Monday, May 16, 2011

I Love You, Rip Torn: A Tribute to the MAIDSTONE Brawl

Lately, a change has come over me. Strange urges, like taking red construction paper and some glitter glue and making little kindergarten type heart shaped cards for my newest love. Oh sure, call me silly. I'll accept that. Even call me a deranged romantic. Fair enough. But I cannot help it, because ever since seeing the “Improv gone wrong” footage from the 1969 film, MAIDSTONE, involving Rip Torn both physically and verbally owning Norman Mailer, I am officially in love with Rip Torn.

Now, I've always liked Mr. Torn. He's a fine actor, aptly handling everything from sci-fi/art films like Nicolas Roeg's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH to comedy in the MEN IN BLACK franchise. (My introduction to him as a little kid was his awesome turn as Scully in the John Candy film, SUMMER RENTAL. I was instantly fond of the crusty, borderline insane pirate/restauranteur.) But it was when my eyes gazed upon the infamous clip from MAIDSTONE that cartoon hearts and cotton candy clouds started to float over my head. And I'm being serious as a heart attack.

Here you have a young Torn, bedecked in a well fitted green t-shirt, his uniquely handsome face looking both saddened and electric. There is something obviously cooking in that brilliant head. Meanwhile, the Mailer brood frolic in an idyllic countryside, complete with an old, teal windmill and half naked hippie-esque children. Even their momma, former model Beverley Bentley, looks like an appropriately lovely Earth-momma. This is all too nice and we need a dark cloud, a berserker of a storm. 

Luckily for us, we do not have to wait too long as we soon see Rip pull out Chekov's gun in the form of a hammer, which he soon enough uses to hit Mailer on the head. Awesome, right? It gets even better. Rip starts talking about he must kill “Kingsley,” the Mailer director character in MAIDSTONE but he doesn't want to kill Norman. (Though I'm sure there were plenty of people, including some of his exes who did.) Mailer responds by biting a piece of Rip's ear off, which is a punk move suited only for the criminally insane and insecure macho male writers. Does this deter Rip? Hell no, because Rip is a real man and basically pounces on him, forcing the part-Yeti director to the ground, pinning him down with his mega-strength.

Mailer mumbles some kind of wounded animal phrase, in which Rip responds, “No, baby. You trust me?” with all the cool and suaveness of a beatnik Don Juan. Being a true gentleman, Rip is about to concede but wussy-boy Mailer takes the opportunity to strike when he thinks Rip's guard is down. Wrong! Rip keeps that man down, only to be intercepted by the Norman Mailer Partridge Family Army. Mamma Partridge immediately starts shrieking. Some would say it is from the fear of seeing her husband pinned to the ground with a bloody head wound. I would say it was from the subconscious realization that she married less than a man and that the REAL man whooped his ass. Truth hurts, babies.

When I say that she starts screaming, I am not exaggerating. You would think that Rip was chainsawing Mailer in half. Even worse, while her kids were a little upset at first, they start flipping out big time once momma bear starts freaking. Mailer acts like your typical sort of college educated mook, threatening to cold cock Rip and more, while Torn is clearly hurt and trying to communicate something verbally to someone who cannot and will not listen. There has been some kind of artistic violation that had lead up to this brutal (and brutally awesome) act. This is all the more evident with words like “betrayal,” “fraud,” “sham” and “trust” repeatedly come up throughout the whole clip.

The two eventually walk off, after Beverly, understandably freaked out, threatens to kill Rip if he does anything else. Torn makes attempts to communicate the reasons why he did what he did and talk about the film as a whole. Mailer is having none of this, just opening himself to being run over some more by the genius that is Rip Torn.

Exhibit A, when Mailer starts to insult Torn's “ugliness” in the picture, Rip instantly cuts him off with a grin, retorting “Woah wait a minute, I was trying to look like you.” Awesome. It gets even better with the “cocksucker” exchange and then off screen one of the Mailer-urchins audibly says, “don't fight any more.” It is Rip, not Mailer, who responds to the kid, saying “That's right baby, no fighting. It was just a scene, in a Hollywood whorehouse movie. Okay baby? You know it's okay and your Dad knows it's okay.” Then he whispers under his breath, looking right at Norman and smiling almost maniacally, “Up yours.” What's the best Mailer can come up with? “Adios.” Smooooth. The truly beautiful thing is that in one fell swoop, Torn not only comforts the kid but also throws in an insult, audible only to Mailer and the camera, with his wild eyed smile returning in full effect.

Mailer soon tells him to basically kiss off, in which Torn replies, smile resplendent, “I leave the you.” Mister original-pants Norman then says, “Yeah, and I leave the shit eating to you.” This prompts Rip to give one of the best come backs ever in the form of, “No, no more. That's your specialty..You're the champ. I salute the champ of shit.” Mailer than tells the cameraman that “you might as well turn off this tape cause he is a very dull talker” to which Torn replies by pointing at Norman and going “Oooh oooh!” Thus ending one of the most amazing, startling and riveting clips ever. Hearing about creative collaborators coming to blows is not uncommon at all but to have such an occasion open up like one bloody, dysfunctional flower on tape, is nothing short of an historical feat.

This clip hits hard in some bizarre form of creative catharsis for any artist who has felt like they have been bent over a barrel, whether it is by the nature of the business, their own demons or the now-frayed trust of a collaborator. You expect hurt from a stranger but never from an ally. Rip is the heart of this and it is this raw passion that makes him, to this day, such a great force as an artist. One can never give enough appreciation and love to this talented man.

MAIDSTONE is still a hard film to come by, which is something that will hopefully change soon for those of us in the States that love fringe cinema. It would be a neat coup to have Mailer's three underground features, BEYOND THE LAW, WILD 90 and MAIDSTONE all in one set. Mailer was a flawed but notable artist and few and far between noted authors ever dipped their toes into the wonderfully murky waters of underground cinema.

As for Torn, it is the hope that a project truly worthy of his presence and ability will come along, because he deserves it and he is bigger and badder than all of Hollywood.

2011 © Heather Drain

Special Thanks to C.F. Roberts for his encouragement of my own creative dementia and Cat Fury for her artistic help.