Tuesday, May 22, 2007



[This article by Sandy McIntosh was first published in Confrontation No. 80/81, Fall 2002/Winter 2003. Editor: Martin Tucker]

Taking Reality Through Its Paces:
Filmmaking with Norman Mailer and Ilya Bolotowsky

On the road between Noyac and Sag Harbor on Long island, there once stood an inn called the Hilltop House, run by an allegedly sadomasochistic dentist from New York City. Each weekend the inn’s rooms, restaurant and swimming pool attracted crowds of exotic guests, some of them notorious, like the strung-out musicians of Andy Warhol’s band, the Velvet Underground, and others not so notorious, but possibly as strung-out. By the middle of the summer Dick Freeman had taken a job as a waiter in the restaurant. Dick had earlier been hired to paint a mural on the side of an ugly building on Montauk Highway in Watermill, but the owner had refused to compensate him for the gallons of paint he had bought on credit, and the project was abandoned with only half the mural done. Dick had taken the waiter’s job in order to pay off his creditors.

The Hilltop’s restaurant was always crowded and noisy, and the air bushy with cigarette and marijuana smoke. This didn’t bother Dick, as he made his way among the tables, often mixing up the orders, but serving them to ravenous customers who were grateful to be given anything to eat. “The only thing that drives me nuts,” Dick told me, “is the noise when I’m trying to sleep.” According to Dick, his room adjoined the owner’s suite, and his late nights and early mornings were tortured by the screams apparently coming from the young men—putative “sons”—that the owner brought to the inn each weekend.

Adding to the usual crowd and chaos one weekend, Norman Mailer arrived with about one hundred people whom he intended to use in making his film, Maidstone. A few of Mailer’s crew were professional actors, such as Rip Torn from Hollywood and Ultra Violet from Andy Warhol’s films, and technical people, such as the filmmakers D. A. Pennebacker and Buddy Wirtschafter (recruited as an actor). However, most were amateurs—friends of Mailer or friends of friends who happened to be in the area and wished to get in on the avant-garde action. Three of the latter were fixtures of East Hampton: the artist Alfonso Ossorio, the founder of Grove Press, Barney Rosset, and the owner of Gardiner’s Island, Robert David Lion Gardiner. Mailer would film key scenes at their homes.

Mailer planned to make his film in three days. In accordance with his theory of “pure” cinema, he had not written a script and had only outlined the central characters, intending that the pressure of the three-day round-the-clock shooting schedule would force his professionals and amateurs to improvise something real and dangerous. Danger seemed likely, since, besides the drugs and alcohol that already pervaded the place, rumors persisted that some of Mailer’s people were carrying firearms. More than once, Rip Torn, said to be frustrated by the unprofessional antics of his fellow actors, was observed eyeing the carpenter’s hammer that he would eventually use to assault Mailer on the final day of filming.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest (and this is not a fanciful way of putting it, since at the time there was much “unimproved” woodland in the area), Ilya Bolotowsky was assembling a crew to make a film on a more modest scale, yet with similar unscripted “pure” film intent.

Bolotowsky was born in Petrograd in either 1897 or 1907 (depending upon which version of his autobiographical sketches you read). Already an artist when he immigrated to New York City, he continued to study while taking work as a textile designer. In 1933, he discovered Piet Mondrian’s two dimensional grid pattern paintings, as well as the more figurative and lyric paintings of Mirô. He incorporated both into his own work, which now included playful biomorphic forms and rectangular planes of unmodulated color. Within a few years, however, he had dispensed with the playful forms and given his work over to the strictness of the Mondrian-inspired discipline Neo-plasticism. He had enjoyed success with his work during the 1950s, and had been asked to lecture at various institutions, including the famous experimental college, Black Mountain, where poets, such as Ignatow, Charles Olson, and Robert Creeley, and painters, such as de Kooning also taught.

