Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Beyond The Law

I saw Norman Mailer's low-budget 1968 cop movie Beyond The Law last night at Anthology Film Archives. Part of Anthology's Rip Torn retrospective, it could've benefited from double the Torn and half the Mailer. But, of course, this was Mailer's movie. He was writer, director, star, and even co-editor. His presence in the editing room might explain why a couple of shots with cameras and boom mikes very visible in mirrors stayed in the final cut. These shots both featured dramatic Mailer moments and the performances might've been deemed "too good" to cut. Mailer is compelling to watch as Sgt. Francis X. Pope, with an Irish brogue that broadens as the film goes on and the character has a few more whiskeys. It's not a good performance by any conventional standard of movie acting, but it is fun to watch.

Many of the actors in the station house where the bulk of the movie takes place (before switching to an extended restaurant scene toward the end) are quite good, but the sound is so inconsistent that much of their dialogue is inaudible. The station house portion of the movie involves cutting back and forth between various interrogations of the evening's haul of perps, including drug-crazed, violent bikers (Torn and poet Michael McClure), an ax murderer, a man falsely accused of molestation, the proprietor of an Upper East Side "floating crap game", and the participants in an S&M "whip party". The last half hour or so focuses on the interactions between Mailer's cop, the wife who wants to divorce him, and one of the whip girls he's invited out for drinks. Mostly it's Mailer riffing in maximum brogue. I must've blinked and missed George Plimpton's cameo as "the Mayor".

A '60s curiosity from a lost literary world. Can you imagine any major contemporary novelist attempting something this loony and hubristic?

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