Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Miller Watches "Justine" In Montreal, 1969

Lawrence Durrell's Justine was published in 1957, becoming the first of four books known collectively as The Alexandria Quartet (all of them being set in Alexandria, Egypt). In 1969, Justine was turned into a motion picture. Henry Miller saw it in a Montreal cinema at the end of summer in 1969.

Durrell's book had been optioned by Hollywood around 1960 and finally put into production in 1968-69. Joseph Strick had been chosen as director, likely based on his ability in 1967 to film an adaptation of Joyce's Ulysses. Filming began in Tunis, Tunisia, but complications arose and--depending on the source--Strick was either fired or walked off the set. Legendary director George Cukor, at age 69, was hired to replace him.

Justine was released in North America in August 1969. It so happened that Henry Miller was in Montreal at this time. A few weeks earlier, he had appeared in a French interview on the Montreal service of the CBC, for a program called Le Sel de la semaine (this one-hour interview is apparently still available for purchase from Radio-Canada [French CBC].)

This posting was inspired by an anecdote told to me by Cosmodemonic blog reader "Pierre from Montreal," who had the good fortune to have been in the same Montreal movie theatre as Henry for a screening of Justine. According to Pierre:

"It was [September 3], 1969; just by accident I went during a quiet but warm evening with my girl friend to see the film Justine, a very bad Hollywood adaptation of Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. Miller was there with a cohort of V.I.P.s, including [Gerald] Robitaille (and Hoki Tokuda, the Japanese wife, if my memory is correct). It was pretty hard for me to talk to Henry (and what could I have said to him anyway except : "I’m a great fan!" and I couldn’t say what William S. Burroughs apparently said when he met Miller at the Edinburg Writer’s Conference in 1962 : "Long time admirer!", since I had discovered Miller only two years previously). Henry seemed to enjoy the film at the beginning, but he was quite silent toward the end."

While in Montreal, Henry stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on rue Sherbrooke [seen at left]. It was from his hotel room later that same evening that he wrote a letter to his great friend and Justine author Lawrence Durrell.

"Dear Larry -- I've just come from seeing Justine here in Montreal. Am somewhat bewildered, largely because I couldn't catch all the dialogue. Also because things seemed to have been juggled a bit. I must say I liked the scenes, brief though they were, of--where? Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia? Made me wish I had seen Alexandria and Cairo, the desert, the sea, the temples and mosques. Lots of color. Lots of drunken carnival scenes. Melissa seemed badly cast. Anouk Aimee rather good, I thought. But Pursewarden and Darley bothered me - the latter too young, too naif. (In a physical way, though, he reminded me of you at 22 or '3 or '4.) Was it Michael York? and what part did Dirk Bogarde play? I think the ones who came off best were the homos and transvestites! Hollywood had fun with them, I take it. That opening with the sailors giving the girl a dose of Spanish Fly seemed awful to me [......]

"I wonder if you have seen the film yourself yet? Naturally you'll squirm. It could hardly be otherwise. No film can live up to a good book. I remember recently walking out during intermission of War & Peace. Bored to death [......] Soon comes my turn--with Cancer and Quiet Days. Ouf!"

Interestingly, director Joseph Strick moved from getting canned from Justine to making Miller's Tropic Of Cancer film adaptation (released in 1970).

Read a review of Justine written by The New York Times.

Finally, Le sel de la semaine TV show interviewed Anais Nin ten months later, in 1970. You can view the full hour interview (in French) for free on your computer by visiting the Radio-Canada (CBC) Archives website.

The Miller letter was written on September 3, 1969, and is found in the Durrell-Miller Letters 1935-80, page 434-5. The picture of Durrell and Miller talking (in the banner art) is a screen capture image from Robert Snyder's Henry Miller Odyssesy.

15 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Henry Miller's interview at Le sel de la semaine, a tv program broadcasted by Radio-Canada in the 70's, is available on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MPvoqo6VAY

Note that the interview is in french, without subtitles. Bonne écoute !

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