Henry & June (1990) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A film notable in history.

It was the first film ever to be rated NC-17. I can't see any good reason for it. NC-17 means that 16 year olds may not attend under any circumstances. With an R rating, a 16 year old may attend with a parent. R would have been fine for this film. There is really nothing here that should be shielded form the eyes of all 16 year olds irrespective of their maturity and their parents' opinions. In fact, it's an artistic film without that much real eroticism, the only controversy being the characters' completely amoral and casual attitude toward sex. And that can't be that controversial, since it's a biopic, and that's how the people really behaved!

 

It is a chapter in the life of the notoriously frank author Henry Miller, in the period when he wrote "Tropic of Cancer" in Paris, between the wars. Miller left his family behind and migrated to Paris for the sole purpose of becoming a great writer, because that's what they did in his generation. So he rented a loft, lived in squalor, slept with multiple prostitutes, hung around cafes, smoked a zillion cigarettes, chatted with French intellectuals, tried to live a life worth writing about.

During this time, Miller was married, but he was usually separated from his American wife by thousands of miles, and he became involved with the diarist Anais Nin, helping her to grow in many ways, especially sexually. Nin was also married, so the affair was carried out with circumspection, and required much dodging of both spouses. To make matters even spicier, Nin also fell in love with Miller's wife when she visited Paris.

For a while there, director Philip Kaufman was one of my favorites. He fired The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Henry & June at us consecutively, three completely different movies, all great fun to watch for various reasons, all beautifully and imaginatively filmed, each intelligent, each with a consistent art direction distinct from the others. If you didn't know, you probably wouldn't guess that they were directed by the same guy.

 

NUDITY REPORT

Maria de Medeiros is seen topless and from the rear in various sex scenes with four different partners. The sex scenes are arty, and not very erotic or explicit.

There is a brief look at Fred Ward's butt

Richard Grant is naked in one scene, but with nothing showing.

Uma Thurman, surprisingly, did nothing more than a couple of almost nipple peeks.

There is a substantial amount of incidental nudity - prostitutes, street dancers, etc.

Euro-trash legend Brigitte Lahaie plays a prostitute, and is seen (graphically) naked in two sex scenes - once with another prostitute, and again in a dream sequence with Medeiros

DVD info from Amazon.

Not a good enough transfer for a picture of this beautiful artistry, and no special features of note.

It is a widescreen version, but a very dark print, and with an unusual 1.66 aspect ratio.

They need to do this one over again as a special edition.

I'm sad to report that Kaufman's next film, Rising Sun, wasn't that good a movie at all, but the next one after that, Quills, was an excellent period piece with a distinct look and feel. Strangely enough, it had very minimal nudity despite being about the Marquis de Sade. I expected Kaufman to use the controversial subject matter and the ever-willing Kate Winslet as a forum to test some more screen taboos, but he did not.

You have to give Kaufman credit for one thing - he doesn't get caught in a rut. He also wrote the screenplay for one of the best Westerns ever made, "The Outlaw Josey Wales"; he wrote the original story for "Raiders of the Lost Ark", one of the most popular films of all time; and in his spare time he graduated from Harvard Law School.

Tuna's thoughts in yellow:

Henry & June is the film that pretty much caused the MPAA to invent the NC-17 rating, and was the first recipient of that classification. I can't for the life of me figure out why this particular film upset them so much, unless it was the whole idea that Ana´s Nin and June Miller both enthusiastically enjoyed sex. The nudity is not that extensive, the sex is not that kinky, and there is no violence at all. Furthermore, I can't imagine that most kids would sit through it even if it were rated PG-13.

It is the story of the love triangle among Nin, Henry Miller and his wife June in Paris in the 30s. Despite the title, it is really more about Nin's transition from fantasy and voyeurism to actually acting out her sexual desires. The story was long in hiding, at Nin's request. She asked that that portion of her diary not be made public until everyone involved was dead.

All of the principals gave great performances, the story is pretty heady, and the film showed Bohemian 1931 Paris in all its glory (it was nominated for an Oscar for cinematography).  Writer/director Philip Kaufman (Quills, The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and his wife researched the story carefully, and we can assume that the story was told reasonably accurately.  Fred Ward nailed the Henry Miller part, and Richard E. Grant was also good as Nin's International banker husband.

Despite all those positives, I ran out of interest long before the end of the 136 minute film. It's an art film. If a long, leisurely period character piece about arguably the two most important writers about sex in the 20th century is your kind of film, there is much to admire here. Most people, however, will find the story slow going and it's not really very titillating either.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: between three and three a half stars. Ebert 3/4, Maltin 3.5/4.

  • Nominated for one Oscar - best cinematography (a nomination richly deserved). That particular Oscar went to Dances With Wolves, but Henry and June and Dick Tracy were equally deserving.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.2
  • With their dollars ... so-so. It was a tweener, neither arthouse nor popcorn. It did better than an arthouse film ($12 million domestic gross), but not well enough to be called a mainstream success.
My guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "This film is only a C+, although I like it very much. It just happened to be a genre I like. I like 20th century biopics, I am interested in The Lost Generation, I was a lit major, I like France, etc.  If you are not fanatical about those things, I think you'll find it a somewhat dull and pointless screenplay, partially redeemed by brilliant production values, atmosphere, and some interesting characterizations." Tuna called it a C+ - admiring it as a film near the top of the line for its type, but not really liking it very much.

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