Given his long career as a painter, it was odd, then, for me to meet Bolotowsky in the guise of my Freshman English professor. He was a short, jovial man with a pronounced Russian accent, nearly bald head and thick, white, drooping walrus moustache, which, he informed us, measured sixteen inches on each side. That semester Bolotowsky led us through the mysteries of James Joyce, beginning with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and coming back full circle to an earlier version of the same book, Stephen Hero. Perhaps only a few of us—myself included—reveled in these sophisticated works, books that I know after years teaching Freshman English myself, would be judged inappropriate for the modern freshman curriculum, which is mainly remedial. He led our discussions as a practicing artist, not a literary critic. That is, Bolotowsky’s interest seemed to lie in showing us useful techniques in the service of achieving some effect without reference to any tradition writers and other artists might be extending or establishing along the way. Traditions and the literary or artistic theories that describe them were only secondary concerns of painters, writers, sculptors, and so on, and needn’t concern us in his classroom. Again and again, he showed us how Joyce and other writers achieved their narrative effects by referring to the work of contemporaneous visual artists.

When I asked him to describe what went on in his own painting, he called the Neo-plastic style “the most meaningful and exciting direction in art. As a Neo-plasticist, I strive after an ideal of harmony…. Neo-plasticism can achieve unequaled tension, equilibrium, and harmony through the relation of the vertical and horizontal elements.”

That was it: no over-arching concerns, no looking back over his shoulder to his place in history, only a concentration on the work at hand. “This is the way you might want to approach your own writing,” he suggested to me.

Bolotowsky was pleased when, as editor of the college newspaper and the underground magazine, Survivors’ Manual, I published a few of his one-act plays. In return, when the college published a book of my poetry, Bolotowsky painted the cover illustration.

Bolotowsky often invited me to his small studio in Sag Harbor to see his new work: round canvasses—tondos—and rectangular columns of various heights on which he was able to extended his two-dimensional paintings to the column’s four contiguous sides. One element of his work—or rather, the lack of it—disturbed me, though. The “tension, equilibrium, and harmony through the relation of the vertical and horizontal elements” I could understand. But why were his works so dry, so unemotional?

“My paintings are pure abstractions that remain austere, but always the same to the viewer, no matter how he or she is feeling at the time,” he answered. “Emotions, on the other hand are temporal, temporary. I save my emotions for my films.”

Bolotowsky organized film festivals at the college at which he had shown some of his own movies, as well as those of the early experiments of artistic film, such as Hans Richter’s Ballet Mechaneque, and the notorious Dali-Buñuel surrealist shocker, Un Chien Andalou. I was impressed with Bolotowsky’s films less because of their narrative subject matter (he used or perhaps invented myths—and set them in modern dress), and more because they featured the naked breasts of various co-eds I’d lusted after. When, in the summer when Mailer was making Maidstone, Bolotowsky asked me to be in one of his films, I was happy to accept, and even suggested that I would bring some friends with me who might also be in his movie.

Bolotowsky agreed, and the night before filming was to begin, I invited my friends to the Hilltop House for drinks so that we could make arrangements.

By 11:00 o’clock that night, the parking lot and lawns of Hilltop House were filled with cars. Dick Freeman and his friend Wendy, a tall, beautiful girl of Shinnecock Indian extraction, met us. “You’re never going to get anything to eat tonight,” he told me. That guy booked up everything.” He pointed to a short man with frizzy hair who was haranguing a crowd of staggering, giggling people wandering about inside the windowed building that served as an indoor dining room and dance floor.

I recognized Mailer, whom I’d seen on television. Dick explained that he and his crew had taken over the place for the weekend. “They’ve eaten everything in the kitchen. We’ve been turning people away.” We could get drinks, though, if we could find a place to sit down. We headed for the bar.

The only seats available, it seemed were at the entrance to the room in which Mailer and his friends were meeting. We sat, and I, at least, became absorbed in what Mailer was saying—yelling, actually.

“We hope to prove,” Mailer was arguing , “that one can make a beautiful, tasteful, resonant, touching, evocative picture with cinema vérité methods in four days. If we can do it, a lot of people out in Hollywood are going to commit suicide. Well,” he went on, “it’s something to work for. Help stamp out mediocrity.”

