(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: One of the great chroniclers of the American culture and politics of his time was the novelist, essayist, social critic, and political candidate Norman Mailer, one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century. For most of his life, but particularly the 1950s to 1970s, he documented his times and focused the quiet rage of the public, often turning it violent. Staccato and compelling, this fast-paced biography recounts some of his views and opinions--writings that alienated people and won supporters. It also focuses on his out-of-control life style. The parallel stories of public and private life are documented with extensive interviews and contemporary documentary film footage. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

There are people you appreciate are around; there are people you wish they did not exist. And there are people that you are glad they exist, but hopefully will never be around you. Norman Kingsley Mailer, who lived from 1923 to 2007, was a chronicler of his time, particularly the 1950s to 1970s. The breadth of the subjects that he wrote about--and, incidentally expressed contentious and often maddening opinions on--is simply stunning. He is the author of ten novels and numerous works of non-fiction and was a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize; he was a journalist, he wrote essays, poetry, plays, and movies. Mailer was a founder of the New Journalism movement and one of the three founders of New York's "The Village Voice". He even directed films. In his time almost every American benefited from his writing shaping the thinking in the country. And all but a few benefited from not having him in close proximity. He was a violent drunk, a heavy drug user; he bedded a very large number of beautiful women and married six of them. He had nine children. His angry writings attacked much of society and the people in it. Mailer wrote about the history of his time writing about Adolf Hitler, the World War II soldier's experience, the Kennedys, the 1968 national party conventions, civil rights, the murderer Gary Gilmore, political power in America, Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali's "Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman, and the list goes on and on.

NORMAN MAILER THE AMERICAN, directed by Joseph Mantegna (not to be confused with actor Joe Mantegna), is the fast-paced and sizzling story of the life of Mailer. There is a lot of content packed into 102 minutes. Mantegna balances both Mailer's provocative professional life with a torrid personal life. Interviews include close family members from his six marriages and other sex partners, political and personal enemies, and interviews with the Mailer himself.

As the film recounts Mailer loved to alienate people. He was a small man, only about five feet tall, but he loved to provoke fights. In one famous incident on the normally placid Dick Cavett Show he took on Cavett, Gore Vidal, and much of the audience in angry contention, calling them all idiots. Mostly his fights were battles of rhetoric that purveyed his rage and hate, but he was not above pushing people close to him into physical fights. For reasons even his friends could not explain he turned a favorite game of his to be almost deadly. While playing bullfight with friends being the bulls, he stabbed his current wife with a knife telling his friends, "Let the bitch die." Later he and a cadre of friends, associates, and literary luminaries convinced his wife-- who had nearly died--not to testify against Mailer. Few people could have so fast-paced and juicy their biography fill a full- length film. He was at once a genius and totally out of control.

One problem with the film is it may be just a bit over-stuffed. There is more material than Mantegna could handle in standard feature length. Frequently one is not quite sure if the life details just heard are about the current book named or the previous one. But Mantegna seems to remain detached from the man, reporting the facts and not judging, something that the man who was his subject would have been completely unable to do.

Mailer himself said he loved America and hated it. This biography of him is one of this year's most rambunctious documentaries. I rate NORMAN MAILER THE AMERICAN a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper