The film's title refers to a town in England called Maidstone.
Famous film director Norman Kingsley (Norman Mailer) runs for President while working on his latest film project. His brother Raoul (Rip Torn) continues to cling to him for his money.
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Norman T. Kingsley is a filmmaker who is known as the “American Bunuel”, and he is working on a sexually provocative drama about a brothel with both female and male employees. Throughout this documentary,which is broken down into twelve chapters, Kingsley has his friends, actors, "wanna-be" actresses, and other colleagues join him on his estate in Upstate New York to audition for and work on his sexual drama. The different chapters in Maidstone are filmed in documentary form, The movie depicts Kingsley's everyday lifestyle as an actor and filmmaker. Kingsley chooses the cast for his film which is made of several different men and women. Kingsley refers to himself as a narcissist. Several nice looking women are shown auditioning for a role in Kingsley's film, and Kingsley is shown criticizing them heavily. He places himself within the film to show the women actresses what he is looking for in his film. Kingsley is very realistic and convincing in his own acting. In addition to directing his film, he is also campaigning to become the president and, in doing so, he attracts journalists, scholars, and some African American radicals who question him about his campaign. Some of the attention that he draws leads to a group of people, known as PAX,C, discussing the need to have Kingsley assassinated. One scene in Maidstone also shows a boxing style fight scene between Norman Mailer and Co-Star Rip Torn. The fight scene contributed to the legacy of Maidstone (See Legacy). Below is a general breakdown of what takes place in each chapter of Maidstone. Mailer decided to break the film into twelve chapters. Besides number 12, "Silences of an Afternoon", all of the chapters refer directly to the context of the plot. Chapter details are included in the chapter summaries below.
(Note: Norman Mailer intentionally spelled out the numeral "Eight" in that chapter of the film.)
- A Meeting of High Officials
- The Director
- PAX, C & Cash Box
- Instructions to the Cast
- Politicking in the Grass
- A Commencement of Filming
- Return of an Old Love
- The Death of A Director
- The Grand Assassination Ball
- A Course in Orientation
- The Silences of An Afternoon
The film opens with a male voice presenting a series of news casts by British commentator, Jean Cardigan, who is known in England for the intimacy in her portraits of the great and the near great. She is also described as "The sauciest bite in Britain." Next, Jean Cardigan appears and begins speaking about Norman T. Kingsley running for president. Her purpose is to keep a watch on Kingsley. The next scene is "The Meeting of High Officials", in which a group of men and women are sitting in a living room and listening to a man describe Norman T. Kingsley. They provide a background for Kingsley. They say that Kingsley's dominant nationality is Welsh, and that he went to different schools in pursuit of a degree in architecture. Kingsley is described as "indigenous, original, and a bit bizarre." The movie then changes to a clip where Kingsley begins auditioning women for his film. It then returns to the High Officials discussing Kingsley and his biography.
In chapter two which is entitled "The Director", Kingsley continues auditioning woman and critiquing them heavily. Kingsley asks the women if they would be prepared to take off their clothes if the film called for it. At the same time, the High Officials provide psychoanalytic theories of Kingsley. The High Officials mention that Kingsley lives in New York, is separated from his wife, and has had no contact with his five children. One High Official wants to know Kingsley's position on Red China, Soviet Russia, The New African States, Israel, the Arab States, presumably in reference to Kingsley's presidential campaign. They introduce Mrs. Oswald, who works for Kingsley, because she knows the most about him. Mrs. Oswald claims that she knows about Kingsley as much as everyone else. The High Officials mention the Bunuel movie, and right after is their first mention of Kingsley being right for assassination. The chapter concludes with a backyard boxing fight between Kingsley and Raoul Rey O'Houlihan. Kingsley demands not to be hit in his face because he will appear in his own film.
In chapter three of the film, Jean Cardigan talks about the new secret elite peace organization- Prevention of Assassination Experiments, Control (PAX,C). Cardigan says she heard that PAX,C excites assassinations rather than prevents them. She was accused of being a member of the British equivalent of PAX,C, but she denies involvement. The scene changes back to the High Officials discussing the Cash Box. In this scene it is explained that Rey is KIngsley's half-brother. Again, the scene changes back to Kingsley who says that he is on top of the Cash Box and Rey is right under him. This changes into a photographer taking pictures of the potential actresses, and then to an older woman speaking with Kingsley about using her estate for filming.
Chapter four is titled "Instructions To The Cast." It opens with Kingsley speaking with his chosen film cast. He explains that the film is a movie about a brothel in which men work to mate women. He explains the sexual nature of the film. The scene changes back and forth between two men fishing and Kingsley speaking to the cast. This concludes chapter four.
