Maidstone (1970)

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*. Let’s get this part out of the way. At the end of Maidstone Norman Mailer and Rip Torn get in a fight. It’s the one scene that everybody remembers from this film. Torn might have been acting under the influence of drugs. He seems more than slightly out of it, not quite sure if he’s still in character (the kind of “tilt” condition that Robert Downey, Jr. discovers Ben Stiller in at the end of Tropic Thunder).
*. So is the fight “real”? I’m not sure. If Torn had really cold cocked Mailer with a hammer he might have killed him. I don’t know how staged any of it was, or, if it was staged, who all was in on it. But I guess that’s the point of the movie.

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*. Was this the first mockumentary? No, because there were slightly earlier examples (one of them, Take the Money and Run, came out just the year before). Is it even a mockumentary? I think so, even though it takes itself seriously. It’s just that the more seriously it takes itself the funnier it is. That doesn’t mean it’s a comedy, but that approach to it is open.
*. Admit it, if you’d come to this movie after watching Wild 90 and Beyond the Law you wouldn’t have been expecting much. But this film is more than a curiosity. The sound may not be clear but it’s audible, and there are signs of competence in the filmmaking and even an interesting concept underlying it all (if still no proper “story”).
*. I find Mailer somewhat interesting on politics. I don’t find him interesting at all on sex. Unfortunately, he often conflated the two.

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*. Mailer himself still can’t act, and embarrasses himself when he tries. By trying to act I mean mainly his adoption of different accents and funny voices. Was there no one around to tell him that this wasn’t working? Perhaps no one on this set. Though perhaps part of Rip Torn’s rage was a sense of professional pride asserting itself.
*. It’s experimental film-making, and like Wild 90 and Beyond the Law it can’t fully commit to the experiment. We end with the camera pulling back to show us it was all a show, and in this case even have to listen to a discussion of what the point of it all was. That’s the irony of Mailer’s filmmaking: his audacity is never sure of itself. Like a lot of towering egos who take to the stage, he was basically an insecure guy.

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