Call it sleep

A portrait of the American author Henry Roth by Petra and Peter Lataster, shot just before he deceased.

Description» Credits

Screened at a.o.:

Dutch Film Festival, Utrecht, 1996

International Documentary Festival, Amsterdam, 1996

Boston Jewish Film Festival, 1997

author Henry Roth autographing his books


The American writer Henry Roth leads a secluded life in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
It has been 60 years since his masterpiece Call it Sleep was published...

"You don't belong; but you make the best of it. If you don't belong, you're not particularly happy. I'm thinking I should have had a daughter."
(Henry Roth)

Call it Sleep is a documentary about the American writer Henry Roth. The overwhelming success of his debut novel was followed by a silence that lasted for 50 years. The film explores the secret behind this silence.

For his entire life, Henry Roth fought with himself both psychologically as well as physically. After publishing his novel Call it Sleep at the age of 28, he was faced with a writers block that would last for almost 50 years. He had to rediscover his Jewish identity in order to become a writer again. Roth felt up to starting a large literary project. After several futile attempts he finally wrote, at the age of 73, the sequel to his debut novel. He worked for ten years on a set of autobiographical novels which on the whole comprises more than 3000 pages.

After his wife's death, Roth led a withdrawn life in a suburb of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Only few people were admitted to it. Roth was renowned for his reticence towards the media.
We first meet Roth at the age of 89, only two months prior to his death. He is bed-ridden and impeded by continuous pain. Ordinary everyday steps mean a lot of physical exertion. These tiny actions express the story of an authorship marked by failure and disappointment.
By examining Henry Roth's personal history, Call it Sleep tells a story about life-long displacement and alienation. As a result of several bad reviews Roth distances himself from his first novel. He becomes alienated from the places of his childhood, from his family, from his Jewish identity, his political ideals and his authorship.
The main question the film addresses is: "Why has Roth been unable to write for such a long time?" Roth's incestuous relationship with his sister turned out to be a crucial experience. Not until he was an old man he was able to face these facts and turn them into literature.

The documentary Call it Sleep is a poetic and perceptive portrayal of the dream Henry Roth cherished for 50 years. Call it Sleep pays tribute to willpower, to the craving of a man for whom writing meant a constant fight against physical pain, and to the victory of an indefatigable spirit over an exhausted body.

Henry Roth relaxing in between shootings


Written and directed by: Petra Lataster-Czisch, Peter Lataster

Camera and light: Peter Lataster

Sound: Wouter Hasebos

Montage: Jan Dop

Production: Kaie Klaassen & Margie Monfils voor Moving Image Production

Call it Sleep is a Moving Image Production film, commissioned by the Humanist Broadcast Foundation, co-financed by Stimuleringsfonds Nederlandse Culturele Omroepproducties, the Humanist Broadcast Foundation and Moving Image Production BV, and post-produced with the support of the European Union's 16:9 Action Plan.

Europese Unie Stimuleringsfonds Nederlandse Culturele Omroepproducties De Humanistische Omroep Stichting

Call it sleep is a service mark of the Henry Roth Literary Properties Trust.
Quotes from Call it Sleep and A Diving Rock on the Hudson reproduced with kind permission of the Trust.

Original language: English

Language versions: Dutch subtitled

Release date: September 1996

Duration: 50

Formats: 16 mm / video / digital

copyright ©  Moving Image Production, 1996