Chapter five is titled "Politicking in the Grass." It starts with the Cash box talking to each other. The scene changes to Ms. Cardigan talking about how Kingsley is receiving political delegations while he is making his "sex movie." She says that she saw one girl undress another while they were filming on the lawn of the estate, with the Cash Box to be seen in the open. She feels the Cash Box is not the best thing for a man who is running for president to be associated with, and that the film shoot is chaotic. After that, Kingsley speaks to a group of African American males about poverty and life. The men are convinced that Kingsley says what he says because he is seeking the black vote in his run for president. Then the president of the ladies college appears. This woman says she does not want to have a myth in the presidential office, and asks Kingsley about his credentials as a candidate. An argument ensues between a few African American males, and then we see a shirtless Kingsley lying on a lawn, speaking to a woman about voting. Then we see a conversation with Kingsley and other people discussing sexual freedom in America, and someone who hangs himself while having an erection. This concludes chapter five.
Chapter six is titled "A Commencement of Filming." It begins with Kingsley and the cast clearing out a room to start filming. It transitions into a semi-sexual scene between a male and a female who are presumably cast members of Kingsley's movie. The next scene is Kingsley speaking to a different female cast member. They discuss the type of men she has been with and prefers. She talks in depth about her sexual curiosity to be with an African American man. She states "I heard they are good." Kingsley kisses her and they get into a bed together. The next scene change is Kingsley again, talking to a different woman about an Irish poet who said, "The devil is the most beautiful creature God ever created." This is a paraphrase from John Milton's Paradise Lost. Next we see Ms. Cardigan telling that the latest bulletin from NTK sexual front is that "Ultraviolet" who is the star of Andy Warhol movies, is going to be in Kingsley's film having sex with a black man. This is supposed to be a "cinematic first" for Kingsley. More conversation is shown with the cast members. Kingsley is then shown sexually caressing yet another female.
Chapter seven then begins, and it is titled "Portents." The High Officials discuss the manner in which they think Kingsley should be assassinated. A man from Kingsley's filming is then shown making unusual whooping noises with his mouth. This concludes chapter seven.
Chapter eight, titled "Return of an Old Love," starts with a man interrupting Kingsley to tell him that "Valarie Bruenelle" is at the estate. Kingsley says that the last time he saw her, she was very "rapid." Kingsley meets with Bruenelle and they sit at a table smoking, talking, and singing a random musical tune. Kingsley asks why Bruenelle came to see him and asks if it was to wish him well. Bruenelle says she does not know if she wishes him well. Some photos are flashed across the screen showing Ms. Bruenell in her younger years. This concludes chapter eight.
Chapter nine is titled "The Death of the Director." Sexually induced moaning from a female is heard in the background. A man is shown falling to the floor, and then a man is shown playing the piano. This chapter changes scenes quickly, in a random flashing manner, showing images of back roads, Ms. Cardigan, Kingsley, Kingsley's wife and children, the estate, and other miscellaneous events. A sexual scene is shown with Kingsley speaking about his film becoming pornographic. The chapter then transitions into flashes of events occurring during Kingsley's presidential campaign. Several flashes of Kingsley and women are then shown, one with a fully nude woman. Kingsley is shown saying his film is awfully close to sexual exploitation. Several more sex scenes are shown, one with Ms. Cardigan exposing her almost-bare chest as her dress is open and loose on top. Ms. Cardigan is shown very disheveled, in an almost demonic state, holding a baby doll and screaming, "I hate NTK!" The final scene shows several people walking down a dirt road, away from the camera. This concludes chapter nine.
Chapter ten, titled " The Grand Assassination Ball," opens with a party for Kingsley's presidential campaign. The High Officials and Kingsley's wife are in attendance. The scene opens with two of the cast members saying that the "King has been assassinated" and a sudden scream emits from both men. After this occurs, Kingsley makes his way on stage. Once there, he yells out something along the lines of "Silence! The King is ready to speak!" He makes a speech about how much he trusts everyone who is there until they betray him for the first time. As the music continues to play, everyone is dancing and appears to be enjoying themselves, except for the High Officials, who look mad. Next, one of the young black men from the cast tries to attack Kingsley. It takes several men to subdue him to the ground and to walk him out of the ball. After this, the music stops, Kingsley's brother walks up to his brother and yells out to the crowd "Is my brother for freedom?", to which his wife yells out, "Come on! Play some freedom! Play some freedom! You don't know nothing about freedom!" This scene ends by going completely black, and into the next scene where Kingsley's wife is sitting in his house smoking a cigarette. This concludes chapter ten.
