The Adapted and the Dead

Let me join the chorus in saying that a cultural era passes with the death of Norman Mailer, a time when writers (and filmmakers and artists in general) were regarded as something heroic and iconic and not just purveyors of products and backdrops for corporate advertising. Also, I’m personally pissed off because I was looking forward to the next two installments of Mailer’s Hitler trilogy that began with the publication this year of “The Castle in the Forest.”

No doubt Mailer’s youngest son John Buffalo is mourning too, but perhaps his grief is mitigated somewhat by the prospect of adapting his dad’s entire catalogue of novels and books through his production company. Starting with the first, “The Naked and the Dead,” a project the younger Mailer announced the day after Norman’s death, causing some to suggest that he could have been more discrete and waited at least until the old man was in the ground.

Actually, a new adaptation is a good idea, because the first, made in 1958  by the feisty Raoul Walsh, nonetheless was a little tame (it doesnt even include the word “fug,” Mailer’s euphemism for the familiar four letter word). Though I do recall a chilling scene in which Aldo Ray squishes a bird in his bare hands. As for the book, it’s not the Great American Novel (the closest Mailer got, I’d say, is “The Executioner’s Song”) but towards the end, when an annoyed American officer sitting on the crapper inadvertantly strategizes the defeat of all the Japanese forces on the island, it’s like Tolstoy via Joseph Heller.

Some, however, might doubt the younger Mailer’s ability to do the book justice. Others might point out that he could do no worse than the pater familias himself, as witness “Tough Guys Don’t Dance.” Having recently seen much of Norman’s screen ouevre, I’d say he was a pretty bad filmmaker, but he truly revered cinema as an art. He also had his moments of genius and ecstasy, and, and being who he was, those moments embody the times in which he lived and which he shaped. Mostly, he believed film and literature and art could be transcendent, and with his passing that crazy notion inches a little closer to oblivion as well.

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