Norman Mailer was arugably the most influential writer during postwar America. He wasn't afraid to be outspoken of what he thought was truth. However, he was also a polarizing, brutish, sexist figure who had a penchant for womanizing (he was married six times after all), violence (he once stabbed his second wife with a penknife and beat his fourth one), drugs, and often repellent behavior. But for better or worse (again), he did possess intelligence and an undeniable charisma that made one of the most unforgettable intellectuals in the history of literature.
There were many documentaries about his life, persona, and work, but 1979's Town Bloody Hall by celebrated documentarians Chris Hedgeus and D.A. Pennebaker, is perhaps the most revealing of all. It was a document of an intended debate between Mailer and four famous figures of feminism (Jacqueline Ceballos, Germaine Greer, Jill Johnston, and Diana Trilling) over his controversial essay "The Prisoner of Sex". It was edited down from 3 1/2 hours to a brisk 1 hour 25 minutes, but you still get the experience of dramatic and often hilarious observations of the Women's movement against macho men like Mailer. It's a minor, but disturbingly fresh take of a certain kind of politics that still very much exist today.
Criterion always knows how to treat documentaries, and their edition of Town Bloody Hall is no exception. It includes informative supplements such as a new interview with Hedgeus; a 2004 audio commentary with Hedgeus and author Germaine Greer; footage from a 2004 celebration of the film with Greer, Ceballos, Johnston, Hedgeus, and Pennebaker; Mailer's infamous appearence on a 1971 episode of The Dick Cavett Show promoting Prisoner of Sex; and archival interviews with Greer and Mailer. There is also a new essay by critic Melissa Anderson.
This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're seeking something challenging and more thorough than just simple entertainment, then this film is definitely for you and will obviously make a great addition to your collection.
Other notable releases:
Old Boyfriends: Film legend Talia Shire stars a psychiatrist whose marriage is on-the-rocks. She seeks out former boyfriends who left the biggest mark on her life, in mostly terrible ways. Also starring Richard Jordan, John Belushi, and Keith Carradine. Read Elizabeth Periale's review.
The Comfort of Strangers (Criterion): Paul Schrader's adaptation of Ian McEwan's short novel starring Rupert Everett and the late Natasha Richardson as a couple who travel to Venice to repair their relationship. While there, they're drawn into sexual and psychological manipulation by a mysterious man and his wife (Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren).
Flash Gordon (Arrow): a new limited editon of the 1980 cult classic about New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam Jones) saving humanity with the help of Dale Arden and Prince Barin against Emperor Ming the Merciless (the late, great Max von Sydow).
Cursed Films: A five-part TV mini-series created by Shudder exploring the myths and legends behind some of Hollywood's most notoriously "cursed" horror film productions, such as Poltergeist, The Omen, The Crow, The Exorcist, and Twilight Zone: The Movie.