Monday, February 8, 2010

Maidstone (1970)

Dir: Norman Mailer

This is one of the three films that novelist Mailer made in the late sixties. I would say made over directed and wrote as that implies a certain familiarity with how a film will look and feel and this is anything but. The movie is shot cinema verite with fast paced editing and follows an American version of Fellini named Norman Kingsley (played by Mailer, who else?) that decides to announce that he may run for president and at the same time starts a film that will push the boundaries of sexual taboos. The film jumps between Kingsley directing his opus, people questioning his credentials, and meetings of a secret society that are wondering if he should be assassinated. Rip Torn plays Mailer's half-brother, Rey, who leads the Cash Box, a group of "intellectual knuckle-draggers" (paraphrasing) that Kingsley surrounds himself with. Mailer's ideas seem prophetic at this point as he questions the difference between celebrity and the politician. The notion of a film director becoming director was obviously an absurd idea to show what kind of egomaniac would rise to such power, how could Mailer know that a mere decade later the American people would elect an actor as President? As the films "story" comes to an end, Mailer breaks down the fourth wall and addresses his cast and crew directly trying to explain what he hoped to achieve by making the film the way he did. It's never explicitly said, but I would guess that no script was used as everyone's dialog seems to flow naturally and Mailer keeps talking about wanting to get at the truth on film, unlike Hollywood films which he says is "only one man's version of the truth". *SPOILER ALERT* As the movie comes to an end actor Torn takes this message to heart and attacks Mailer, not the character, with a hammer square in the head and drawing blood. He screams that Kingsley must die to end the film correctly. The two men then wrestle in one of the most shocking scenes I have ever witnessed. Mailer bites Torn's ear and they punch and gouge at each other as Mailer's wife and children approach. His wife starts screaming and the children start crying. This stops the fighting but the scene continues on as the two men whisper insults to one another so no one else can hear them. If the scene was faked, kudos to them.
The disc I have is a DVDr with non-removable French subtitles and the number 12 appears in the bottom corner making me think that this aired on French television. The quality is certainly passable, I would like to see an official release with Rip Torn commentary though.


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