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
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
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
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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