THIRTEEN’s American Masters Presents Philip Roth: Unmasked, the First Film Biography of the Acclaimed Novelist in Honor of His 80th Birthday
World Theatrical Premiere March 13-19 at Film Forum, NYC
Premieres nationwide Friday, March 29 on PBS
Connect with other cultural icons at pbs.org/americanmasters
American Masters explores the life and career of Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning novelist Philip Roth (b. March 19, 1933), often referred to as the greatest living American writer. Reclusive and diffident, Roth grants very few interviews, but for the first time, allowed a journalist to spend 10 days interviewing him on camera, both at his Upper West Side apartment in New York City and his 18th-century farmhouse in rural Connecticut. The result is American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked, a 90-minute documentary that features Roth freely discussing very intimate aspects of his life and art as he has never done before. The film has its world theatrical premiere March 13-19 for one week only at Film Forum in New York City and premieres nationally Friday, March 29 at 9 pm (ET) on PBS (check local listings) in honor of Roth’s 80th birthday.
In the film, Roth is candid about his unliterary upbringing in Newark, New Jersey, his writing process, his psychoanalysis, and the inspiration behind his most famous characters — Nathan Zuckerman, David Kepesh, Alexander Portnoy, and Mickey Sabbath — and his historical novels such as I Married a Communist (1998) and The Plot Against America (2004). Set against the backdrop of his times, American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked shares scenes from Roth’s daily routine, using images from his personal archives. Interviews include some of Roth’s oldest friends — Mia Farrow, who inspired part of his last novel Nemesis (2010), high school friend Dr. Bob Heyman, college friend Jane Brown Maas, and army comrade Martin Garbus — as well as The New Yorker’s literary critic and staff writer Claudia Roth Pierpont, and younger American writers Jonathan Franzen, Nicole Krauss and Nathan Englander.
“Just before Roth publicly declared he had stopped writing, we filmed him at home and at work, in the streets of New York and in the countryside. But mostly, we let him talk. He spoke of his family, his fantasies, his obsessions, Jewish humor, the many controversies he stirred, the turmoil of sex, love, the writers he admired, fame, depression, old age, illness and death — all the while reading to us from his own books and enjoying the natural flow of the conversation,” says literary journalist Livia Manera, who co-directed and co-wrote American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked with filmmaker William Karel.
“Ten days with Philip Roth, 12 hours of interviews: an opportunity that you seldom encounter twice in a lifetime. He was brilliant, funny, moving, lucid, and surprising,” says William Karel.
“The making of the documentary was made completely painless for me by William and Livia. Astonishingly, I actually enjoyed it and I don’t think I emerge as an entirely ridiculous figure,” admits Roth.
Goodbye, Columbus (1959), his collection of short stories, put the 26-year-old author on the map. Ten years later, Roth’s hilarious, ribald bestseller Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) propelled him into an international scandalous spotlight: the first of many controversies in which Judaism, sex, the role of women, and the parent-child relationship would take center stage. Yet, he steadily earned his reputation as a man of letters, commanding ownership of the Jewish-American novel and making Newark a literary destination. Practically inventing the genre of factual-fictional autobiography, Roth’s thinly veiled Zuckerman books follow the protagonist’s path from aspiring young writer to compromised celebrity and, most recently, older man facing death. Roth’s career was considered declining by 1990 and then exploded with a dozen bestsellers in the past two decades, including Sabbath’s Theater (1995), American Pastoral (1997) and The Human Stain (2000). With 31 books to his credit, Roth has won every possible literary award, short of the Nobel Prize.
“It is so gratifying and appropriate for American Masters to celebrate one of our greatest writers in tandem with his 80th birthday. Roth’s work, from the then-shocking Portnoy’s Complaint to the Zuckerman novels, defined a literary world for generations of readers. Hearing his own perspective about his craft is an extraordinary, and quite beautiful, experience,” says Susan Lacy, creator and executive producer of American Masters.
Since its 1986 premiere, American Masters has earned 24 Emmy Awards — including eight for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series since 1999 and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special —
12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, and two Producers Guild Awards. Now in its 27th season on PBS, the series is a production of THIRTEEN. WNET is the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations, and operator of NJTV. For 50 years, THIRTEEN has been making the most of the rich resources and passionate people of New York and the world, reaching millions of people with on-air and online programming that celebrates arts and culture, offers insightful commentary on the news of the day, explores the worlds of science and nature, and invites students of all ages to have fun while learning.
To take American Masters beyond the television broadcast and further explore the themes, stories and personalities of masters past and present, the companion website (http://pbs.org/americanmasters) offers streaming video of select films, interviews, essays, photographs, outtakes, and other resources.
American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked is a co-production of Cinétévé and American Masters for THIRTEEN. William Karel and Livia Manera are writers and directors. Fabienne Servan Schreiber and Lucie Pastor are producers. Marlène Vanthuyne is production manager. Stéphanie Mahet is editor, François Reumont is director of photography and Theo Caris is sound. Susan Lacy is American Masters series creator and executive producer.
American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, Anne Ray Charitable Trust, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Jack Rudin, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers.
Cinétévé is a multi-award-winning production company, specializing in high-quality drama and documentary for film and television. Fabienne Servan Schreiber founded the company in 1982 and has produced more than 700 hours of engaging and entertaining programs. From an ambitious six-part documentary series, Shadow Fighters, showing the strength of resistance against Nazism across Europe, to Catherine Deneuve, a beautiful portrait of an icon, Cinétévé has always aimed at producing meaningful, challenging, yet delightful programs. Fatou the Malian, a social drama; Signature, a six-part tense thriller; and Pompadour, a six-part historical drama, testify that Cinétévé has also been entertaining its audience thanks to its groundbreaking and highly enjoyable dramas. Cinétévé is proud of its dynamic team that brings its experience to constantly innovate and entertain through meaningful and creative programs.
In 2013, WNET is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of THIRTEEN, New York’s flagship public media provider. As the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Need to Know, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJ Today and MetroFocus, the multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region.