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The Full Crucible

Extracts from the production notes to The Crucible, edited by Andrew L. Urban

Salem, Massachusetts, 1692:
Perched on the edge of a continent is a community dedicated to the service of God.

A group of teenage girls, stifled by the crushing piety of their elders, dance naked in the woods. One girl, Abigail Williams - her innocence lost in the bed of John Proctor, a married farmer - drinks a charm to kill his wife. And suddenly, the Devil is loose in Salem. The girls are discovered and, spurred on by their terrified accusations, the entire village is consumed by cries of witchcraft. One by one, the blameless victims of mass hysteria are torn from their homes until, inexorably, Abigail's vengeance is turned on Proctor's wife.

The Crucible(by Arthur Miller) was first produced in the Martin Beck Theatre in New York in January, 1953. It opened to both critical praise and derision, but its power and immediacy instantly struck a chord with audiences. It has since become one of the most widely known and performed plays of the American theatre - and in the world, having been staged in China, Poland and across the globe. The Crucible continues to be a staple of high school and repertory theatres around the country.

Miller conceived the play in response to the anti-Communist hysteria inspired by Senator Joseph McCarthy's crusade in the guise of the House Committee on Un-American Activities."I wrote it," he recounts, "because I was being surrounded by a feverish flood of accusations of Communism coming from everywhere. There was no way to deal with that in ordinary conversation because if you cast any doubt on the veracity of the accusations you might well be linked to the Devil, which at that time was Communism."

While acknowledging the intensity of The Crucible's politics, director Nicholas Hytner feels the story has transcended its specific allusions to McCarthyism and the social and political climate of America in the Fifties. "I made the film because I was physically seized by the material - because when I read Arthur's first draft I felt in my gut the stirrings of pity and terror and the excitement that you associate with all great tragedy. The story is universally truthful."

"As Arthur and I prepared to shoot the movie, we were struck time and again by its alarming topicality," Hytner remembers. "It spoke directly about the bigotry of religious fundamentalists across the globe, about communities torn apart by accusations of child abuse, about the rigid intellectual orthodoxies of college campuses - there is no shortage of contemporary Salems ready to cry witchcraft.

"The sad truth about this story is that it will always be topical," Hytner continues. The Salem witch hunt conforms to a pattern which keeps repeating itself.

For Academy Award-nominee Winona Ryder (The Age of Innocence), who, as Abigail Williams, takes on perhaps the most challenging role of her career, the story's timelessness was a major attraction. The themes are incredibly relevant, she points out. "There are witch hunts going on today. I also appreciated The Crucible's portrayal of fear and the mishandling of power. Although society's changed a great deal over the years, the fear of forces one can't understand and control certainly remains, especially in the political arena."

Abigail is at the centre of a force, a power, which also hasn't diminished through the centuries. Her jealousy and sexuality envelop her former lover, John Proctor, and the town in which they live in an ever-widening web of paranoia, betrayal and, eventually, destruction.

"The film is unflinching in its portrayal of the consequences of sexual betrayal," explains Hytner, "and of what happens to a community which cannot cope with the burgeoning sexuality of its adolescents. The girls at the beginning of the picture are starting to throb with a sexuality that grows in all of us when we come of age. But in Salem in 1692 there was no place for them to put that. When they dance in the woods, it's so alarming to the rest of the community that it's identified as witchcraft. It's a story about how sex can bring a whole community crumbling down."

(‘tis ever so. Ed.)

When presented the task of recreating 17th century Salem for The Crucible, the company scouted locations in Northern California, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Maine and Nova Scotia. But when they stood on a hill on the 180-acre wildlife refuge of Hog Island, 45 minutes outside of Boston, and surveyed the island's 360 degree vista of pristine beauty, the filmmakers knew they had found their uninhabited New World.

"More than anything," explains production designer Lilly Kilvert, "I wanted to give the feeling that here was a world that was so incredibly beautiful, so incredibly perfect and so tragic to lose."

