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  Maidstone Norman Conquest
Year: 1970
Director: Norman Mailer
Stars: Norman Mailer, Rip Torn, Beverly Bentley, Jean Campbell, Lee Cook, Buzz Farber, Robert Gardiner, Leo Garen, Luba Harrington, Joy Bang, Ultra Violet, Harris Yulin, Lane Smith, Penelope Milford
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The great film director Norman T. Kingsley (Norman Mailer), described as an American Luis Buñuel, is embarking on his most ambitious project yet: to run for President of the United States. Because of this, he is being investigated by a top secret cadre of behind the political scenes figures who delve into his background and discuss whether he has a viable chance of winning and whether he is a genuine threat to the status quo. Meanwhile, Norman is undertaking his casting sessions in the gardens of the country mansion where it is to be shot: he wants to make a movie about sex, but not sexploitation...

And if the sight of Norman Mailer stripped to the waist and pontificating about carnality doesn't do it for you, I don't know what will. Actually, unless you were a big fan of seventies nudity complete with very visible tan lines there was little to engage in an erotic nature to Maidstone, Mailer's third film as director and his last until the mid-eighties when he made a return to movies with Tough Guys Don't Dance. However, it was Norman saying "Oh God. Oh man. Oh God. Oh man." as Ryan O'Neal did there for the reason this became so notorious was due to his altercation with one of his cast members. There comes a point here where fiction is deliberately left behind, but Rip Torn was not keen.

Mr Torn did not grow any more mellow in old age, but even back then in 1968 (the movie reputedly took two years to edit) he was so dedicated to his craft that he didn't think attempted murder onscreen was anything too over the top if it was artistically credible. There's a scene early on where Kingsley is ordering his brother/aide, played by Torn, to box with him but only to strike him in the belly, but gets whomped in the head for his efforts leading to Mailer breaking character to admonish him, which turned out to be a spot of plot foreshadowing for the film's climactic brawl. In the middle of those scenes were what could best be described as a ragbag of bits and pieces, some intended to be provocative, others meant to be more contemplative.

Needless to say, Mailer might have tried to write the Great American Novel more than once, but when it came to movies he was on far less sure ground, and when just about everyone who watched Maidstone pronounced it an ego trip of massive self-indulgence, well, they were not far off as he portrayed his surrogate character as so powerful - a brilliant artist who was so influential that his candicacy for President had the establishment quaking in their boots - you could not regard him as anything but overstating both his case and his self-importance. His critics, and there were many, used his films as a rod to beat him with, and it was true he was better as a chat show guest if you wanted to hear what was on his mind.

So what was on offer here was the director and his invited guests yakking away on hot button subjects like race and gender, occasionally breaking out into scuffles which may be staged but look real, interspersed with people taking their clothes off for simulated sex scenes, among them Andy Warhol acolyte Ultra Violet as herself. But it was the ultraviolent that caught the attention as after it has been established in the plot that Kingsley could be target for an assassination - he's just too strong a candidate, you see - Mailer held an open air discussion with his cast and crew where they talked about what they had learned and how well he had put across his themes. Evidently Torn didn't think he went far enough, he wanted his assassination Goddamit, so he grabbed a hammer, approached Mailer and whacked him, leading to a full on scrap all caught on camera as Mailer's wife and children scream. It wasn't a great way to end a movie, but it was a hell of a lot more interesting than the previous hour and a half.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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