“The parent is always a mythological figure,” muses playwright Arthur Miller in his daughter Rebecca’s captivating new feature film profile of her dad, Arthur Miller: Writer. “It’s the basis of all mythology, after all,” he continues. “What’s Zeus? He’s the father. He’s the guy that throws thunderbolts–kills you. Or raises you up into glory.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright may have made his mark on the American stage with gut-wrenching plays about fathers and sons (All My Sons; Death of a Salesman); but, for his daughter, Rebecca, there was another side to her dad’s story and she aimed to tell it. It took her 20 years to complete the project, and it was well worth the wait.
Rebecca Miller’s beautifully conceived and respectful portrait of her “pop,” Arthur Miller: Writer, premieres on HBO tonight, Monday, March 19, 2018, 8:00 – 9:45 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the days and weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.)
Ms. Miller’s 20-year-odyssey to capture the man behind the myth must have been daunting. She succeeds admirably by incorporating exquisite vintage photos, film and TV footage and home movies; excerpts from her dad’s personal journals and autobiography, Timebends: A Life (Grove Press, 1987); intimate fragments from love letters to his wives; and reminiscences from Rebecca’s mom, siblings, aunts and uncle. Best of all, however, are the charming one-on-one, father-daughter chats filmed over many years.
Arthur Miller’s strong presence in the film–on camera and in voice over reading from his autobiography and journals–shines a fresh light on the legendary playwright’s oeuvre. His participation also provided Ms. Miller with the added opportunity to fashion a captivating film about fathers and daughters. Traditionally, mother-daughter relationships tend to drive family focused documentaries filmed by women. In contrast, Arthur Miller: Writer is a refreshing look at the other side of the coin.
Ms. Miller (who is married to another legend, actor Daniel Day-Lewis) breaks her dad’s profile into six chapters, beginning with his dad’s journey alone to America as a seven-year-old child and ends with her dad’s lonely days following her mother Inge’s death in 2002.
Anecdotes from immediate family members flesh out the portrait as father and daughter revisit his early years as a lackluster student, his turnaround in college, the evolution of his pivotal plays and the three wives who loved him: his college sweetheart, Mary Slattery, and her successors, for better (internationally renowned photographer Inge Morath), and for worse (actress Marilyn Monroe).
Especially enlightening are his reflections on his tortured relationship with second wife Marilyn Monroe; his stand before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the mid-1950s; his collaborative friendship with director Elia Kazan; and, most surprisingly, Miller’s proficiency as a carpenter and furniture maker.
Professional and personal sidelights from playwright Tony Kushner and director Mike Nichols thread throughout the film; but, thankfully, they are the only two prominent talking heads from the theater world who have a presence here.
Rebecca Miller’s honest and humanizing portrait, Arthur Miller: Writer, will serve her dad’s memory well in theater and film appreciation programs, as well as acting and playwriting classes in high school, college, museum and library settings. The film will also be a unique addition to women’s studies, most especially, programs focusing on the dynamics of father-daughter relationships.
Arthur Miller: Writer, premieres on HBO tonight, Monday, March 19, 2018, 8:00 – 9:45 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the days and weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.) –Judith Trojan