“Right now, the film does not exist as a plot, only a presence. But it’s going to be a film about beauty, intrigue, and the subtle nature of reality—how difficult it is to know what reality is until you take it through its paces. It’s going to be a film about a notorious movie director who has come to the east end of Long Island ostensibly to look at sites for his new film. Now, this film within a film is going to be a sexual spoof of Belle de Jour, this time with a male house of assignation to which women come. In the house will be a bunch of male stars, the director’s rat pack, which we’re going to call the Cash Box…. By the way,” he added with a wry smile. “I’m playing the part of Norman T. Kingsley, the lead.” Mailer’s crew had mostly settled down to listen to him, although he had had to shout for order several times. It seemed that only my friends were restless, getting up from the table to get drinks or chatting noisily to one another. At one point Mailer looked directly at us. “You’re either in the film or you’re not,” he thundered.

“We’re not in your film,” one of my friends replied cavalierly and unwisely.

“Then get the hell out of here, all of you in the back!”

As most of Mailer’s crew turned to watch, my friends and I got up to leave. When Wendy stood, however, Mailer thrust up his hand like a traffic cop. “Not you,” he ordered. “I want you in the film.” Thus, Wendy joined Mailer’s cast. He used her in a short, uncredited sequence.

The following morning, I was able to corral my three friends to meet with Bolotowsky. I had been renting a cottage at the end of Springs Fireplace Road, across from Gardiner’s Island. My friends included next-door neighbors John (a sculptor) and his wife, Helen (a high school teacher), and my girlfriend, Elizabeth. John specialized in sculpting huge erect marble penises, and he was eager to be in the film, especially after I told him about Bolotowsky’s penchant for nudity.
“I don’t think he’s particularly interested in male nudity,” I’d warned John, but he decided to give it a shot, anyway.

Elizabeth was upset with me about horrible I had allegedly done or said to her (whatever it was, I can’t recall it now), and after returning from the Hilltop House, she’d taken her suitcase and moved out of my cottage and into the extra room in John’s. Apparently, she spent the next hour or so complaining about my supposed crime to John’s wife, who was sympathetic and consoling. The next morning, neither Helen nor Elizabeth was speaking me.

We met up with Bolotowsky, his son, Andrew, Andrew’s girlfriend, Jane, and another Helen (a college student whom I’d remembered from Bolotowsky’s previous films) at Peter Wrangell’s home in Noyac. Bolotowsky confided to me that Peter was a direct descendant of the famous Wrangell family in Russia. In fact, he told me with some awe, Peter was actually nobility.

Bolotowsky appeared with his sixteen-millimeter camera and we gathered around for a smaller, more modest version of a Mailer-type briefing. Bolotowsky had no great directorial philosophy to share. A patch of woodland surrounded Wrangell’s house, and he told us we would be using the woods and some dilapidated buildings for the film. There was also a small, swampy lake nearby, and we might use that location, too.

“What would you like us to do?” I asked.

“Well,” he answered looking around. “Why don’t we go over to that old barn and see what happens.” Like Mailer, Bolotowsky had no script, and would be content to film while reality took us through its paces.

That afternoon Mailer began filming at Barney Rosset’s house. Five camera crews wandered over the property, filming the actors who either did or did not improvise scenes on cue, but seemed to prefer drinking from Rosset’s unlimited supply of alcohol. The house was enormous, with two swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), abundant lawns and trees, and a wandering garden. One of many journalists following the adventure reported that it reminded her of a surrealistic Buckingham Palace garden party.

Mailer arrived and busied himself with greeting actors and crew, and partying with friends and his ex-wives, who had showed up. At a point dictated by some personal sense of propriety, he got down to business and demanded a cast list.
An assistant appeared and promised to make one up in an hour.

“An hour? An hour? Make it fifteen minutes. Where’s a camera? I need a camera,” Mailer continued, turning to someone else. “You! Are you the last functional camera left in America?”

As Mailer’s shift from party guest to demon movie director was noticed, the crowd gradually put down their drinks and gathered around, awaiting orders. He split them into five crews, each assigned a camera operator and different location on the property, and filming proper began.

At Peter Wrangell’s, the old barn our film party walked to turned out to be a moribund shack of sorts, with cracked lathe and plaster walls and no roof.
Bolotowsky took me aside. “Why don’t you organize something for the first scene?” he asked me differentially.

