Thursday, December 07, 2006

death of Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan has died, recently.

The following website contains a review of his life.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

audio recording by LA Theatre Works

You can get this through Amazon or from LA Theatre Works, at,%20A

Sunday, November 06, 2005

alfieri as narrator and character

This text is a word version of a power point presentation that used images of the original publicity posters for the 1962 film, from the internet. They seem to have disappeared, apart from this one.

What views are available for the Brooklyn Bridge? There’s Manhattan, skyscrapers, wealth, wheeling and dealing, the hub of New York (and the world?) But the view we are looking at is not in that direction.

A View From the Bridge is about a community in Red Hook, a tenement area near the docks. It’s a slum, Alfieri says. People here live hard lives, these are immigrant families, people who have left Europe to make new lives in America and pursue the American dream… (happening over there in Manhattan) but there’s not a lot of work, or money, around. One of the things you need to look for as you revise the play is evidence in the print text for the conditions in which these people live.

In posters publicizing the film, the Brooklyn bridge is often featured -as though it dominates the action of the play or film. Have a look at some of the image above. What is suggested by poster about the sort of story that it will be? Are there other views from the bridge, other ways of living?? Often the posters suggest that these lives happen beneath the bridge. They seem dominated by the bridge and what the bridge represents? An industrial area? Rough? Primitive? Dangerous? Overshadowed by?? Appalled by? Blackened by?

Here’s a different sort of visual image, used to publicize the film. (sorry! can't find it!) No bridge this time, but still a bleak space and frightening, violent action. This is a picture of the writer, Arthur Miller, I think. But it reminds me of the way Alfieri is presented in the film, which is rather more naturalistic than it is perhaps when we see a theatrical production. (Think about the word ‘naturalistic” What ideas does it let you talk about? What contrasts with this idea?)

In the film, Alfieri is a middle-aged man who walks through the streets in an overcoat and hat. He is dressed differently from the other men, more professionally, more expensively, more middle class. He comes forward and speaks directly into the camera on a number of occasions. Take careful note of how he is presented in the theatrical production. Sometimes the words he says as a narrator in the play become part of his dialogue with Eddie, in the film.

It is vital that you pay careful attention to Alfieri. You should look at both of his functions and think about what difference it would have made had Alfieri not had a narrator’s role; if instead he had simply been one of the characters in the play.

How does the text give Alfieri credibility as a narrator? Collect the evidence.
This idea is very important because it’s through Alfieri that the tragic significance of the story is suggested.

How has Miller constructed the Alfieri character and why?

The stage directions tell us that Alfieri is “in his fifties, portly, good humored and thoughtful”. (You might think about why the stage directions specify ‘portly’. What sort of physicality do other men in the play have?) Alfieri speaks directly to us at the beginning of the play. The stage directions suggest that he grins as he does this, amused by the treatment that he receives from Louis and Mike and wanting to explain their behaviour to us, or to interpret for us. This is the first indication that he is going to be a sort of interface or liaison- spell it properly!- between the Red Hook community and us, the audience.

He is engaged by these people. He likes and respects them. He has spent 25 years in this neighborhood, working in his practice that he says is ‘entirely unromantic’. He appreciates the comfortable life and the fact, he says wryly, that he “no longer keeps a pistol in [his] filing cabinet”. He knows about and accepts the corruption on the wharves where “a case of Scotch whiskey slip[s] from the net’ every so often and illegal immigrants arrive and are smuggled ashore.

He has known generations of Red Hook families in his professional life, so that we recognize his depth of knowledge about relationships between individuals and families, the lore of the community – spell it properly- and the disputes that need resolution in the courts or at least some sort of mediation through a lawyer: ‘compensation cases, evictions, family squabbles- the petty troubles of the poor’. Alfieri helps people ‘settle for half’. This means that they don’t take the law into their own hands. Instead they go through the legal processes. Because they do this- because the Mafia no longer control the streets- the Sicilian traditions and codes of behaviour have been supplanted by legal processes and compromise through mediation which characterises the American legal system.

Alfieri's credibility as a commentator increases because of his identification with these people. He shares their ethnic/ cultural background. He is not an outsider looking in. He does not patronize, or judge harshly. In fact, maybe we would want to say that he romanticizes the situation. (This is a really significant idea, and one that you should think about.)

He says that there is no romance in his work. It is pretty mundane. It is work in a slum community and Alfieri’s wife and friends point out to him the lack of elegance and glamour involved in it. However, the play’s story concerns one of those situations that make him feel, in a quite visceral way, his connection with ancient lawyers in Greece and Italy, he says. Perhaps this is a way of romanticizing and glamorizing what he has to deal with?
Alfieri mentions that after Eddie’s death, Catherine had talked to him about being alone in the house with Rodolpho for the first time…this gives Alfieri more credibility as a narrator because it accounts for more of the information and understanding that he has…

Alfieri speaks differently from the rest of the members of the community. His English is much more standard and he sounds well- educated and cultivated. He knows that New York “is a gullet, swallowing the world’s tonnage.” He recognizes something greedy, rapacious, unscrupulous in this image, and it suggests that New York uses up the immigrant labor just as it ravens up other global resources. This insight indicates that Alfieri has an understanding of Red Hook’s place in New York and the world which its occupants probably do not have. (What is Red Hook’s place in New York? What does the play have to say about this, apart from this comment of Alfieri’s?)

In a similar way, he understands the community’s deep cultural connections with old Sicily, and Sicilian ways of understanding ‘justice’ and honour but he recognizes that living in America has made an impact on these ideas so that now “we are quite civilized…now we settle for half.” When he talks about the rare times when the scent of the ‘open sea’ washes the dust out of the flat air in his office he suggests how sometimes these more civilized assumptions are blown away and replaced by ancient, elemental passions. Only an eloquent, reflective person could offer the audience this understanding of the play’s concerns and set up the context for the story in this way and Alfieri has these qualities.

Alfieri’s work as a lawyer in the Red Hook community puts him in touch with Eddie and the burgeoning crisis. Eddie visits him, just as Eddie’s father had visited him, to seek legal advice…to try to use the law as a way of settling his outrage at Rodolpho’s behaviour. Alfieri organises bail for Marco, after getting Marco to promise that he will follow the law and not take the law into his own hands. Remember that Marco doesn’t want to do this because he sees it as losing face, or losing honor.

Right at the end of the play, Alrieri says that he feels ‘alarm’ because of the profound impact that Eddie has made on him because of Eddie’s ‘perverse purity’ in not “settling for half”. So, he dignifies Eddie and Eddie’s behaviour, even as he ‘know[s] how wrong he was’ and how ‘useless his death’. Alfieri’s alarm and disquiet suggest that he and the community have been reminded of primitive and elemental aspects of human nature and that this might disrupt those civilising influences that keep the community cohesive and stable.

Alfieri introduces the play and he concludes it. He also appears on a number of occasions within the play as a narrator, commenting to us on the story and telling us things about Eddie and the situation.

In each of these speeches he claims something profound about Eddie’s story and Eddie’s fate. Alfieri in these moments has the gravitas of one who has complete understanding of the significance of the lives and relationships that we witness during the play. The authority of his pronouncements are also signaled to the audience by the way the lighting fades out the action and then locates and lights up Alfieri for us on the stage.

For instance, as Eddie stands smoking the cigar that Catherine has lit for him, just after she has told him that she wants to take the job that has been offered to her, the lights go down on Eddie and then come up on Alfieri. Alfieri’s short comment is apparently simple but it has a weighty ambiguity about it: “He was as good a man as he had to be in a life that was hard and even. He worked on the piers when there was work, he brought home his pay, and he lived.” There is a portentousness about the final sentence that he utters in this section: “And towards ten o’clock of that night, after they had eaten, the cousins came.” This seems trivial, except that there is a sort of foreboding in the cadences of Alfieri’s voice and in the way the particular night, ‘that night’ is specified.

Part 1 question
“Alfieri’s commentary gives a depth and complexity to what might otherwise be a sordid, mundane story.” Discuss.

This question asks you to think about Alfieri both as a character- he is part of the story- and as a structural component of the play – as narrator. For these reasons, it is a part 1 question.
In your response, you must include a detailed discussion of Alfieri’s commentary. You must KNOW them. If you get a question like this in the exam and you don’t know them, you are history!

Of course, as well, you need to talk about the human relationships that you have watched and thought about and decide whether you think that there is more than a sordid and uninteresting story left if we remove Alfieri from it.

Alfieri tells us that there was an inevitability about the outcome, that ‘[he] could have finished the whole story that afternoon’ when Eddie first came to him and that he “knew where [Eddie] was heading for and where he was going to end.” He says several times in the play that he was powerless to stop what had begun to happen. No law had been broken and he tries to reason with Eddie and to neutralize Marco.

Justice and law in AVFTB

Alfieri is a representative of the legal profession (law)_ but he also understands the cultural background of the community in Red Hook. He turns a blind eye to the fact that members of that community support ‘submarines’ and he knows about the mishaps that occur on the docks, when a case of whiskey breaks open on Christmas Eve…as they are ‘inclined to do’. He has worked for 25 years in this community, helping people settle their ‘petty squabbles’. He is grateful that now people ‘settle for half’, that is, they compromise and reach some sort of mediated agreement .

However, Alfieri can remember a time when matters of ‘justice’ were settled by ‘unjust men’ through gangland killings. Alfieri himself used to keep a pistol in his filing cabinet, which suggests that people were taking the law into their own hands and meting out ‘justice’ as they saw it, and sometimes they might have tried to pay back Alfieri for something he had done- or not done- as a lawyer. He likes it better now. This sort of justice, outside the legal system and often against the law in fact , is closely connected with a person’s idea of ‘honour’ and respect and this in turn is very much a reflection of their cultural or ethnic background. Eddie for instance, accepts that Vinnie Bal?? deserved to be treated as roughly as he was when he reported the submarines to the immigration authorities. Eddie and the community regarded this as a betrayal and thought that what happened to Vinnie was ‘just’.

