Segments in this Video

Introduction: Philip Roth Unmasked (03:42)


Phillip Roth hopes he dies before someone writes his biography. He prefers to think of himself as an American writer. Controversy occurred after the New Yorker published his first short story, "Defender of the Faith;" friends, colleagues, and critics describe how the writer keeps re-inventing himself.

"Goodbye Columbus" (03:11)

After "Defender of the Faith" appeared, more controversy occurred. Saul Bellow inspired Roth to write about Newark and Judaism. Claudia Roth Pierpont describes how Roth's range broadened over 50 years.

Roth's Beginnings (05:06)

Roth's grandparents were religious, but his parents were not. His mother used to rent books from the local pharmacy and read in the evenings. "Ulysses" changed Roth's perception of the world.

Roth's Childhood (03:59)

Roth's brother went to New York City to become a painter. Roth reads an excerpt from "The Facts: a Novelist's Autobiography." He describes how American writers need to leave their home city, but stay obsessed with it.

Roth's College Years (04:04)

Jane Brown Maas explains how stringent Bucknell University's rules were and how women found Roth attractive. During the army, Roth would go to the office after dinner and use the typewriter to write short stories.

Roth's Early Publications (04:14)

Jonathan Franzen discusses "Writing American Fiction." Roth discusses the difficult period from 1962-1966. When he returned to New York City, he decided to write "Portnoy's Complaint."

"Portnoy's Complaint" (09:00)

Roth describes explaining his novel to his parents. Friends and colleagues discuss the impact of the book that had open discussions about sex. Roth provides anecdotes about his infamous success after its publication; listen to an excerpt from the book.

Moving to the Country (04:46)

Roth moved to Woodstock and then into rural Connecticut; he appreciates the seclusion. Listen to an excerpt of "Exit Ghost." Roth discusses his writing process for "Zuckerman Unbound," "The Ghost Writer," "The Anatomy Lesson," and "The Prague Orgy."

"The Counter Life" (04:01)

Roth and colleagues discuss how politics and history started influencing his work. The months leading up to his father's death nfluenced "Patrimony."

Roth's Working Style (05:29)

Roth works seven days a week for several years and requires seclusion to write. By standing up, he realized he can unblock his creative process. Invent the character as the story progresses and watch and speak to individuals in the same profession.

"Sabbath's Theater" (03:18)

Mickey Sabbath shares no resemblance to Portnoy. Critics, editors, and friends discuss the impact of "Sabbath's Theater." Listen to an excerpt from the book.

Sexuality (03:50)

Roth feels one must abandon self-censorship in the early stages of a book and be free to explore sexuality in the characters. Kapish and Zuckerman are opposites. Roth explains how stand-in characters allow writers to draw from his or her experiences and invent experiences.

Does Not Care What the World Thinks (05:22)

Jonathan Franzen wishes he were as liberated as Roth. Listen to an excerpt from "The Dying Animal." Roth discusses the historical perspectives of "American Pastoral," "I Married a Communist," "The Human Stain," and "Plot Against America."

"American Pastoral" (03:05)

Claudia Roth Pierpont describes how Roth's latest book is a response to a previous one. Listen to an excerpt from "American Pastoral." Roth discusses the influences behind the book.

"I Married a Communist" (03:12)

Roth discusses the historical influences behind the book including communism and the McCarthy era. The Monica Lewinsky scandal inspired "The Human Stain;" listen to an excerpt.

Inspirations for Novels (03:52)

Roth listens to music alone in his house at night; journeying to Tanglewood inspired a scene from "The Human Stain." Polio influenced "Nemesis."

Suicidal Thoughts (04:35)

"Everyman" draws on Roth's brother's experience working in advertising. Back pain influenced the characterization of a woman so afflicted she commits suicide. Ernest Hemingway, Stefan Zweig, Virginia Wolf, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Romain Gary died by suicide.

"The Humbling" (07:06)

Roth discusses the fear of losing one's magic. When Roth is not writing, he is prone to anger and depression. Listen to an excerpt of "The Dying Animal;" friends and colleagues describe Roth's perspective on aging and death.

Credits: Philip Roth: Unmasked (01:15)

Credits: Philip Roth: Unmasked

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Philip Roth: Unmasked

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Explore the life of Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning novelist Philip Roth, often referred to as the greatest living American writer. Goodbye, Columbus, his collection of short stories published in 1959, put the 26-year-old Roth on the map, and 10 years later, Portnoy's Complaint propelled him into an international scandalous spotlight. Yet he steadily earned his reputation as a man of letters, commanding ownership of the Jewish-American novel and making Newark, New Jersey, 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, lately, 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). Philip Roth: Unmasked features candid interviews with Roth, who fulfills his promise to directors William Karel and Livia Manera to unmask himself, freely discussing very intimate aspects of his life and art as he has never done before.

Length: 84 minutes

Item#: BVL131257

Copyright date: ©2013

Closed Captioned

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