Wild 90

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Wild 90
Wild 90.jpg
dvd cover
Directed by Norman Mailer
Produced by Norman Mailer
Written by Improvised by the cast
Starring Norman Mailer
Buzz Farbar
Mickey Knox
Cinematography D.A. Pennebaker
Distributed by Supreme Mix Inc.
Release date
January 8, 1968 (USA)
Running time
90 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Wild 90 is a 1968 experimental film directed and produced by U.S. novelist Norman Mailer, who also plays the starring role.


A trio of Mafia gangsters – The Prince (Norman Mailer), Cameo (Buzz Farbar) and Twenty Years (Mickey Knox)—are hiding in a warehouse. They have surrounded themselves with guns and liquor, and they kill time by joking and bickering with scatological language. But as their isolation from the world progresses, their drinking and arguing intensifies. They are briefly visited by a man with a barking dog—the canine is silenced when The Prince outbarks him — and by two women, one of whom gives The Prince a knife for committing suicide. The police arrive at the warehouse and the gangsters are taken away.[1]


Wild 90 was the first attempt by Norman Mailer to create a motion picture. The concept for the film came when Mailer and several actors who were appearing in an Off-Broadway adaptation of his novel The Deer Park engaged in an acting game where they pretended they were gangsters. In Manso, Buzz Farbar recounts the genesis of the film: "During the run of The Deer Park Norman, Mickey, and I had been hanging out at the Charles IV restaurant on Thompson and Fourth Street, and that's where the idea for the film came from — Wild 90. We were all very funny, a lot funnier than in the movie. We'd start insulting each other, each of us coming back with more, and it was Norman who said we ought to film it, and I suggested Leacock and Pennebaker".[2] The title Wild 90 is a reference to alleged Mafia slang term for being in deep trouble.[3]

Mailer spent $1,500 of his own money to finance Wild 90. D.A. Pennebaker, the documentary filmmaker, was the cinematographer and shot the film in black-and-white 16mm. The production took place over four consecutive nights and the entire film was improvised by Mailer and his cast. The resulting dialogue was unusually heavy with profanities and Mailer later claimed that Wild 90 "has the most repetitive, pervasive obscenity of any film ever made".[1]

The Puerto Rico-born boxer José Torres appeared as the man with the barking dog and Beverly Bentley (Mailer's wife) played the woman with the knife. Mailer did not allow any retakes during the shoot.[1]

Mailer wound up with 150 minutes of film, which was edited down to 90 minutes.[1] Due to a technical glitch during the production, roughly 25 percent of the film's soundtrack came out muffled. Mailer refused to redub the problem patches on the soundtrack and later joked the film "sounds like everybody is talking through a jockstrap".[3]


Pennebaker tried to convince Mailer not to put Wild 90 into theatrical release because of the problematic nature of its soundtrack.[3] Mailer disregarded that suggestion and went forward by self-distributing the film. He also promoted the film extensively, which included writing a self-congratulatory essay on the film that appeared in Esquire.[4]

Reviews for Wild 90 were overwhelmingly negative. Renata Adler, writing in The New York Times, opined: "It relies also upon the indulgence of an audience that must be among the most fond, forgiving, ultimately patronizing and destructive of our time."[5] Robert Hatch, reviewing the film for The Nation, stated that the film was "rambling, repetitious...incoherent and inept".[6] Stanley Kauffmann, writing in The New Republic, said that "I cannot say that Mailer was drunk the whole time he was on camera. I can only hope he was drunk".[7]

Mailer responded to the bad reviews by including them in the original theatrical poster.[8] Wild 90 was a commercial failure, but Mailer followed up the production with two additional improvised experimental films, Beyond the Law (1968) and Maidstone (1970).[9]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d "Wild 90". Time Magazine. January 12, 1968.
  2. ^ Manso 1985, p. 440.
  3. ^ a b c Dearborn 1999, p. 233.
  4. ^ Medved 1980, p. 71.
  5. ^ Adler 1968.
  6. ^ Robert Hatch (February 5, 1968). "Films (fee access required)". The Nation.
  7. ^ Medved 1980, p. 72.
  8. ^ Akiva Gottlieb (July 18, 2007). "Norman Mailer, Auteur". The Jewish Daily Forward.
  9. ^ Medved 1980, p. 74.


  • Adler, Renata (January 8, 1968). "The Screen: Norman Mailer's Mailer: 'Wild 90,' Another Ad for Writer, Bows". The New York Times. Movie Review. Retrieved 2017-09-22.
  • Bozung, Justin (2017). "Visualizing Being and Nothingness: Mailer Meets Godot". The Cinema of Norman Mailer: Film is Like Death. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 51–64. ISBN 9781501325519.
  • Dearborn, Mary V. (1999). Mailer: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0395736552.
  • Manso, Peter (2008). Mailer: His Life and Times. New York: Washington Square Press. OCLC 209700769.
  • McKinley, Maggie (2017). "Mailer Interrogates Machismo: Self-Reflexive Commentary in Wild 90 and Why Are We In Vietnam?". In Bozung, Justin. The Cinema of Norman Mailer: Film is Like Death. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 65–76. ISBN 9781501325519.
  • Medved, Harry; Medved, Michael (1980). The Golden Turkey Awards. New York: Perigree Books. pp. 71, 72, 74. ISBN 0-399-50463-X.
  • "Norman Mailer: 'Anyone Can Make a Feature Film'". Variety. December 27, 1967. pp. 5, 16.

External links[edit]