on the arm of her husband, having accepted both him and herself for who they are. Karen fails as she is unable to come to terms with her past existence or fully connect with others, and so she remains institutionalized.

Miller’s work constantly acknowledges the ways in which history affects and informs the present, from the Salem witch trials in The Crucible during the height of the Red Scare, to the Holocaust references in Broken Glass, written in the shadow of genocidal atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia. The 1692 witch trials reflected the unfairness of the HUAC hearings, just as anti-Semitism at home and abroad in 1938 highlights ethnic problems that continue to plague society. Miller insists that the past should not be ignored; major events like the depression or the Holocaust reverberate through the lives of everyone. To ignore or deny this will reduce those lives. Miller strongly believed that the job of the artist “is to remind people of what they have chosen to forget because it’s too hard to remember.”30 His characters are encouraged to remember everything they have been in the past to help define who they are in the present: those who achieve the connection are rewarded, and those who do not suffer the consequences.

Through many of his plays, Miller demonstrates the connections he sees between individuals and society, points out people’s responsibilities, and depicts the disastrous results when these go unrecognized. Fascinated with the idea of guilt and blame and how to continue living with these, Miller sees the first step as accepting responsibility—for what one intended to do or even did by accident—because someone has to be responsible. Thus Victor and Walter Franz in The Price must learn to stop blaming the other and accept personal responsibility for the choices they have made in the past: Victor sacrificed his career in order to care for his father, whereas Walter sacrificed his family for his career. They come to realize that the “price” each has paid may be heavy, but both their choices were to some degree justifiable.

The question of how to recognize “right” behavior follows many of his characters as they seek to make sense of their choices. By promoting a tension between moral and legal law by which a character may be found guilty under the former but not the latter, Miller conveys his distrust of manmade law. Several critics have noted the prodigious number of Miller’s characters who are actual lawyers, including George in All My Sons, Bernard in Death of a Salesman, Alfieri in A View from the Bridge, Quentin in After the Fall, and Tom in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan. Most of these characters are ineffectual in helping or judging those who have committed crimes (moral or legal), which clearly indicates Miller’s view of the distinction between legal and moral law. In A View from the Bridge, for example, Eddie Carbone brings on disaster by upholding a legal statute (against illegal immigration); but it is the moral law he finds he cannot distort, as Marco demands a higher justice.

As Leonard Moss insists, many of Miller’s plays incorporate the “accusation-defense rhythm of a trial”31 in their structure, despite the variety of their narrative schemes. Hidden guilt is hinted at and gradually brought to light as such plays progress toward judgment, with a mix of atonement and punishment. A play like All My Sons, despite its backyard location, is essentially a courtroom drama, filled with trial metaphors. Although George is the only lawyer in the piece, all the characters act as witnesses or offer personal opinions regarding Joe Keller’s level of guilt. The audience could be viewed as the jury, while Joe’s son, Chris, behaves as prosecutor and judge. In The Crucible, the main impetus is quite literally a trial, but Miller pointedly places his scenes outside the courtroom to better show the social effects of a biased legal system.

Review of the Literature

Miller came to fame during the mid-20th century, a period when women were still largely viewed as restricted to the roles of daughters, wives, and mothers, and his depiction of women seems extremely limited. Initially those viewing his work through the lens of gender studies saw the plays’ frequent emphasis on fathers and sons as marginalizing the feminine, but as Theresa Rebeck has suggested, “Arthur Miller knew more about the strength and courage of women than he often gets credit for.”32 Scholars now find greater complexity and depth in his depictions of masculinity and femininity.

June Schleuter’s 1989 collection Feminist Rereadings of Modern American Drama includes four essays that provoked further lines of inquiry into Miller’s women in a variety of his plays.33 Several other scholars have entered this debate, reevaluating the roles and presentations of women throughout Miller’s work, from Kate Keller in All My Sons to Sylvia Gellburg in Broken Glass. Some, such as Silima Nanda, see a chronological development through the plays from simple to complex as female characters move from self-immersion to emancipation.34 Some focus on specific representations in a historical light, and others offer alternate readings of how one might read Miller’s female characters in a far stronger light.35

There has also been interest in reevaluating how Miller’s plays present masculinity from a variety of viewpoints. While David Savran contends that the playwright’s works reflect “oppressive, masculinist sexual politics,”36 others view men in the plays with more sympathy, such as in Eugene R. August’s assessment of Death of a Salesman as “a profoundly male tragedy” that depicts a man “destroyed by a debilitating concept of masculinity.”37 There have also been explorations of homosexuality in A View from the Bridge.38

Categories: 1

0 Replies to “The Essay Film Problems Definitions Textual Commitments Mustang”

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *