Arthur Miller is resurfacing -- with his TV movie, "Playing for Time," his latest Broadway-bound play, "The American Clock" (which opens in Baltimore next week) and now a PBS documentary, "Arthur Miller on Home Ground" (at 8 tonight on Channel 26).
The home ground is basically New York City, with special emphasis on the Harlem and Brooklyn neighborhoods of Miller's childhood. For this 90-minute interview/documentary, Canadian filmmaker Harry Rasky has shot an abundance of footage of picturesque New York locations -- so much, in fact, that you might suspect him of trying to sneak a travelogue onto the same budget.
Once we get past the scenes of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chrysler Building and Central Park, however (and once we get beyond Rasky's ponderous narration), this documentary is considerably enlivened by TV and movie clips of Miller's plays, and by Miller's own reminiscences of his childhood, his early career, his marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his political struggles.
After a sequence from the television production of "Death of a Salesman," with Lee J. Cobb, Miller talks about how different audiences have interpreted the play; Older men identify with Willy Loman, women with Willy's wife and young men with Willy's sons.
Some of the excerpts wear less well than others. Burt Lancaster, in "All My Sons," is a ludicrous choice for an offspring of Edward G. Robinson, and the dialogue is not a great deal more plausible. But the scenes of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in "The Misfits" have an extraordinary luminosity -- perhaps because, as Miller acknowledges, the real people and the characters of Gay and Roslyn were fairly thoroughly confused.
He talks about Monroe's suicide, his conviction that she didn't really mean to die, and his sense that her life was a "waste." And the most affecting minute of the 90 is a scene of Gable, Monroe and Montgomery Clift riding silently in the front seat of a pickup truck, with Miller's comment: "They're all gone now."