Interview with Norman Mailer

"Don't expect me to talk about business," Norman Mailer warned before the first question had reached his ears, and was true to his word: the nearest to financial discussion he got was to recount the coincidence of meeting John Frankenheimer outside the Cannon offices in LA and mentioning the Tough Guys Don't Dance budget to him. "Time is the real budgeting factor," he asserts, and perks up considerably as ideas of editing practice and pacing the story arise.

"I collaborated with Dera McDermott on the editing, and found that my instinct for timing is highly developed. Most cuts to my original novel had been made when I wrote the screenplay, but there were various mistakes in the film which we could amend in the editing stage." Asked whether it was a painful ordeal for a writer to edit a version of his own novel, Mailer replied "There is no force more powerful in film-making than the fear of an audience's boredom. It is remarkable how quickly things which seemed vital to the novel can be forfeited in the film. It's always possible to work your vision out over the editing machine," he adds, commending McDermott's "quick hands" on the job. The opening section of the novel, for example, detailing the narrator's agonised efforts to give up smoking, (a feat Mailer performed 20 years ago, and wrote two years ago in auto-biographical recollection,) was omitted from the film. "You need five minutes to present that," he says "and we didn't have that long."

As an interview we didn't have that long either, as Mailer was rushed from TV stage to national press, pacing his words in a strong, clipped accent, to suit the limited time. "In a film, the unconscious does a lot of the timing work," he said, and was gone to the next assignment, barely conscious that he is in Cannes ("it's not my kind of town," he asides,) and would probably not be here were it not for his role as juror in the festival's competition.

Positing Tough Guys Don't Dance as the "embodiment (of) a strange and sinister fever (which) is loose in the pleasure-loving classes of America," Mailer is uneasy in the fevered pleasure-loving mash which is Cannes. His small piercing blue eyes wished me good-bye and the radio-mikes took over.