Let me take you to a wooden planet. Far out in space, imagine a giant satellite inhabited by monks. A medieval cathedral – almost a mile high – dominates the skyline. It’s surrounded by wheat-fields. In the distance there are windmills turning. This was to be the setting for Alien 3… if director Vincent Ward had had his way. I, for one, would have chopped down several trees to see it happen. But sadly, fate (and a management re-shuffle at 20th Century Fox) killed the project. Alien 3 was shifted to a space gaol. Vincent Ward moved on. Now, he has a new movie about his native country. It isn’t set on a wooden planet, but it still has Ward’s touch.
When Death of a Salesman opened in 1949 there was a newspaper cartoon of a couple leaving after the show; the husband turns to his wife and says, “I’ll get you for this!” And it’s true: people rarely have a good time watching Death of a Salesman. A play about failure and death and how very frail we all are is depressing; unless we see those qualities as essential to life. We’re unused to seeing our frayed edges and our worry as part of us. They’re meant to exist off-stage (where no-one can see). Synecdoche, New York begins with a production of Death of a Salesman. Both see beauty in our fears for our lives.