Surprised and flattered that he would be interested in my ideas, I suggested that we punch holes in the plaster walls and stick our heads through them. (I had really loved the old surrealist films he’d shown our class.) Bolotowsky conferred with Wrangell, and Wrangell trotted back to his house from which he returned with an assortment of hats—straw boaters and ladies’ flowered sun hats, a top hat and a bowler. He also produced a handful of cigars and handed them out. I took the bowler hat, lit my cigar and positioned myself behind the hole I’d punched in the wall. Hats on and cigars lit, everyone else did the same until the view from the camera showed a gallery of disembodied heads with hats, clouds of cigar smoke coming from our mouths. Bolotowsky directed us to talk to each other animatedly, and we did. Since the film wasn’t to have sound, it didn’t matter so much what we talked about as that we did it with enthusiasm.

That scene completed, we moved on. Someone else suggested something we could do, and Bolotowsky agreed to do it. We did that, than followed the suggestions of others in the group, until we’d filmed eight or ten unrelated scenes.

“What’s this movie going to be about?” I whispered to Bolotowsky. I’d been happy to perform in the scenes, but the process reminded me of the extemporaneous eight-millimeter home movies I’d made as a nine year-old. My friends and I had concentrated our cinematography then on endless variations of the theme: Kid (or Kid-like dummy) falls off roof; falls out of tree; is thrown through window; etc., and lands on the ground with a bloody splat. This film seemed to me to be attaining that same, unexalted level.

Bolotowsky, essentially a subtle, quiet man with twinkling eyes and a soft, insinuating chuckle, was reluctant to explain what he was doing unless someone pressed him. “You’ll see,” was all he answered me.

Heedless, I pressed on. “But don’t you have some theme in mind that we could work on together? It might help us focus on what you want.”

After a moment during which he looked at me silently, he replied. “The theme is emerging now, as we do each scene. When we finish, we’ll know what we have. But it’s all in the editing. Why don’t you exercise some patience?”

Chastened, I promised I would.

John, the sculptor, then came forward with his suggestion. He’d gone through the previous scenes, but I had noticed his growing impatience. “Why don’t we take that rowboat over there and go out on the lake?”

“Hmm,” hummed Bolotowsky and rubbed his chin, considering the idea. “Very well,” he answered. “Why don’t we have all the girls take off their clothes and go out in that boat on the lake?”

Now we were getting somewhere, the voyeur in me silently cheered. We dragged the little boat by its rope to the lake. The girls began to undress, and I was enjoying the scene, when John began taking off his clothes, too. “Come on,” he shouted, now full of bright enthusiasm. “Let’s all take off our clothes!”

Wrangell smiled and Bolotowsky surreptitiously giggled, but both held up their hands, demurring. I’d been standing next to them, holding some props, and I wondered if I should join the nudists. Bolotowsky looked over at me, obviously reading my mind. “Stay here with me. I’d like you to take notes.”

Relieved, I took the notebook in which one of the women had been recording the order of scenes we’d filmed, and picked up where she’d left off.

Bolotowsky’s camera was rolling. John had the girls get into the boat, and he pushed off into the water, pulling himself aboard. The little boat drifted several feet toward the center of the lake, rocking each time John leapt up to display himself to the girls and to the camera. When he did this, I heard Bolotowsky’s tongue click, and he’d utter some mumble of displeasure.

After that, Jane and Helen (the college student) modestly dressed themselves, but John, his wife and my girlfriend, Elizabeth, insisted on doing their scenes in the nude. John soon made himself annoying by leaping in front of the camera holding his penis and shaking it. By the evening, when we quit, only Elizabeth seemed fascinated—mesmerized—by John the Satyr’s antics.

I drove everyone back to the Fireplace Road cottages. Neither Elizabeth nor Helen said a word to me. Only John wanted to talk, and then only to brag about his uninhibited frolicking in front of the camera. When I asked them what we should do for dinner, Helen answered. “We’re not going out for dinner tonight,” she told me, with a chilly smile. “We’re staying in. That is, we’re staying in bed. All of us except you. You are not invited.” I couldn’t help noticing that Helen was holding Elizabeth’s hand and that Elizabeth was refusing to look at me.

