Synopsis: Norman Mailer is remembered for many things—his novels, his essays, his articles, his activism, his ego. One largely forgotten chapter of his life, however, is his late-sixties, headlong, kamikaze-style plunge into making experimental films. These rough-hewn, self-financed, largely improvised metafictions are works of madness and bravado, all starring Mailer himself and with technical assistance from cinema verité trailblazers D. A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock. The fullest realization of his directorial efforts is the blustering, brawling Maidstone, a shocking sign of the political times in which Mailer plays a filmmaker and presidential candidate who may be the target of an assassination attempt. Along with Mailer's other films of the period—Wild 90 and Beyond the Law—it shows an uncompromising artist in thrall to both himself and a new medium.
MAIDSTONE (1970 · 105 minutes · Color · Monaural · 1.33:1 aspect ratio):
Over a booze-fueled, increasingly hectic four-day shoot in the Hamptons, Norman Mailer and his cast and crew spontaneously unloaded onto film this lurid and loony chronicle of U.S. presidential candidate and filmmaker Norman T. Kingsley debating and attacking his hangers-on and enemies. This gonzo narrative, "an inkblot test of Mailer's own subconscious" (Time), becomes something like a documentary on its own making when costar Rip Torn breaks the fourth wall in one of cinema's most alarming on-screen outbursts.
WILD 90 (1967 · 81 minutes · Black & White · Monaural · 1.33:1 aspect ratio):
Norman Mailer's first filmmaking effort stars the director and his two longtime creative collaborators Buzz Farber and Mickey Knox as a trio of gangsters holed up in a ramshackle New York apartment, drinking, braying, and fighting. Mailer once claimed he viewed making movies as "free psychoanalysis," and this bristly, stripped-down experiment in improvisation shows a filmmaker baring himself for all to see.
BEYOND THE LAW (1968 · 84 minutes · Black & White · Monaural · 1.33:1 aspect ratio):
Norman Mailer's belief that we're all either police or criminals at heart was the impetus for his second film, which takes place over the course of one feverish night in a Manhattan police precinct and neighboring bar. The rough texture of the black-and-white stock and the intense depiction of the police lineup process lend the film a rugged, journalistic feel. In addition to Mailer, who casts himself as tough-guy Irish cop Francis Xavier Pope, BEYOND THE LAW features Rip Torn and George Plimpton.
Country of Origin: United States of America
Production Year: 1970
- "Very few artists today, in any medium, exhibit this kind of crazy passion, and that's too bad.", A. O. Scott, The New York Times