Mantegna on Mailer, Warts and All

The director behind the great new Norman Mailer documentary–part of the Dallas International FilmJoseph IMG_0554 Festival, and reviewed by Peter here–is a beefy, blunt-talking, middle-aged guy in a dark suit and tie who admires the late author but is also clear-eyed about his foibles. Joseph Mantegna, not to be confused with the Criminal Minds actor, calls Mailer the greatest writer of the second half of the 20th century, a “lover and a romantic” (he had five full-time girlfriends when he died), and the first true director of reality-TV films, like Maidstone. “Before there was the Kardashians, there was Mailer,” said Mantegna (pictured in photo by Jeanne Prejean).

In a Q&A following Sunday’s screening of the documentary here, Mantegna said Mailer actually was “poor most of his life,” despite his literary success. He was also a “street brawler who would pick fights in bars, getting beat up half the time,” and someone who lied all the time. “He was a big-time liar,” the director said.

Defending the film’s title, Norman Mailer: The American, Mantegna said he picked it because the writer “really, really loved America, and thought we needed to be pushing for greatness all the time. So much of his writing was an exploration of America.”

For example, Mailer posits in the documentary that violence is so prevalent in America because we’re such “a plastic country,” and he meant it literally, pointing to all the plastic consumer products we surround ourselves with rather than “real” substances like wood, for instance.

That was vintage Mailer: original and provocative, even though his theory may have been rubbish. He always made you think and, while he was a world-class showman, there was nothing plastic about him. Just as there’s no BS in Mantegna’s documentary, which shows one more time here at 4:15 this afternoon at the Angelika.


  • Nick Kossovan

    Will, and if so when, Norman Mailer: The American ever come out in DVD?

  • Glenn Hunter

    @Nick Kossovan: When he was asked about distribution, Mantegna mentioned plans for theatrical release in the U.S. and Europe to be followed by video-on-demand.