THIRTEEN’s American Masters Presents Philip Roth: Unmasked,
the First Film Biography of the Acclaimed Novelist
in Honor of His 80th Birthday
Premieres nationwide Friday, March 29th at 8 p.m.
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 8 pm on WTVP-Public Media
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
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.
For further information contact Linda Miller, WTVP Vice President of
at (309) 495-0591 or firstname.lastname@example.org