Artists who are great in one field dabble in others all the time. So it's no surprise, really, that Norman Mailer has spent considerable time behind the camera. His best-known film is the noirish 1987 "Tough Guys Don't Dance," which he wrote and directed, based on his own novel.
What is surprising is that Mailer's three other movies, made between 1968 and 1970, have been so scarce for nearly 40 years.
That's being corrected. The Harvard Film Archive is hosting a miniseries on Friday, Saturday, and next Sunday of all four Mailer films, along with a new taped introduction by him to two of the works. As well, three documentaries about him are on tap, with an appearance by Dick Fontaine, the British documentarian. He's the filmmaker behind "Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up?" (1968) and "Norman Mailer vs. Fun City, USA" (1970).
Mailer was scheduled to be at the HFA in person on Friday to discuss his wild "Maidstone," but has had to cancel because of illness, according to HFA director Haden Guest.
The films played at Lincoln Center in New York in July, and in an interview posted on the Lincoln Center website Mailer says that his first film, "Wild 90" (1968), was made on a lark. "When my play 'The Deer Park' was on at the Theatre de Lys in 1966 and 1967, afterward Mickey Knox, Buzz Farber, and I, who were my best two friends in the cast, would drink for a couple of hours after the show," Mailer said. "We started talking to each other as gangsters and developed these riffs and characters."
It was too much fun to keep it to themselves. Mailer got in touch with D.A. Pennebaker, the documentarian who had just made the Bob Dylan film "Don't Look Back" and the festival doc "Monterey Pop." Pennebaker used leftover film stock and filmed Mailer and his pals for four nights.
"We all went half crazy playing it. Playing a cop brought out a side of me that I didn't even know existed," said Mailer. "But the movie took over. The movie is all. When you are making a movie the ruthlessness of the movie itself excites your own ruthlessness."
Mailer's controversial "Maidstone" (1970) was made two years later, in the wake of the assassination of Robert Kennedy. It's about a man who makes semi-pornographic films who runs for president. He's got, says Mailer, "a group supporting him called The Cashbox who were sort of like Sinatra's Rat Pack. Then you had this other organization called PAXC, The Prevention of Assassination Experiment, Control, and it's unclear whether they are there to protect him or assassinate him. This was the basic premise."
If nothing else, the movies capture Mailer jousting with the Zeitgeist. "I must say, once I started making films, with the exception of the more exciting years of my personal life, it was the most exciting stuff I ever did," Mailer says.
"Maidstone" plays on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The two Fontaine documentaries, with Fontaine attending, are on Saturday at 7 p.m., followed by "Tough Guys Don't Dance" at 9:45 p.m. On Sunday, "Town Bloody Hall" (1979), a record of Mailer's 1971 public debate with Germaine Greer about the women's movement, is at 3 p.m., and Mailer's "Wild 90" and "Beyond the Law" (1968), with video introduction by Mailer, are at 7 p.m. For more,, call 617-495-4700 or go to hcl.harvard.edu/hfa.
CONVERSATIONS WITH: Today at 3 p.m., the ICA hosts "Missing Victor Pellerin," with Quebec director Sophie Deraspe introducing her profile of the Montreal artist who created a buzz in the 1980s and then disappeared in 1990 (617-478-3103 and icabos ton.org).
Gloucester filmmakers Henry Ferrini and Ken Riaf will be at the Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday at 1:45 p.m. for screenings of their newest work "Polis is This: The Life and Art of Charles Olson." Narrated by John Malkovich, the movie is a little bit art, a little bit history, and a little bit poetry, as it profiles Olson, a poet who settled in the Massachusetts fishing town and died in 1970 (617-267-9300 and mfa.org/film).
BOSTON FILM NIGHT: The annual Boston Film Night will be held on Saturday at the Good Time Emporium in Somerville. Organizers are planning to show more than four hours of local shorts starting at 6 p.m. A reception and two Q&A panels will break up the evening.
The partial lineup of films, which seems to be tilting toward comedy, is online at midnight chimesproductions.com.
WOMEN IN FILM AND VIDEO FALL KICKOFF: The networking group's local filmmaker series starts Wednesday with a showing of "Truth & Transformations," Cambridge filmmakers Caren Block and Paula Dowd's documentary about "whether the gay community should embrace traditional institutions or find ways to preserve their queer identity," according to the film's website. That's at 7 p.m. on the MIT campus at 77 Massachusetts Ave., Room 4-120.
WIFV/New England's annual Fall Kickoff Party takes place on Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. Call 781-788-6607 or go to wifvne.org for details.
COLORADO BY WAY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: Telluride by the Sea, the three-day film festival at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, N.H., opens Friday with Sean Penn's "Into the Wild," based on Jon Krakauer's book about a young man's attempt to live on his own in the wilderness of Alaska.
Saturday features a cruise, parties, and screenings of Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis"; Todd Haynes's "I'm Not There"; and "Margot at the Wedding," the new film by writer-director Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale"). Sunday closes with more parties and showings of Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and Israeli director Eran Kolirin's "The Band's Visit." Details and showtimes are listed online at themusichall.org, or call 603-436-9900.
SCREENINGS OF NOTE: The Harvard Film Archive is presenting the works of Curtis Harrington tonight and tomorrow, with Archive director Haden Guest introducing tonight's "Night Tide" at 7. Harrington, who died earlier this year, was an experimental filmmaker who still worked within the Hollywood system; "Night Tide" is his 1961 feature debut and stars Dennis Hopper in his first lead. Following that, at 9, is a collection of five shorts made by Harrington in the 1940s and '50s. Tomorrow it's "Games," with James Caan, Katharine Ross, and Simone Signoret at 7 p.m., and "Queen of Blood," with Hopper, again, in a work for producer Roger Corman, at 9 p.m.
"Chinatown" plays the Coolidge Corner big screen tomorrow at 7 p.m. (617-734-2500 and coolidge.org).
"The Sound of Rio: Brasileirinho," a documentary about Brazilian urban music known as choro, Thursday through Saturday at the Regent Theatre in Arlington (781-646-4849 and regent theatre.com).
And the Providence Latin American Film Festival opens Saturday. Organizers report that 31 movies are on tap and actor Manny Perez ("El Cantante") will be attending Sept. 27 and 28. The films will be shown at the Rhode Island School of Design Auditorium, Cable Car Cinema, and Columbus Theater (401-383-3668 and plaff.org).
Leslie Brokaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Because of an editing error, a caption in Sunday's Movies section misidentified an actor in Norman Mailer's film "Beyond the Law." He is Eddie Bonetti, not Rip Torn.