Chapter eleven is titled "A Course in Orientation." This scene shows Kingsley entering his home where his wife awaits him. He sits down and she begins to raise her voice at him in anger. She talks about him getting "even" with her by not calling her into work. He then begins to discuss the actors and actresses he worked with during the film. His wife says he is afraid of real talent because it might steal something from him. This scene ends and the next scene shows Kingsley, his wife, and his kids on a sail boat in the ocean. This scenario changes to a yard scene where Kingsley is discussing the film with the cast and his crew. He says they have made a movie by a "brand new process". He adds that they have made a movie like a military operation. With a military operation, the troops take on the town and as they go forward, they encounter many obstacles and they have to get through them in the film. Kingsley says they have been making an attack on the nature of reality. He asks "What is reality?" The cast and crew begin to discuss what they do and don't like about Kingsley and the movie. One of the females did not like the ball, because she felt that since the cast trusted him, they had been "manipulated, exploited, developed and educated" by Kingsley. Kingsley then says he made the film to show how a man runs for president, and how his character running for president was a complete contradiction to the actor himself. He said in a fantasy world, his character could run for president. He and his cast and crew give a thankful round of applause to their host throughout the movie, Robert Gardiner. This scene ends with the camera crew riding away from the house where the movie was filmed. This concludes chapter eleven.
Chapter twelve is titled "The Silences of an Afternoon." The scene displays Kingsley's wife and kids walking on a dirt road with their mother and some other cast members walking around, relaxing since filming is over. It then changes over to a clip where Rey grabs his knife and carries it with him. It changes again to another short clip where Rey is talking to one of the High Officials, and then it changes again to where Rey suddenly attacks Kingsley with the knife and says Kingsley must die but not Mailer.. Kingsley and Rey both fall into the grass, wrestling with an axe in hand. Kingsley says, "No baby, you trust me." He repeats this four or five times to calm his brother down while his hands are pinned to the ground. His wife starts screaming when she sees Kingsley on top of Rey; not because he is trying to hurt Rey, but because Rey tried to knife Kingsley's neck. He doesn't hurt Kingsley, but he draws blood from the side of his head. This all happens in the midst of his wife screaming and hitting Kingsley and Kingsley's children crying. Rey then claims that he had to do what he did, and that the movie would not be a movie without Kingsley's death. Rey then asks Kingsley why he thinks he came back. Rey says he doesn't need to come back. After the two brothers start walking up the dirt road, they start calling each other offensive names, and soon after Rey proclaims that everything that just happened was a scene from a "Hollywood whorehouse movie." This scene ends with the continuing of slander and name-calling between Kingsley and Rey. The last scene shows the two dirt roads surrounded by woods. This concludes chapter twelve and the film as a whole.
Maidstone was one of three underground films written and directed by Norman Mailer in the late 1960's. The film began production in 1968 and was not completed until 1970. Production occurred over five days on various East Hampton estates, "The actors worked without a script, without a net, and often, without any idea what they were doing." The original footage was 45 hours long, but after the editing process the producers came up with a 110-minute film. It took them three weeks to watch the 45 hours recordings, then about 6 months to cut it into 7.5 hours. According to Mailer, the crew worked a long time before they could get down to the 3.5 hours version, that no longer exists. "At that point, down from 7 ½ hours, it’s a totally different film. It was endlessly long and slow and had all sorts of interesting corners, pursued all sorts of angles, that never quite got developed enough."
The crew had been drinking a lot during the production, which affected many scenes in the film.
The financing for this film was $200,000 causing Mailer to sell part of his interest in The Village Voice. The film would eventually bankrupt Mailer before completion. There is no official soundtrack for the film, but it did use scores created by composers Isaac Hayes and Wes Montgomery.
New York, USA
The film was shot in several different houses. Barney Rosset let the crew use his estate for shooting, and a lady named Elizabeth Brackman also gave the film crew permission to use her house as the shooting scene. The mansion that was used in one of the scenes belonged to Alfonso Ossorio. The crew worked "from mansion to estate back to another mansion to an island."
The theme music for this film was composed and sung by Carol Stevens.