Owned by the world's oldest land trust, The Trustees of Reservations, Hog Island may have been the most aesthetic place to choose... but certainly not the easiest. There was no fresh water on the island, no electricity, no telephones and no access to it other than by boat. Arrangements had to be made to traverse the half-mile wide channel that separates the island from the mainland to bring over cast and crew on a daily basis, as well as heavy equipment, vehicles, trees, animals and the twelve buildings that were constructed on the mainland and trucked over to the island. Through the cooperation of the Governor's Office and the Massachusetts Film Office, the National Guard and its 108-foot long floating bridge/barge were enlisted to ferry across everything that didn't fit onto the pontoon boats that carried cast and crew.

Director Hytner was thrilled with the credibility that such memorable New England faces brought to his Salem villagers. Daniel Day-Lewis found himself walking the actual roads that his character, John Proctor, was reputed to have walked while attending a wedding on the island in the late 1600s. Several cast members were able to visit the burial places and actual houses of the characters they portray in the film; and numerous extras told of family ancestors who had lived during the chaos and hysteria.

"I believe making the film at Hog Island, where the original events took place, was extremely important," insists Arthur Miller. "There was something very authentic in the way many of the extras behaved. And it gave the feeling that this was Eden, that the human race had come upon and spoiled it."

Historical authenticity, though important, was less important to us than the soul of our surroundings," adds Hytner. "On Hog Island, we felt as if we were making a film which could equally well have been called Paradise Lost. The location had symbolic value as well as great beauty."

Daniel Day-Lewis was also struck by the Salem-Eden analogy. "The Puritans felt they had discovered Paradise [in America]," he points out, "and when the witch hunts began there, they found themselves expelled from Paradise."

Bob Crowley, one of Britain's leading production and costume designers, and his team of wardrobe supervisors were met with the task of assembling and building 17th century wardrobes for the film. (No stranger to The Crucible, Crowley designed the sets and costumes for the Royal Shakespeare Company's tour of the play.) Over 700 costumes for men, women and children -- including caps, hats, shoes, bonnets, stockings and undergarments were either made or rented from costume houses in Italy and England. Wardrobe for the principal actors was made by hand (Crowley banned the use of sewing machines) from antique linen sheets from the South of France and natural fabrics. The materials were then dyed to match colors that would have been achieved with the vegetable dying of the 1700s.

Explains Crowley, "Everyone thinks that the Puritans liked black. They didn't because they thought it was far too positive a color, too aggressive. Instead, they used a lot of what they called "sadd" (sic) colors...slightly washed out blacks, browns and greys. None of the dyed fabrics in the film looks brighter than anything you'd see in nature."

In keeping with the production team's efforts to recreate authentic 17th century New England, make-up supervisor Naomi Donne insisted that the actors wear no conventional make-up. "The life was very hard for these people," explains Donne, "and I wanted to reflect their lifestyle in their appearance. They were very dirty and they didn't bathe very often. They worked the land; they had grime and dirt."

To "weather" her actors, Donne and her team of make-up artists performed a daily ritual of cutting back and dirtying fingernails; painting on callouses; tinting their teeth with a yellow stain; or applying a prosthetic set of rotten teeth. Principals and extras alike patiently withstood the last minute assault with the dust puff before filming a scene, knowing that each small attention to detail would help evoke the historical period they were recreating.

After completing six weeks of filming on Hog Island, the production moved to Beverly, Massachusetts, to film three weeks of interiors in an abandoned shoe manufacturing plant which was transformed into a sound stage. It was here that playwright Arthur Miller celebrated his 80th birthday, as he watched a world that he had created on paper 40 years earlier become a cinematic reality.

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One girl…her innocence lost in the bed of John Proctor, a married farmer - drinks a charm to kill his wife. And suddenly, the Devil is loose in Salem …

"….when I read Arthur's first draft I felt in my gut the stirrings of pity and terror and the excitement that you associate with all great tragedy…"

"…It's a story about how sex can bring a whole community crumbling down."

"I believe making the film at Hog Island, where the original events took place, was extremely important,"

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