the writer of all excesses, on Arte
CRITICISM – He was undoubtedly one of the most famous American writers of the 20th century. On the occasion of the centenary of his birth, Arte pays homage to him by broadcasting a rather successful documentary with some spectacular images. Norman Mailer: The Writer of All Hitsa film not to be missed, this Wednesday February 1 at 10:45 p.m. on Arte.
It’s the centenary of the birth of the old Brooklyn lion. For the occasion, Arte is broadcasting a German film from 2021 which is not lacking in interest. Since the writer’s death in 2007, American literary life has undoubtedly lost its flavor. Mailer was excessive, rash, hot-tempered, defiant. Hard-hitting footage from the documentary shows him, on the set of one of his own films, fighting with a comedian armed with a hammer. On others, we see him copiously insulting an assembly of feminists.
Willingness to join the elite
Before that, back to his past. Birth in Long Branch, New Jersey, January 31, 1923. He was 5 years old when his parents moved to New York. In the Brooklyn neighborhood, they belong to the middle class. A large Jewish community where the kid feels safe. He is ambitious, combative. He wants to join the elite. At 16, he began studying aeronautical engineering at Harvard. He has a dream: to get out of his petty bourgeois background and become a writer. The war will give him the opportunity. In December 1944, he was a soldier in the Philippines. He wrote more than three hundred letters to his first wife (he would have six), which served as the basis for writing his first novel, The Naked and the Dead, published in 1948. A huge public success, the novel is considered by critics as one of the best books on the Second World War. Overnight, he becomes a star. A difficult status to assume at 25 years old. It will take Mailer years to, he says in the film, “build an ego“. Total success of the operation!
Fascinated by Kennedy, the writer decided to go into politics and ran for mayor of New York. “It was very narcissistic, all that“, he comments in an archive. He wants to transform the city and make it the 51st state in the country. A campaign is a test of endurance. To hold on, he takes drugs and drinks. The slippages are piling up. Mailer is easily violent. In 1960, he had already almost stabbed his current wife to death. This is what makes one of his daughters say:At that time he terrified me.” After a stay in HP, he takes on the mantle of pack leader of American protesters. He wants to be and sees himself as a committed writer like his model, Hemingway. Like “Papa” Ernest, he therefore learned boxing. His life has become a ring.
Along with Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and others, he pioneered new journalism. No major subject frightens him: the war in Vietnam, the conquest of the Moon, Hitler, Picasso, Marilyn. Each time, he draws a bestselling book. The one on Marilyn sells nearly 16 million copies. Mailer does what he wants. He makes films that are all failures.
Towards the end of his long life, the old lion seems a little appeased. In his Cape Cod residence, he looks at the sea, thinks of Hemingway’s suicide, draws caricatures of American presidents. At 80, he marries for the sixth time then begins to write a sequel to his novel A castle in the forest, about Hitler. Asked about the place he will leave in American literature, he says he doesn’t care. We won’t go so far as to believe it! In the end, we retain from this documentary the image of a key witness, an acerbic chronicler of his time. Under his pen, the famous American dream turns into a waking nightmare. One of his sons recognizes him:My father loved his country. But he thought he was very close to fascism.” What would he say today?
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