Feeling low, I dropped them off, then turned my car around and headed over to the Hilltop House to see what was going on there. (It’s not that I particularly wanted to participate in their little orgy; it’s just that I didn’t like being rejected from it.)

Around that time, as the sun began to set and the natural light fade, Mailer’s crew wrapped up its shooting for the day. According to one journalist who had been watching the filming, Barney Rosset’s garden looked like the set for La Dolce Vita, with bottles and people scattered all over the grass, the sound assistants being quietly sick in the bushes, and naked actors refusing to come out of the swimming pool. But gradually, everyone followed Mailer’s exit and returned for an early dinner at the Hilltop House or elsewhere.

Surprisingly, the Hilltop House’s parking lot was relatively uncrowded. My friend Dick met me at the door and, as he didn’t seem to be busy, I told him all about the day’s shooting with Bolotowsky, even describing what was happening right then, in the cottage on Fireplace Road. When Dick asked with a leer why I wasn’t there with them, I waved his question away. “Really not my scene.” It was too early to go into the question of why I was here and not there.

I had dinner, walked around aimlessly, finally arriving at the large room where I’d first seen Mailer and his crew. The place was deserted except for a pianist playing a Chopin waltz—not with great skill, but with real feeling. Sitting down, I was able to got a good look at the pianist: a dwarf. Why, after my day of bizarre, surrealistic happenings, his appearance should startle me, I can’t say. Not noticing me, he continued to play Chopin’s sad, delicate music.

When he was done I cleared my throat and told him that his playing was beautiful.
“Thank you,” he replied in a child’s voice with an accent I took to be French. “I am Hervé. I am an actor in the film being made here. Are you also an actor in the film?”
I told him I wasn’t, but that, in fact, I was an actor in another film being made elsewhere.

He stood up from the piano bench—or, in truth, dropped from the bench to the floor—walked over and shock my hand.

“You see my clothes?” he asked. Surreptitiously, I had been glancing at his wet, discolored and wrinkled clothes. “I fell in a swimming pool,” he Explained. “Everyone thought I was drowning, but I wasn’t drowning.”

He stopped and looked at me.

“Why did you fall into the swimming pool?” I asked dutifully.

“I fell into the swimming pool because I was drunk,” he answered, smiling triumphantly. “I thought I would make a beautiful swan dive, but maybe I just fell in. I knew there were others around watching me fall, but nobody did anything to help. I floated on my face for a while. I studied the bottom of the pool. There were many beer bottles down there. It was like a dream. I almost fell asleep. But at the last second I pulled myself out. Nobody offered me a towel, but some nice man gave me another drink.”

From his speech I surmised that he was still somewhat drunk.

“I go to bed now,” he said, and began to wander through the tangle of chairs, supporting himself on one and then another as he passed, more gracefully than I’d imagined he was capable.

The room was now empty except for me, and I, too, decided that it was time to go. I drove myself home. From my bedroom window I could see that the lights in John’s bedroom were still on.

To almost all observers, the next day on Mailer’s film set was chaos, with actors blundering through each other’s improvised scenes, loudly arguing near the live sound equipment and even fighting. Mailer himself got into a punching match with an actor who had been bothering him with suggestions since the beginning of shooting. On the other hand, Ultra Violet, a star of Andy Warhol’s films, was impressed with everyone’s energy. “It’s all so organized,” she said. “Andy’s films are never like this.”

In the afternoon, the rumor spread that nude scenes were about to be shot; no one was sure where, though. Finally, somebody pointed to the pool house, where several women and D. A. Pennebaker carrying his camera, had just appeared. People watched expectantly for the disrobing, but Pennebaker ushered his group inside, closed and locked the door. Oddly, for such an uninhibited project, all the nude scenes where shot in private.

Mailer divided his crew into units and ordered them to several locations for the afternoon’s work. One group ended up at Gardiner’s house on Main Street in East Hampton, the other at Ossorio’s mansion. Ossorio’s was crammed with paintings, including over one hundred Dubuffets. Many of these were hung on the backs of doors, since the walls were too crowded to accept them. Thus, drunken actors using the bathrooms or bedrooms at various times blindly collided with the valuable artworks as they staggered around, causing some expensive damage.

