Controversial American film director, Elia Kazan, once remarked that directing is turning ‘psychology into behavior.’ This phrase, from his notebooks on Tennessse Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, is one of many keen insights from his work on the great canon of American mid-20th century drama, where he created seminal productions of what are now classic texts. Miller, as a master of social drama in this era, worked with him to enliven the newly coined texts and bring them into dramatic, urgent life. This process is always partly alchemical, a fusion of creative forces, imaginations and taste.
Yaël Farber and I first met at the BFI over seven hours of talk and debate and storyboarding, searching for the right framework to present her acclaimed work on this London revival. You know when there’s a connection between sensibilities and when a shared vision emerges. The day disappeared as we delved into the imagery, themes and values of the play. It was dark by the time we’d concluded and that newfound knowledge, going back to the origins and founding ideas, would transform our process over the subsequent weeks. When I sat in the notes sessions for the company during our shooting days, it was clear that this sense of shared vision had been embraced by the company and Yaël’s collaborative vision was both beguiling and entirely persuasive.
The shoot, edit and post-production process is to some degree an attempt to re-engage with that spirit, so evident amongst the performers, in Yaël’s dialogue on the play and in the auditorium each night before the first lines of music and the footsteps of Tituba, the Barbadian slave woman are heard. The actors, entering an empty space and recreating a world full of pain, fury and longing, play amongst the flinty, percussive language of Miller’s text and within the imagined world of Yaël’s vision.
The edit process attempts a re-creation of this spirit, the atmosphere, energy and sweep of the work, using film grammar to catch for a moment the mercurial flights of a performer’s craft and share them with the watching audience – channeling human emotion and Miller’s devastating critique of mindless persecution and false accusation.