Philip Roth may be our greatest living writer. So why would he give himself over to filmmakers who would make a movie as dull, superficial and pedantic as Philip Roth: Unmasked?
The film, which receives a special theatrical run starting this week at Film Forum in New York, will be shown as part of PBS' American Masters series on March 29. Which would tend to lower the average quality of that series as well.
Roth is a writer whose work has sparked controversy from the very beginning of his career. He has provoked scandal both for the way he depicts Jews in his stories (leading to charges of anti-Semitism and to his being called a self-hating Jew) and for his early discussions of sex, especially in the best-selling Portnoy's Complaint.
Yet he went on to amass a fascinatingly diverse and impressive body of work, as remarkable for breadth of his subject matter as for the steady, increasing quality of his writing. If there is an American candidate for a Nobel Prize in literature, it has to be Roth.
Very little of which comes through in Philip Roth: Unmasked. This is as trite and flat a documentary as you're likely to see, one that fritters away access to a subject who obviously has a lot to say about his life and his work, but rarely grants that access.
This review continues on my website.