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Saturday, November 16, 2013

HENRY AND JUNE (1990)

Under Philippe Rousselot’s honeyed lensing, the artists, writers & professional sex trade workers of ‘30s Paris, look impossibly alluring, lit from within in Philip Kaufman’s glamorized version of the sexual life, times & infamous diary of Anaïs Nin. In hindsight, the cast looks even stronger than it must have on release with early credits for Uma Thurman, Richard E. Grant & Kevin Spacey as friends & lovers to Maria de Medeiros’ Nin, whose old-fashioned heart-shaped face & petite form have something of Merle Oberon to them.* While Fred Ward, thicker & certainly balder than everyone else, is charged up, unexpectedly charming and far more convincing than the usual cinematic writer figure as TROPIC OF CANCER author Henry Miller. In so many aspects, the film is an exemplary model for a literary biography. And yet, except for a brief montage where we join Brassaï on a nighttime round of flash photography, the situations & personalities turn out to be less interesting than we imagined, shrinking rather than expanding as Kaufman nails them down in perfectly lit, fluid-free sexcapades.** Nin & Miller were writing about many things, and sex may have been the most important, but they certainly weren’t writing about a photoshoot, which is what we too often settle for here.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Speaking of Merle Oberon, her best work is in THESE THREE/’36, William Wyler’s superb first adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR. The relationships, if not the plot, have a lot in common with HENRY AND JUNE, though the lesbian relationship was dropped in 1936 and needs to be inferred. Alas, this remarkable film has yet to get a Stateside DVD release. But it’s out in Europe so it should show up eventually.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: **The sex scenes are, oddly, hot, but tidy, perhaps in a failed attempt to curry favor with the ratings board which, in any event, refused an R rating, instead, christening the new NC-17 on it. Today, it’d rate an easy R, even with a bit of sweat added to the rutting.

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