In a 7.20 piece about a three-venue retrospective in Manhattan called “The Mistress and the Muse: The Films of Norman Mailer,” N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott confesses to a lurid fascination for the famous fight scene between Mailer and actor Rip Torn in Maidstone, an experimental film that Mailer directed in the late ’60s and which was given some kind of release in 1970.

The fight scene is one of the finest ever captured on film because it’s the most clumsy and embarassing. The aggression — biting, strangling, wrestling, growling — has a crude, flailing quality. The emotional current between Mailer and Torn is part childish and part animalistic, and altogether bizarre. This is what real fights in the real world look like, and I’m trying to think of any instance in which Hollywood has choreographed a fight scene anything like it.
In Maidstone, says Scott, “Mailer describes what he is doing — whether he’s speaking as himself or as Kingsley is not clear, and perhaps moot — as pursuing ‘an attack on the nature of reality,’ a slogan that could fit much of the art of the time.
“In any case, reality took its revenge, or called Mailer’s bluff, in the person of Rip Torn, an actor in the film who assaulted Mailer with a hammer as D.A. Pennebaker’s camera rolled and the novelist’s children screamed in terror. Real blood was shed — Mailer nearly bit off his assailant’s ear — and schoolyard obscenities were exchanged as if they were ontological brickbats.”
The film “captures something essential in Mailer — his reckless bravado, his willingness to court ridiculousness and the loss of control. Very few artists today, in any medium, exhibit this kind of crazy passion, and that’s too bad.”