Norman Mailer: The American

| May 8, 2012

Two- time Pulitzer Prize winner, political candidate, journalist, movie director and social critic are just a few of the titles that Norman Mailer holds. Mailer wrote more than 30 books in his lifetime, married six times and had nine children. He died at the age of 84 on November 10, 2007. He lived a tumultuous life that has demarcated him as one of the most memorable iconoclasts of the last century.

Now, Cinema Libre Studio will take you beyond the headlines and into the life of this complex man in Norman Mailer: The American, available on DVD and digital platforms May 8.

Norman Mailer: The American, directed by Joseph Mantegna (The PTown Diaries), offers an intimate glimpse into the life of one of the most prolific writers of the 20th Century. Mailer truly left his mark on American history; both with his public works and his private sins. While attending Harvard, as an engineering student, he found his lifelong passion for writing. He is quoted saying, “Why do I write? Why did I start to write? Because it was the only thing that I was good at and I wanted to be more attractive to the girls.” From there his relationship with writing and women began, and they both equally gave him quite an infamous reputation.

Mailer is considered to be one of the original pioneer’s of creative non-fiction. After World War II, Mailer published his first book The Naked and the Dead, which documented his firsthand accounts from the war. The book was a New York Times best-seller and remained on the list for eleven weeks; it launched his professional career overnight, and it continues to be one of the most influential American novels.

In 1955, he along with Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf started a weekly newspaper called The Village Voice. It prompted a new, alternative way to cover news and is still in circulation today. Mailer went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, twice; the first for Armies of the Night in 1968 and the second for The Executioners Song in 1979. Not only did Mailer write about some of the most significant events and celebrated people in American history, including; Marilyn Monroe; the assassination of John F. Kennedy as well as Muhammad Ali’s fight against George Forman, he helped define this momentous era for future generations.

Mailer was not afraid of controversy and some might say that he welcomed it. Alcohol, women and violence would often dictate his life and his writing. In 1960, he made headlines for stabbing his second wife, Adele Mailer, in the stomach with a knife. Adele kept her promise and did not press charges against him after he was arrested for the violent act. He pleaded guilty to reduced charges of assault. Like this incident and many others in his life, Mailer ingested everything life dished him.

This documentary was engrossing, and I learned so much about this American literary, political and social icon. Even though she didn’t press charges, because she said Mailer needed to be at home with his children, Adele Mailer became very emotional when retelling the story about how Mailer stabbed her. One could tell that, although it happened more than five decades ago, she was still rattled by the event.

His daughter Danielle detailed she was so upset while watching the video of taping on the set of Maidstone in 1970. She mentioned that her father wanted to keep his family together and thought it would be a good idea to have them come to the filming. But the documentary revealed a fight between Rip Torn and Mailer that evidentially wasn’t planned. Torn and Mailer played brothers in the movie, and Torn took a hammer and started pounding Mailer with it, while his wife and family members yelled at Torn to stop. Before it was all over, Mailer had viciously bitten Torn’s ear. It is alleged that the fight wasn’t planned. However, some are not so sure, since it happened after filming had ended.

Blood pumping instances like these seemed to follow Mailer throughout his life. The documentary is very insightful and filled with exciting interviews and footage from some of Mailer’s other wives and lovers, enemies and admirers, his children and the man himself. The fact that the viewer can see Mailer on different talk shows and situations, talking about—and sometimes defending—himself makes Norman Mailer: The American all the more interesting. Check out for more information

About the Author:

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago. She is the author of "Old School Adventures from Englewood--South Side of Chicago" and the proud parent of "the smart rapper"--chemist-turned-rapper, turned humanitarian...Psalm One!
Filed in: Film, Video and DVD

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