Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Miller On The Cannes Jury, 1960 (PT. 1)

Part One of this post focusses on Miller's context in relation to the event of Cannes. Part Two will focus more specifically on Miller's relation to the films.

Henry Miller sat on the jury of the Cannes Film Festival in 1960; one of five writers on the panel. In February 1960, he had been recruited by writer Georges Simenon ( "[I]t was at his insistence that I gave in," Miller told Brassai in Henry Miller, Happy Rock [1], p. 30). Simenon was that year's jury president. Miller had first heard of the "literary 'phenomenon'" of Simenon [seen at left] while he was at Big Sur, and had occassionally written to him over the years, though they never met. Miller was the most favoured of the collection of "good friends" whom Simenon had recruited to fill the jury (Intimate Memoirs by Georges Simenon, p. 475 [2]).

Miller admitted to the Paris Review (and to Brassai, [1] p. 30) that he was a "dubious choice" for the Cannes film jury because he hadn't seen many films in the previous 15 years. He assumed that the nomination was more of a tribute to his work as a writer than his cinema expertise. Miller, however, may have seemed an ideal choice to the organizers due to the prevelant subject matter at that year's fest: "Boosted in advance by popular press as having the most scandalous collection of films ever presented in a festival," wrote Cynthia Grenier of Film Quarterly (Film Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 4, Summer 1960, p.15 [3]) ... "incest, rape, voyeurism, homosexuality and the seduction of a 12-year old."

Henry left for Europe on April 4, 1960 [ref]. He was excited about going, but for reasons other than reviewing films. He was thrilled by the opportunity to travel again: "From now on, I want to travel. Cannes is only the first milestone." ([1] p. 32). Before arriving at Cannes, he planned to meet Alfred Perles in Rome and make a few other stops in various European countries before arriving at Cannes. According to Ferguson's Henry Miller: A Life [4], Miller also took this opportunity to escape his decaying relationship with Eve McClure at home in California. Upon his arrival at Cannes, divorce papers were waiting for him (as was a mistress named Caryl Hill Thomas, but that is all part of another story). ([4] pps. 336-337). (see also Always Merry And Bright by Jay Martin, p. 453).

The 13th annual Cannes Film Festival was held from May 4 - 20, 1960. Henry refused to stay at the elegant Carlton hotel with the others. "[N]ot for a million dollars do I want to stay in that palace beseiged by journalists and photographers." Instead, he was put up at the Hotel Montfleury, "away from all the hubbub. But even here I'm harrassed" ([1] p. 37).

Besides the necessary viewing of films, Miller was also obligated to attend formal events as a member of the jury. He went to them, including a luncheon with the mayor of Cannes, but refused to wear a tuxedo. "At seventy years old, I'm not about to start wearing one" ... "Miller without a tuxedo, or no Miller." ([1] p. 37). Simenon backed Henry up on this stance.

Henry was often in the company of his old friend Brassai during this stay in Cannes. Brassai was fond of the festival, having been awarded a Most Original Film award by the Cannes jury in 1956 (Tant qu'il y aura des bêtes). Miller hoped before he'd arrived to meet Pablo Picasso, an acquaintance of Brassai's. "To know Picasso! Of course, that's one of my greatest desires," said Henry ([1] p. 85). But Henry's busy schedule left little room for a visit to Picasso (until later, when it was over). He also failed to meet any of the young European starlets he'd been promised, such as Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren. "I've been served nothing but widows," complained Miller to Brassai, "And middle-aged ones." ([1] p. 61)

"At first, it was terrible!" said Miller of the experience. "In fact, I almost handed in my resignation. Oh, the films were all right. Four hours a day of viewing doesn't exhaust me. But everything around it!" ([1] p. 37). Then, a few days later:

"I'm exhausted by the length of the films shown in poorly ventilated halls -- and I don't have any elbow room. Since I've been in Cannes, I haven't been myself." ([1] p. 61).

Despite Miller's complaints, Georges Simenon noted in his memoirs that Henry "look[ed] at only a few films and spen[t] most of his time playing Ping-Pong, which he loves." ([2] p. 475).

Caryl Hill joined Henry mid-way through the festival. The awards were handed out and the Cannes Film Fest came to a close on May 20th. The event had a "generally lack-lustre atmosphere," reported Cynthia Grenier. "Something went wrong with this festival. Perhaps it was too long; perhaps the absence of the usual glamourous stars." ([3] p. 15).

The following Sunday, Henry left Cannes with French actor Michel Simon for a visit to La Ciotat, followed by visits to Lawrence Durrell and other people and places in Europe.

The middle photo of Brassai [left] and Henry Miller [right] was taken by Yoshi Takata at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, and was published in Henry Miller, Happy Rock.


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