Performed by Isaac Hayes:"Precious, Precious""I Just Want to Make Love to You""Rock Me Baby"
Performed by Wes Montgomery:"Love Theme from 'The Sandpiper' (The Shadow of Your Smile)"
An early edit was previewed at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which had a one-hundred seat theater. The film ran for two weeks, five times a day, and sold about 7,000 tickets. This broke several house records for the theater. With some extra money in the bank, and feeling optimistic about its reception, Mailer opened the film at The Lincoln on 57th Street. It ran for seven days, and delivered the worst business in the history of the theater. Mailer questioned why the film was being received so poorly at that point, and a friend with film expertise told him, "Norman, the answer is that there were just 7,000 people in New York who were interested in seeing that film." The film never received a great review.
Maidstone was shown in a select few theaters in 1971. After that, it all but disappeared from the public eye until 35 years later when a DVD was released in France in 2006. This led to a number of public screenings at that time, but until then the film remained in obscurity. These limited screenings may have lessened its potential direct influence on future films.
The film was shown at several festivals and movie theaters since its first release. In 2008, it appeared at the film festival "Cinema '68" in the UK. Five years later, it was shown in New York at the Film Forum.
One of the few critical reviews of Maidstone to have been published at the time was written by Vincent Canby of The New York Times. Canby mildly praised Mailer’s creativity and ambition, but this was overshadowed by overall dislike.
“Maidstone is a sometimes hilarious, often boring, but always adventurous ego trip, a very expensive, 110-minute home movie that has been edited, rather fancily, out of something like 45 hours of original footage. That, in turn, prompts the thought that almost anybody should be able to get 110 minutes of something out of 45 hours of anything, even if it's simply the filmed record of a chic, chaotic, seven-day brawl in East Hampton, which is the raw, not-so-base material of Maidstone."
Like many viewers, he found the Rip Torn hammer attack to be the only intriguing moment:
“Nothing else in Maidstone is as interesting, not the satire of the news media, not the soft-core sex scenes, not Mailer's put-downs of actresses auditioning for Norman T. Kingsley…not even Mailer's flights of fancy about politics, Presidents, blacks and whatnots.”
Sam Adams of The Los Angeles Times, however, published a study of Norman Mailer's films which included in-depth commentary on Maidstone, and named its twelfth chapter (which includes the Torn & Mailer fight scene) as "the greatest scene in Norman Mailer's filming career." Moreover, Adams goes on to state "That watching the film doesn't lack for force. It is indeed like being attacked, and it is Mailer that is doing the attacking."
Because Maidstone debuted in very few theaters, little-to-no word-of-mouth surrounded the film at the time of its release. A greater viewership resulted from the 2006 DVD release, since which the film has proven highly polarizing for audiences. Of four user reviews currently on IMDb, opinion is split between two hailing it as a misunderstood masterpiece and the others disparaging it as one of the worst movies ever made. One of the two positive reviews argues that its genius lies in its prophecy of 21st century reality television. Both also find value in the film as a sociological study of late 1960’s America.
The negative reviews both regard Mailer’s massive ego as intolerable, but one review finds the film’s only purpose is to serve as a monument to it. Another review criticizes the editing: “…he hacks at the editing with a machete turning everything into a sound bite.” One user sums it up: “…it remains an arrogant mess of smarmy guerrilla theater filled with the fatuous musings of a guy desperate for attention willing to say anything to do just that.”
One Rotten Tomatoes reviewer writes, “Will the real Norman Mailer please shut up?” It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 29%.
Mailer’s director character was considered chauvinist. At one point in the film, referring to his ability to analyze women, Kingsley says, "I wish women were horses. I would be a multi-millionaire." His take on the Hollywood casting couch portrayed a director conducting cruel interviews with women. Lines were sometimes blurred between his character and Norman Mailer himself, so he received a lot of scorn from supporters of the women’s movement in the 1970’s. “In Maidstone, all the interviews are with women and each is crueler than the next. I paid for that for 40 years,” said Mailer. “The women’s movement picked it up as if it were manna from heaven. They had found their number-one sexist pig in America.” Mailer never understood the Women's Movement, and viewed it as "potentially, part of the drift toward totalitarianism," which inspired the book "The Prisoner of Sex," in which he wrote as a response to the movement. Additionally, during a town hall meeting hosted by a group of feminists, Mailer stated "the whole question of women's liberation is the deepest question that faces us." to further exhibit his opposition towards the movement.
The film is now famous for the improvised fight between Norman Mailer and Rip Torn. As the camera rolled, Torn struck Mailer in the head with a hammer, intending to "kill his character." Mailer's scalp opened up, and a vicious fight ensued. With the camera still rolling, Torn energetically strangled Mailer until the fight was broken up by Mailer's wife, Beverly, and their wailing children. During the melee, Mailer bit off a small chunk of Torn's ear. The fight, in which the actors called each other by their real names, made it into the film.