Henry andJune chronicles the Parisian antics ofAna'is Nin, Henry Miller and June Mansfield — a potent cockunlofgreat literature and bare-assed romping. Kathleen Morgan asks Nin’s on-screen incarnation MARIA DE MADEIROS aboutthethhihne between art and
y the time the early 305 came round, writer Ana'is Nin had endured seven years of dangerously secure marriage to banker hubby Hugo Guilier, yet the juicy detail fthe private journals in which she recorded every flex of her sexual muscle
I indicated that she was very much open to
widening her experience. Lo! Into her silk-lined life of contented scribblings and considerate conjugal intercourse exploded the tornado that was Henry Miller. Selfish, dirty, brutal, and prone to bump and grind his way through life. Miller was to capture more than Ana'is’s desperate imagination.
Miller’s attractive young wife June Mansfield made the duo a trio, the siren allure that she held for both writers serving only to complicate and enrich the sexual chemistry between them. “I am trapped between the beauty ofJune and the genius of Henry‘. writes Nin in the diaries published in fully unexpurgated form only after her husband‘s death. ‘Henry gives me life, June gives me death. I must choose, and I cannot.‘
Almost 60 years later. American movie director Philip Kaufman preserves the threesome’s passionate troilistic embrace on screen in Henry andJune. Following on from his epic adaptation of Milan Kundera‘s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. his latest offering is another potent cocktail of Hollywood movie expertise, great (preferably European) literature. and copious bare-assed romping. It‘s dirt at its glossiest.
In Kaufman‘s calculated vision, the squalour of 19303 Paris in which Miller. Nin and Mansfield writhed is sprinkled with a gold dust ofcharm. Happiness abounds on street corners. in brothels and in the gutter. Fred Ward (usually cast as the dependable hero in action-fare like the killer worm shocker Tremors) plays hunky Henry as three parts sleaze to two parts endearment. With one hand on the buttock of Ana'is (played by Portuguese actress Maria De Medeiros). and the other on that of his wife June (a sultry Uma Thuman. whose bottom lip almost touches her belly). Henry skips and roars his way into a tangled web of love and lust, which ultimately threatens to exclude him. Richard E. Grant as Nin‘s appendage in marriage. struggles to put some ﬂesh on the flimsiest of characters, but fails to compete with the eyefuls ofthe stuff with which Kaufman so gleefully inundates his audience.
To take the sensual power and brutal honesty of Nin‘s writings — often scrawled in bed with the sweet breath of ‘Poor Hugo‘ burning in her ear— and re-create it on film. would be a tricky feat for any director. but by daring to revel in the erotic. Kaufman has come across the strong fist of the US censors. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) took one look at Henry and June and immediately slapped on the dreaded X rating. Usually reserved for hardcore porn. it more or
less means commercial death because the
10 The List 23 November — 6 December 1990
majority of moviehouses will not play X-rated movies and many newspapers refuse to take adverts for them.
In the past twelve months a whole slew of critically-acclaimed art movies from smaller distributors had already met this grisly fate. among their number hot little items like Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up.’ Tie Me Down! and Peter Greenaway‘s The Cook. The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Kaufman. however. was faced with a tiny conundrum: his contract with major studio Universal Pictures who funded Henry aansze demanded that the finished article be blessed with the softer R-rating (viewers under seventeen to be accompanied by an adult).
Faced with the blatantly explicit scenes described by Nin in her secret journals — her encounters with Henry. her liaisons with June. and the ‘exhibition‘ scene which she and Hugo commission between two female prostitutes— it became obvious that if the ratings system found itself unable to adapt to Henry andJune’s controversial goings-on then Universal Pictures would have an unreleasable multi-million dollar picture. The result, prehaps inevitably. is the creation ofa new American rating, the NOW, meaning that no children under that age are allowed into the cinema. This is what we call progress. no?