Roth is often described as self-absorbed and sex-obsessed by his critics,
including an odd ex-wife here and there.
We will not be hearing from them.
Instead, Roth and his friends and champions take stock of his literary
output in William Karel & Livia Manera’s Philip Roth: Unmasked, which begins a free one week engagement
this Wednesday at Film Forum (made possible by the Ostrovsky Family Fund), in
advance of its March 29th broadcast on PBS’s American Masters.
no author is as celebrated or notorious than Roth for using his personal life
as grist for his fiction. It certainly impressed Jonathan Franzen. Not exactly one of the usual suspects amongst
media talking heads, his participation in Unmasked
is notable in itself. Yet, Roth
often tries to distance himself from his characters (particular Portnoy),
essentially arguing he is still “masked” to some extent.
has won just about every literary award there is, except the one that comes
from Stockholm. As his eighth decade
approach (in fact, Roth turns eighty on the 19th, the final day of Unmasked free run at Film Forum), the
final elusive honor looms ever larger.
However, no awkward topics like this are addressed Karel & Manera’s
profile, unless Roth broaches them. For
instance, he discusses his breakdown, but rather obliquely.
question, Unmasked’s silence on ex-wife
Claire Bloom is most conspicuous. Given the
extent of the media coverage afforded British actress’s in/famous tell-all
memoir of their relationship, Leaving a
Doll’s House, simply ignoring her is a bit problematic. It leaves viewers with the impression of a “her
or me” ultimatum, whether or not that was the case.
Unmasked is rather scattershot as
biography, it offers a strong, albeit sympathetic Cliff Notes treatment of Roth’s
oeuvre. In truth, Roth is a reasonably
engaging interview subject, who speaks with affection for his working class
family and the Newark of his youth. Intriguingly,
he also sounds a note of restraint regarding the perceived content of The Plot Against America, suggesting it
is all well and good if the novel resonated with people, but it really was not
intended as an allegory of the second Bush administration.
Those hoping to hear the author discuss his work
will find Unmasked quite satisfying,
like a 92nd St. Y lecture with a field trip to Newark. However, those not already firmly in the Roth
choir will constantly notice the tightly controlled presentation. Essentially for the novelist’s admirers, Philip Roth: Unmasked still has the
virtue of screening for free, starting this Wednesday (3/13) at Film Forum,
with a 3/29 American Masters airdate
following shortly thereafter for the rest of the country.
Labels: American Masters, Documentary, Philip Roth