Norman Mailer was one of the most controversial U.S. writers in the post-World War II era, and for many years his strident comments and public behavior created a polarizing effect on American culture. In Joseph Mantegna’s documentary, however, the larger-than-life writer is brought down to Earth – often with a considerable thud.
Unable to immediately duplicate the commercial and critical success of his 1949 debut novel “The Naked and the Dead,” Mailer managed to stay relevant by successfully cultivating a highly publicized persona of a hard living, highly opinionated force of energy. When he was at the peak of his game, the two-time Pulitzer winner created startling prose that challenged the sociopolitical status quo with brute force. However, his obsessions with cancer, racial politics, boxing and Marilyn Monroe – not to mention his weird flirtation with underground filmmaking – baffled many people, and his pugnacious pretensions were cruelly exposed in humiliating public duels against intellectual heavyweights like Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr.
To his good fortune, Mailer had plenty of apologists, including several of his six wives – most notably second wife Adele Morales Mailer, who uses her interview in this film to detail how she survived a penknife stabbing inflicted by her husband during a wild party in 1960.
If anything, Mailer was not boring, and Mantegna’s well-produced tribute to a complex and often exasperating personality is extremely entertaining.