Philip Roth, an American Master, on his birthday

Philip RothA great thing about living in New York City is being able to go watch the new PBS American Masters 90-minute documentary titled, Philip Roth: Unmasked for FREE at Film Forum. Today–and Roth’s 80th birthday as well–is the last day it’s playing, so check for times. Otherwise, your second option is to wait till 29 March for the premiere on PBS.

This doc is definitely worth a watch. Regardless of your opinion about Roth or his writing, it really is hard to deny that he is a very prominent and successful 20th century American writer. His novels are always exhaling a breath of zeitgeist. The film mostly concerns itself with interviewing Roth with some peripheral chatting with friends and the very strangely airy and otherworldy, Claudia Roth Pierpont (no relation) who was the only element that took me out of the whole fascinating film.

Roth was witty and open in the interviews and it was intriguing to see that he still stay friends with people from high school and college who remain his readers while he has a novel in progress. The more humorous bits were when he talked about his very loving and normal parents (the antithesis to the Portnoy mother & father). A funny anecdote he told was before Portnoy’s Complaint was to be released, he brought his parents in from New Jersey to New York City and prepared them for the book by telling them that they might be hounded by journalists and, of course, be compared to the fictitious parents within the novel. He parents left and got into a cab. When Roth asked his father later what happened, he said that his mother started to cry and say that her son had “delusions of grandeur” and that nothing big would come of Portnoy’s Complaint.

In the wake of Roth’s announcement that he is retiring from writing, The Guardian put out an article of Roth’s picks for his best novels. The article concludes with,

Referring to fellow writers including John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, EL Doctorow and William Styron, Roth said he “ran with some very fast horses … Now, the Nobel prize committee doesn’t agree with me. They think we’re provincial. But I suspect they’re a little bit provincial.”

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