There’s an eloquent handmade quality to “Arthur Miller: Writer,” filmmaker Rebecca Miller’s engagingly intimate portrait of her famous father. It’s a sense of pieces being fitted together, not unlike the furniture parts that the late playwright is seen shaping and finessing in his workshop — clearly one of his favorite places to be.
Gathered over a period of 20-odd years, the elements of the lovingly crafted documentary include home movies, archival photographs and illuminating interviews. There may be nothing new in the connections the film draws between “The Crucible” and Miller’s clash with McCarthyism, or between “Death of a Salesman” and the effects of the Depression on his family, but with its combination of kitchen-table informality and serious inquiry, it traces a compelling trajectory: a public intellectual’s inner life. Though it addresses Miller’s troubled relationship with Marilyn Monroe strictly from his perspective, the film doesn’t look away from the controversial way he turned their story into art.
The once-lionized author suffered a string of professional disappointments during Rebecca’s childhood, his landmark approach to socially conscious melodrama having fallen out of fashion. However critics’ dismissiveness might have pained him, Miller is endearingly philosophical about it on-screen. The writerly insights he shares are as penetrating as they are devoid of pretension.
Above all, it’s the warm, searching conversations between father and daughter, whether they’re seated side by side or she’s questioning him from behind the camera, that give the documentary its poignant immediacy.
‘Arthur Miller: Writer’
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino