After making his name as a tough-talking young novelist in the late 50s, and then helping to pioneer what would come to be known as “New Journalism” in the early 60s, Norman Mailer picked up a camera and pulled out his chequebook at the end of the decade, going into debt in order to show all the underground auteurs and provocateurs how he believed art movies should be made.
Mailer completed three films in a rush between 1968 and 1970: Wild 90 (about three gangsters bickering away an evening), Beyond The Law (about cops in a bar recalling their day to their dates) and Maidstone.
Over a booze-fueled, increasingly hectic five-day shoot in East Hampton, Mailer and his cast and crew spontaneously unloaded onto film the lurid and loony chronicle of US presidential candidate and filmmaker Norman T. Kingsley debating and attacking his hangers-on and enemies.
While Mailer’s “superstar director” character hectors some pretty young starlets to see if they’d be willing to get naked and freaky for his American remake of Belle De Jour, he’s also talking to minority groups about his political platform, and dealing with two threats: from his campaign staff, who may be plotting his assassination, and from Rip Torn (playing the director’s half-brother and also ‘himself’), who’s an agent of chaos, challenging everything that’s happening in the film.
This gonzo narrative, “an inkblot test of Mailer’s own subconscious” (Time), becomes something like a documentary on its own making when Rip Torn breaks the fourth wall in one of the most alarming on-screen outbursts – Torn bashes Mailer with a hammer and the two wrestle violently on the ground while Mailer’s family shrieks, unsure if this is part of the movie or not.
Mailer eventually stops the movie cold by gathering the cast and explaining to them – and the viewer – exactly what Maidstone is meant to be.
Norman T. Kingsley
Raoul Rey O’Houlihan
Secret service chief