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Friday, May 4. 2012
I refer to Arthur Miller's 1949 Death of a Salesman. I saw it performed once in New Haven, read it once or twice.
It's a dreary play about unhappy people, and I would have no interest in seeing it again. For a reason I cannot understand, it's been viewed as some sort of critique of modern life and capitalist society. I suppose being a regular person seems humdrum to a wealthy, celebrated writer who married Marilyn Monroe. The Lee Siegel comment on the current Broadway production is in that vein:
Lee Siegel's comment is wrong on more counts than I have time to review.
For what it's worth, in my view it's the story, not about middle class dreams, but about life's disappointments. I suppose the endurance of the play has to do with the fact that we all have disappointed dreams. Biff's sanity is his aspiration to be "ordinary."
The play is also, I suppose, a play about clinical depression and a play about kids' perceptions of their fathers. But is that worth paying big bucks to see?
I happened to have a chat with a salesman recently. He sells services for IBM. Loves his job. Somebody told me recently that, in one way or another, "everybody is in sales."
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Death of a Salesman is a love story. It has little to do with a salesman
Like Sinclair Lewis's Babbit, Death of a Salesman was yet another supercilious sneer at the life of the common American.
(While you're sweeping trash off the stage, don't forget Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Yes, life seems meaningless at times. We all know that.)
If it's unusual entertainment you seek, try Ionesco's Rhinocéros. It's absurd and unpredictable.
Agreed, and I was a theater major. Miller had the correct politics - see also "The Crucible," "Memory of Two Mondays." That carried him with that crowd.
Miller's family had been wealthy, lost everything in the crash, and he had to work menial jobs during the Depression. What he seems to have learned is that he was still better than all those schmoes, but he really understood them in a way they did not even understand themselves. Having been one of them, you see.
PRJ -Absolutely agree about Ionesco. His epitaph is "Pray to I-don't-know-who. Jesus Christ, I hope."
"...yet another supercilious sneer at the life of the common American."
The sneering of much literature in not only at common Americans. It is an international phenomenon. Intellectuals in general have great claims of loving humanity but they having nothing but abject disdain for we common mules who pull the plows and freight wagons. They far prefer freaks, deadbeats, and the damaged because, well, they make for more poignant stories.
It is a very easy theme to find in any activity of those who label themselves intellectual with something important to tell us. Just note the news, whether print or broadcast. They fascination with freaks, dead beats and damaged is endless. Pick any example - I'll toss up the tanning freak who has occupied what now, three days of news mentions? A better example is the Occupy idiots. They bring all three categories into one story. They are beloved by the intellectuals.
"Glengarry Glenross" actually goes 'salesman' one better --there's not one tragic capitalist salesman story but an interwoven half dozen. The losers are losers and the winners are criminals and everybody is one or the other --and the world of commerce is everything, with personal lives of players just barely hanging on like appendixes. Everybody is sick and miserable and it rains all the time.
Mamet, though, grew up.
And the film was fantastic! Tho a cartoon.
The salesbeasts I know LOVE "Glengarry Glenross", especially for the sales contest scene where first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado, second prize is a set of steak knives, and third prize is "You're fired!".
Heh!! I was just about to post that if you want a cynical view of salesman but want to be, you know, entertained, "Glengarry Glenross" is where to go.
A movie where Alec Baldwin's personality matched his character perfectly.
Don't forget. What do you need to close the deal? "BRASS BALLS!!"
Kevin Spacey stepping in front of the coffee machine as Jack Lemmon heads toward it: "Coffee's for the closers."
One of my favorite poignant movies of all time, perhaps because it reminded me of the difficult struggles my father went through trying to keep his family above water. Sales is damned hard work. Got to admire those who succeed at it, because for sure I'd fail at it. Jack Lemmon, who was terrific in the flick, left an indelible impression on me.
--on me too. He had a hugely needy wife and daughter on the other end of that phone line--that phone booth outside at night in the rain. They had no idea of the desperation of his bread-winning, and he would not tell them about it. He was older than the rest of the sales force, and his bling-draped young boss had clearly decided to keep him from getting any of the good leads. When he realizes he's been given the garbage leads and the good ones have gone to the others --he's crushed.
It's all his fault, that he's disconnected his family from his work and now has no way to tell them what's happening. It's his fault he's let himself get overaged for the corporate culture --stayed too long at the party. It's all his fault, and he knows it. Right, it's to shiver, watching that performance.
Well, I for one just looooooove watching (or reading) depressing plays. I'm much too up. People complain to me about me.
I don't mind depressing drama, but it can't be about depressed people. People who start stuck, stay, and end stuck don't make for a story arc that pleases this bourgeois dolt.
Glengarry Glenn Ross had some great things going for it dramatically, but was it just me? -- my strong impression was that they were selling some kind of con. I took it to be the ultimate test of themselves as salesmen that their product was literally worthless. I kept wanting one of them to quit so he could find honest work that wouldn't corrode his soul. Didn't anyone need houses painted?
It's been a while, but the still resonant feeling after reading Death of a Salesman and seeing a stage production is ennui. Perhaps a fresh encounter would change that impression. Perhaps not. What is interesting is its enduring appeal, whether for pedigree alone or, as Siegel suggests, for its ability to stroke well-to-do egos, the play goes on. From my vantage point this is its merit, what makes it worthy of further consideration...its place among the classics. No less interesting though, is the algorithm results at the bottom of the Times' page offering updates on the related topics of Henry Miller, Theater and Income Inequality. That says more to me about the durability of this play than the whole of Lee Siegel's op-ed.
My favorite movie about sales is "The TIn Men". Great sound track, funny, sad, a love story, far more entertaining than Miller...
"Death of a Salesman" has one of the characters (I'm not sure which, though I think it's the father... too depressing to read to be sure) remembering a Studebaker with a windshield that openned. Most of the people I work with can't even remember Studebakers, let alone one's from the early age of motoring.
How much more dated can you get?
I've come to the conclusion that Miller's work is nothing but a bunch of soviet tractors.
And I'm angry that this crap has been passed off to the American public as great art.
He makes a great career playing downbeat on the American Dream --showing it hollow and meaningless. Then, when perchance Marilyn Monroe takes an interest in him, bing-bam-shazaam-"lemmee at that American Dream --Marilyn forcryingoutloud MONROE!"
And the marriage merely made it obvious --he was already living the American Dream, as a successful, famous, celebrity writer. He just wouldn't let his characters live it --they had to fail --and Miller did not really know failure --not personally, in the way it counts --so his ''gritty, realistic, inside-the-American-Dream/nightmare'' professional persona was in that sense --the proferred sense that his work was ''really'' non-fiction --was sorta fraudulent. Sorta American commercial capitalist publicity promotional. Tsk tsk.
Buddy, I remember that, after signing her first major movie contract, Norma Jean (Marilyn) said that she was happy because she no longer had to give blowjobs to movie executives.
I wouldn't envy Miller too much because he was far down the line of men who had enjoyed Marilyn's favors.
Sorry to be so blunt, but this American knows how things work in this world, and it ain't like in the movies.
...which, in turn, as she found out at age 36, ain't like it is in DC.
"He just wouldn't let his characters live it"
Bird Dog: For what it's worth, in my view it's the story, not about middle class dreams, but about life's disappointments.
“The jungle is dark, but full of diamonds”.