Cutting Corners..."For the Family"
The other day we saw a gripping American play, about dishonesty.
It made me think about:
--- The current baseball scandal?
--- The former representative going away for insider stock selling?
--- All of the above?
The play is “All My Sons,” written by Arthur Miller in 1947 about a Middle American factory that shipped flawed parts for planes during World War Two, with disastrous consequences – first for the pilots, then for the people who ran the factory.
We saw the play on the screen at the Kew Gardens Cinema in my home borough of Queens, part of the National Theatre Live series, at movie houses all over the world.
We caught the play while the baseball scandal continues to unravel, at the cost of dishonored championships, ruined careers and realistic suspicions about other aspects of Major League Baseball – supersonic balls in orbit last season, plus Commissioner Rob Manfred’s threat to blow up the historic network of minor-league baseball.
Baseball’s grubby face was on my mind as we went to see the important American play from the landmark Old Vic in London. The two leads were Americans: Sally Field, as a midwestern Mother Courage trying to keep the lid on her cover story, warning her husband to “be smart,” and Bill Pullman, with his large, open, American male physicality, reminding me of the aging Ted Williams.
The rest of the cast is British -- terrific actors sometimes a tad off in American inflection or body language. The back-yard setting is a bit too folksy, post-war middle class, for a family with a factory that prospered during the war.
But you get into it, way into it.
The older son disappeared in aerial action during the war. The younger son is trying to live in the vacuum of loss. And the family that used to live next door has been broken by the jailing of the other partner for malfeasance with the faulty parts.
As we sat in the movie house in Queens, we thought about Boeing, with its two new planes that crashed recently, killing hundreds of people, followed by superb reporting in The New York Times about wretched management and disgruntled workers who knew the planes were flawed. But the planes had to be delivered so shareholders could have a a new vacation home, a new luxury car, a new wife. How American. How courant.
Money is at the core of the play. The father takes over the stage (all arms and shoulders, like Ted Williams giving batting tips) as he tells his son (returned from combat) that he has held the factory together so he can pass it on to the son, who is known to neighbors as idealistic.
There will be money.
That very day, in upstate New York, former Rep. Chris Collins was sentenced to 26 months for passing along inside information that a stock he had championed was about to fall apart. Collins, in tears, said he broke the law for his son, so there would be money, for the family.
My wife and I sat in our favorite movie house, watching Arthur Miller’s post-war statement take very human form. My eyes teared up as I watched these very real people – the older couple trying to “be smart,” the son trying to make it all right by marrying the girl who used to live next door.
When we left the movie house, in the funky old section of Kew Gardens, it was 2020, not 1947. Impeachment was in the air. People were still sending flawed airplanes into the air, all in the name of family. The American dream.
Arthur Miller would feel right at home.
* * *
National Theatre Live website:
Guardian review of "All My Sons."
Former Rep. Chris Collins sentenced to 26 months:
Tyler Kepner's latest great piece on the Houston Asterisks:
Recent article on suspicions by Boeing workers, by Natalie Kitroeff:
1/20/2020 07:01:18 am
1/20/2020 09:14:38 am
Dear Altenir: Bom dia. It's great to see your name here because you have written movie scripts and know the challenges of telling a story. You describe the "surgical precision" of Miller, comparing him to architects, and the review in The Guardian (see link) says that some of Miller's "joins" are clearly visible. You as a script-writer know the rule about Chekhov's Gun, meaning that if a weapon is displayed, it must be (or will be) used, Miller does a good bit of that...but it makes the viewer think, as well as feel. Here's a curious fact: Bill Pullman, who plays the father, studied carpentry in college in upstate New York, and has designed and built barns in NY, Montana and outside LA. Big dude. One can see him lugging and hammering boards. Great to hear from you. GV
1/20/2020 12:32:08 pm
1/21/2020 06:36:45 pm
Arthur Miller has written many powerful plays including “All My Sons”, “Death of a Salesman”, “The Crucible” and “The Price”, which we saw a reading of this past Sunday.
1/21/2020 08:11:43 pm
This column, but more accurately, the man who wrote it, illustrate why I began reading and value the experience highly. The quality of the humans who follow, illustrated here, affirms my view.
1/22/2020 10:03:32 am
1/22/2020 12:02:38 pm
Altenir, Bruce, Alan, Ed, Randy: So nice to hear from you -- 3 countries, 2 states, Randy reminds me that one of my great flaws in my two years in Kentucky was not meeting/writing about Wendell Berry, such a literate and moral voice. Thanks for being a presence here, GV
1/22/2020 12:11:06 pm
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.