Bolotowsky filmed the last scenes of his movie in the yard next to my cottage on Fireplace Road. He had heard about the post-filming orgy of the previous night and seemed worried. “The less said about that, the better,” he muttered to me.
Nevertheless, he picked up on the hostility that had been growing between John and me, and decided to film us fighting to the death. Someone (possibly the resourceful Peter Wrangell) produced dueling swords. It happened that I had a red shirt with puffy sleeves that always made me feel like a pirate when I wore it. Bolotowsky was delighted with my shirt. John and I faced each other and began clanging and cracking our blades together and dancing about like Errol Flynn, our left arms raised behind us. Unlike the action on Mailer’s set, however, neither of us drew blood.
Other scenes were improvised. I had to pick up my sword for a second time to battle a long rubber snake that was lunging and otherwise menacing me, manipulated by somebody off-screen.

After a few hours, Bolotowsky announced that he’d run out of film, and therefore our work on the movie was done. Reflecting on what we’d accomplished over the past two days, I still couldn’t see how Bolotowsky might forge coherence from our cinematic commotion. Certainly, the girls’ nudity would be interesting of itself, and John’s prancing about, penis in hand, would have shock value, but other than those things, I hadn’t a clue. However, Bolotowsky had told me that the narrative would emerge by itself from the action, and I trusted that he knew what he was doing.

The next afternoon, while Mailer and crew were wrapping up their shooting on Gardiner’s Island, I was at home at my typewriter. I’d been noodling around on the keys, hoping for a poem to take shape, when I had an idea. Why not write a story about Bolotowsky’s movie, including everything that had happened in front of and also behind the cameras? I had been looking for something to publish that would get a wider circulation than my poetry, which was printed in little magazines, and it seemed to me that this would be a perfect story for the Village Voice.

I decided to call Bolotowsky to tell him my idea. He had often told me of his own publicity schemes, which included flying a stunt airplane in dangerous, seemingly suicidal maneuvers (“I did that to drive up the price of my paintings,” he confided). Surely, a story in the Village Voice would enhance his reputation as an au courante, cutting-edge artist.

I got him on the phone, but he didn’t seem particularly thrilled by my idea. He said, “Hmm. Hmm,” a few times, then abruptly told me goodbye.

An hour later, his son Andrew called. They—Bolotowsky and his whole family—would like to discuss my idea with me. Could they come over to my cottage right away? A bit confused and intimidated by Andrew’s seriousness, I told them to come on over; I’d wait for them.

They arrived in Bolotowsky’s old station wagon. Bolotowsky, his wife, Meta (who I’d first seen in an early Bolotowsky film with the appropriate title, Metanoia), Andrew, Jane and Helen, the college student, walked single file into my living room and sat down on my old couch. Their faces were solemn, and only Bolotowsky spoke to me.

“I don’t think you should write a newspaper story about the filming. This is a private affair, and I wouldn’t want word to get out about the other things that happened. Such a story would harm my reputation as a painter, and I won’t have that.”
His fierce tone was intimidating. I wasn’t sure how to answer him. Whether or not I wrote a story was my business. I certainly didn’t intend to hurt him, but the reality of what happened was unalterable. Why shouldn’t I report it? Was he worried that I’d suggest that he or his family members had been involved in the sexual shenanigans that followed the first day of shooting?

I tried to reassure him of my good intentions, but he didn’t seem placated. The best I could do was to tell him that I’d think about his request. As silently as they’d entered my house, Bolotowsky and family filed out.

A week passed during which I tried to speak with Bolotowsky, but he wasn’t taking my calls. I had made the decision not to write the story and I’d wanted him to know it. One afternoon, I dropped in unannounced at his painting studio. He was cold to me, but showed me some of the paintings he was completing. I told him of my decision, and he accepted it without saying much. Believing that I was not wanted there, I left. I didn’t hear from him for several more weeks.

