Writers can be awful bores, particularly the writers identified with the '20s and '30s. The '20s and '30s writers were bored by life in the United States, so they went to Paris where they bored the French and wrote about it.
All this is brought back by the arrival of "Henry and June," a particularly lugubrious, self-consciously sensual account of Henry Miller's affair with Anais Nin, on whose book this new film is based.
The movie was directed and co-authored by Philip Kaufman, the man responsible for "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," another almost interminable adventure in sex.
"Being," however, had some interesting characters. The characters in "Henry and June" are what we expect them to be, bores. Miller, according to Nin, had a wife who did tricks to pay the rent and allow her husband the luxury of writing. Mrs. Miller, June, liked women and men, so it was only natural that she and Nin would tumble into bed, then tumble out and tumble into other beds with other partners. It didn't matter which sex, so long as there was a bed, according to Nin, who says, at one point, "I was finally unfaithful to Henry with my own husband, Hugo."
"Henry and June" runs 2 hours and 16 minutes. You could tell the same story in much less time, but Kaufman is a man given to overstatement, elongation and repetition.
None of the principal women in the film wears that much clothing, nor do the other women, who always seem to be waiting in parlors of whorehouses. When they aren't, when they aren't doing acrobatic turns in the halls, they take part in parades, celebrations that allow them to take off their clothing.
"Henry and June" is the first film to be given the NC-17 classification, which translates, all too quickly, to an X, so you wonder why the MPAA caved in to all the pressure for a new rating to distinguish "adult" from pornographic. An X by any other name is still an X. Classification aside, the film is almost surprisingly sexless.
"Henry and June" is amusing only when he begins to criticize her work and she, his. He insists she must be able to take it, but when she does the same to him, he cannot follow his own advice.
For the most part, however, the film just goes its way, from bed to bed, and you find yourself remembering the old story about the husband who knew what his wife was doing but said, "Just don't tell me about it."
Good advice in this case. It's a shame Kaufman didn't follow it.
"Henry and June" is showing at the Westview and the Rotunda. Fred Ward does extremely well as Miller. Uma Thurman is June, and Maria De Medeiros is Nin. Neither woman does as well as Ward. Thurman's last scenes, in fact, are quite bad, and when we learn, from postscript, that June Miller became a social worker, you wonder what agency hired her.
This almost seems a joke and probably was. Whatever the case, it is one of very few funny things in this movie, and it occurs at the very end.
"Henry and June"
** Henry Miller and Anais Nin have an affair in Paris.
CAST: Fred Ward, Uma Thurman, Maria De Medeiros
DIRECTOR: Philip Kaufman
RUNNING TIME: 136 minutes