So it seems that in AVFTB, notions of justice are socially or culturally based- Americans perhaps think of ‘justice’ differently from those with a Sicilian background and part of the process of Americanisation is for these people to accept the American system and assumptions, that ‘justice’ is gained through the legal system and that often it involves compromise. On the other hand, the law is the law, and American law probably does not reflect cultural understandings of justice held by minority groups.

This is complicated by the idea that Alfieri puts forward that the law only reflects what is ‘natural’. He uses this argument to try to persuade Eddie that it is right, or just, that there is no law to stop Catherine marrying Rodolpho. Eddie is infuriated by this, and this fury leads him to break the code of his community. Because he has rationalized his unspeakable feelings for Catherine by casting doubt on Rodolpho’s motives for wanting to marry her, Eddie thinks that there should be a law to stop the exploitative marriage that he claims it will be. When Alfieri tells him that there is no such law, Eddie stumbles out of his office and goes straight to the phone box in the street and reports the illegal immigrants- Marco and Rodolpho. Presumably he tells himself that this is ‘justifiable’ because it is a way to stop Rodolpho marrying Catherine for what Eddie suggests are corrupt motives.

Once Eddie has broken the code of the community and betrayed Marco and Rodolpho, he is treated with contempt, just as Vinnie Bal?? was. Marco spits at him and this means that Eddie is honor-bound to make Marco take back the insult or to fight him to the death. This has nothing to do with the law. It is all about the traditional Sicilian notions of loyalty and betrayal, justice, honour and respect.

Alfieri says that he knew that this would be the outcome but that he was powerless to stop it because “no law had been broken.” He is suggesting that he knew how things would play out because he knew that Eddie would betray Marco and Rodolpho and once that happened, Eddie’s death- or Marco’s- was inevitable. Because Marco is so recently arrived from Sicily, none of his cultural notions have been moderated by the American ways of doing things and his outrage at Eddie’s action and the implications that it has for the future of his family- he says they will die of hunger- make it inevitable that he will want Sicilian justice.

Eddie participates in this absolutely, and there is at least some suggestion that he is sacrificing himself because he knows that he has broken the code and it is just that he dies…perhaps he is so shamed by Bea’s suggestion that he wants Catherine for himself that he views his death as a just outcome.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Playing the role of Eddie Carbone

Hello Robert. Hopefully this will be the beginning of many postings.
At this stage we have performed the play to receptive audiences who have rolled with tension created as Eddie moves towards his crisis. You asked me to comment on my character development as Eddie Carbone. The challenge has been to pace the performance so that his personal crisis is not revealed too closely to himself let alone the audience. When Alfieri summised at the end:'I mourn him with a kind of alarm' we know that this chorus judgment speaks to the 'Eddie Carbone' in all of us, but especially the middle aged men of Eddie's world for whom the American dream has passed over.

It's late and I'll retire but I wanted to place a posting straight away. I'll write far more at a later stage. We have some performances coming up for school.

Friday, July 22, 2005

third term.

All you blog browsers, how about contributing a little of your experience of teaching this wonderful text. In the run up to the exams, your ideas will be extremely helpful. How about some SAC questions, character notes, lists of quotes?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Arthur Miller dies aged 89 - World -

Arthur Miller dies aged 89 - World -

This article appeared in the age not long after Miller died. A respectful, background article.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Some first thoughts on the Sidney Lumet film of 'A View from the Bridge'

The 1962 film, directed by Sidney Lumet is not a faithful rendition of the play. In the play, Alfieri's choric comments frame the action and direct us to a view of Eddie and his actions. Alfieri is the voice of modern American liberal civilisation. The intensity of the play is enhanced by Alfieri's understanding of and feeling for Eddie.
In the film Lumet makes a decision to make Eddie the centre, so that Alfieri is reduced to the status of a comparatively feeble old man whose utterances have little authority. Lumet makes changes to the plot at the beginning - for example he has Eddie meet Marco and Rodolfo before the others do. There is an industrial accident on the wharf which allows Lumet to present Eddie as a leader of men, someone the workers can trust. As Eddie walks home from work, he encounters a pack of urchins who know him and like him. He talks to a sweetseller whom he can joke with. When Beatrice arrives home, Eddie is gentle to her as he tells her the news of the arrival of her family.
In order to compensate for the loss of Alfieri as a shaping force in the story, Lumet portrays Eddie as a very sympathetic, almost sentimental figure who suffers and falls. The consequence of this portrayal is that Beatrice must change also. She is altogether more emotional, less shrewd and less capable of combating Eddie than the Miller character. The film script has been edited to force the actors to be at a higher pitch of intensity for longer periods than a stage actor would have to sustain. The ending, which is different from the 1956 play, is certainly worth showing to a class because it is an easy way of helping them to become aware of the director's input into the film. I'll say more at a later time.