Meanwhile, on Gardiner’s Island, while Mailer was lecturing his crew on the alleged philosophical underpinnings of what they’d been filming during the previous days; Rip Torn emerged from a nearby tool shed with a hammer. The cameras were still rolling, and Torn, an insane glint in his eyes, still in character, shouted at Mailer, “Norman T. Kingsley, I have something for you.” He then smashed Mailer on the head three times, drawing blood, before Mailer wrestled him to the ground, clenching Torn’s ear between his teeth and biting it open. Later, Torn declared that he had simply been acting, that he hadn’t intended to cause Mailer pain. Mailer, however, wasn’t buying it, and refused to speak to Torn.

Several weeks after that, as an unexpected conclusion to one of its bacchanalian evenings, the Hilltop House caught fire and burnt to the ground. Mailer and his crew were long gone.

Mailer was in New York editing his film, a job that would take him and his assistants four months to complete. It was a question of finding the innate reality of the film, and then, by careful editing, exposing it, making its meaning plain. As the film took shape, Mailer found that his attitude towards his attacker, Rip Torn, was undergoing a change.

Writing of himself in the third person, Mailer later explained his change of heart this way: “So, at this point next day in the filming of Maidstone, on the lazy afternoon… the director had come to the erroneous conclusion his movie was done, even though the film was still continuing in the collective mind of some working photographers before whom—as we know all to well—the director was yet to get hit on the head by a hammer wielded by his best actor… a fight [that would] give him a whole new conception of his movie.” Torn’s attack, Mailer now realized, was not some personal and irrelevant vendetta. Indeed, Torn’s action and Mailer’s reaction, Mailer saw, were absolutely essential to the movie’s reality. Without them, his film would never have achieved the perfection of pure film he now confidently asserted that it had. Because of his realization, Mailer cordially invited Rip Torn to the film’s premiere.

After many weeks of silence, Bolotowsky called. He invited me to a screening of our newly edited film. He seemed pleased with the result. At his home, I met Andrew, Meta, Jane and Helen.

It was unique and exciting for me (in this time before home video recorders) to watch myself in action. And the film as a whole pleased me, also. Bolotowsky had managed to splice together scenes that seemed to have some relationship to each other in terms of cause and effect, and a theme that I sensed but couldn’t articulate was emerging. When we got to the nude scenes, ample time was given to each girl as she shed her clothing, but I was surprised when John appeared. In shot after shot, we were only shown John naked from the chest upwards. In others, we could see that he was naked and prancing about, but he was always safely out of focus. At the height of these nudist activities I was stunned to see two shots of myself, fully clothed of course, gawking in horror at the naked action happening around me. The first was a long shot, and the second a close-up of my face. I didn’t look so good there, and thought the close-up unnecessary. Involuntarily, as I sat in his living room, I shifted my eyes in Bolotowsky’s direction. He was grinning at me.

I liked the last scene of the film better. This was the sword fight, and I was surprised and gratified at how dashing I looked in my dueling shirt. To my surprise, the film ended with a close-up of me stabbing John and then looking up at the camera in triumph. (As I remember it, we hadn’t filmed those actions in that order.)

After it was over, we all praised the film, and Bolotowsky looked content. “You know,” he told us. “I had to play some camera tricks with John. But it had to be done. Propriety and the reality of the film demanded it.”

Like Mailer, Bolotowsky had watched reality going through its dangerous paces. In the end, though, as Bolotowsky had predicted, reality was all in the editing.


Sandy McIntosh’s collections of poetry include The After-Death History of My Mother, Between Earth and Sky (Marsh Hawk Press), Endless Staircase (Street Press), Earth Works (Long Island University), Which Way to the Egress? (Garfield Publishers), and two chapbooks: Obsessional (Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry) and Monsters of the Antipodes (Survivors Manual Books). His prose includes Firing Back, with Jodie-Beth Galos (Wiley), From A Chinese Kitchen (American Cooking Guild), and The Poets In the Poets-In-The-Schools (Minnesota Center for Social Research, University of Minnesota. His poetry and essays have been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Nation, the Wall Street Journal, American Book Review, and elsewhere. His original poetry in a film script won the Silver Medal in the Film Festival of the Americas. He has been Managing Editor of Confrontation magazine published by Long Island University, and is Managing Editor of Marsh Hawk Press. His latest book of poetry, Forty-Nine Guaranteed Ways To Escape Death, will be published in September 2007.


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