Saturday, May 31, 2008

Le Sel de la Semaine, Montreal, 1969

Le Sel de la Semaine ("salt of the week") was a TV program on the French service of the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), called Television de Radio-Canada. The program aired 95 episodes [ref.] from 1965-1970, and followed a simple format: distinguished guests were interviewed by biochemist-turned-TV-host, Fernand Seguin. Henry Miller was one such distinguished guest in 1969.

In a letter to his wife Hoki, dated June 6, 1969, Henry wrote that he was leaving his home in California on June 24th or 25th, and would be in Montreal, then London, then in Paris by July 1st for the filming of Tropic Of Cancer [1]. The Montreal plans appear to have been postponed, as a letter to Lawrence Durrell locates him in Montreal on September 3, 1969 (he had just seen the film adaptation of Durrell's Justine) [2].

Montreal was the headquarters for Radio-Canada; I'm guessing that the Sel del la Semaine interview was his reason for visiting. The episode was produced by Pierre Castonguay and hosted, as always, by Fernand Seguin. 77-year old Henry conducted the entire interview in French, with only the occassional call for a translation lifeline. This interview had been available for sale through Radio-Canada, but seems currently unavailable. However, the entire episode has been posted on-line at YouTube. I've embedded Part 1 below.

Please note that my French skills are adequate enough that I can translate Henry's interview and provide this summary, but should not be depended upon for accuracy. If you need to quote something, I suggest you find the timecode and translate his words yourself.

[1:05] Host Fernand Seguin [at left] opens by asking, "Why did you leave America, and why did you return?" Henry states that it was impossible for him to live there, where he felt despair and without hope. But Spain was actually his original destination (although he wouldn't see that country for another 20 years). He refers to June as "Mona, in the books," and credits her with inspiring him to leave: "It was a day in February. It was snowing. I was sad. As I stood in front of a window, she said, 'Why don't you go to Europe? I said, 'Great, but how?' She said, 'I'll find the means.' I was surprised, but said, 'If you find it, I'll go.' She gave me enough for boat passage ..."

[2:30] Henry says that he returned to America because of the war. The American Consulate would not let him go anywhere but his native land. "I asked, why not let me go to Buenos Aires or Brazil." He didn't want to return to America. But they voided his passport [Henry makes X strokes with his hand] and that's how he came to return.

[3:05] Henry mentions that he doesn't decide things; he leaves that up to fate or destiny; when the right moment presents itself, he acts.

[3:55] Henry discusses his feelings about America (i.e. he sees its lifestyle as destructive), but admits that he's content enough at present time to not be preoccupied by it. He's well-situated, likes his home, plays ping-pong, has a chauffeur. [UPDATE July 17/08: Thank you Daniel and your native French ear for pointing out that Henry says "une piscine chauffée" which means "heated pool" and does not refer to a "chauffeur."] "I don't live in 'America' in my life. I live in my house with a few visiting freinds and that satisfies me." [5:35] "I've made peace with my compatriots."

[5:15] Henry: "It's difficult for me to make decisions"

[6:08] Henry mentions the pgymies as an example of a society that has been living a simple, contented life for thousands of years: why change?

[7:00] Henry describes himself as a wannabe writer as a young man: "I had very strong doubts about my own abilities. I had no confidence, as a writer or a genius [thinker?] or whatever. I dreamed throughout my youth about becoming a writer, but maybe I placed the life or spirit of The Writer too high. That's why I was always below. Also, I didn't exhibit a great talent as young man. I tried two, three times to write, but it didn't go well. So I said, 'See, I'm not a writer.'"

[8:00] Henry describes the Paris effect: "It was another world, one of culture, you could say. A world with a sensuality too. In all ways, it was another face for me. It stiumulated me, inspired me."

[8:40] Henry: "I had already written three books [by the time I arrived in Paris], and I'm glad these books haven't been published. But in Paris I discovered my proper voice." He also mentions that he had been close to suicide.

[9:37] Henry explains that he managed to survive in Paris through the charity of others. "I asked like a beggar" ... "I asked for aid, and I gave aid ... I don't agree with Shakespeare when he said, 'Neither a lender nor a borrower be.' I think you need to be both."

You can view the remaining five parts of this 60-minute interview on YouTube. I may translate these remaining parts when I get a chance.

[1] Howard, Joyce (ed.) 1986. Letters by Henry Millert to Hoki Tokuda Miller. New York: Freundlich Books; p. 151; [2] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.). 1989. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. London: Faber & Faber, p. 434.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Miller And The Matisses

“He is a bright sage, a dancing seer who, with a sweep of the brush, removes the ugly scaffold to which the body of man is chained by the incontrovertible facts of life.”
----- Henry Miller on Henri Matisse, Tropic Of Cancer, p. 164

My interest in this subject began with an on-line anecdote about Henry from the granddaughter of the famed French painter, Henri Matisse. My research on this minor footnote soon led to connections between Henry and Henri Matisse, as well as his son, Pierre. These may seem like trivial points individually, but, stacked together, they establish an intellectual and casual personal relationship with a great family of the arts.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was a celebrated French painter, noted for his brilliant use of colour. Upon his death in 1954, Andre Berthoin (French Minister of National Education) described Matisse this way: "His was the most French of palettes. Intelligence, reason and the alliance of a sense of finesse and of simplifying geometry gave to all he painted the rare virtue of being truly French" [1].

Although Henri Matisse appears as a passing reference in Miller’s Crazy Cock (which he’d begun in 1927), the true impact of the painter’s work on Miller becomes obvious in Henry’s writings of 1931. In the long-unpublished The New Instinctivism—which was written by early summer, 1931 [2] — Miller gives over a page of high praise for Matisse, of whom he states “touches me profoundly.” “Matisse is the sum of modern painting. Matisse is the epiphenomenona of the new phenomenology. Matisse is the wobbly axis which gives core to the revolutions in plastic, the hub of the wheel which is falling apart, which will keep rolling when all that has gone to make up the wheel has disintegrated.” He doesn’t see beauty in the women Matisse paints, but instead sees “women of the boulevards.”

In June or July 1931, Henry went to the Galerie Georges Petit at 8, rue de Seze to see a Matisse exhibit that included “Reclinging Nude” (c.1925). The exhibit ran from June 16 – July 25, 1931 [3]. In August, Henry began writing Tropic Of Cancer, which would eventually include a lengthy reference to his 1931 visit to the Matisse exhibit. Much of the reverent language used in this passage has been clearly re-crafted from his New Instinctivism draft. “On the threshold of that big hall whose walls are now ablaze, I pause a moment to recover from the shock which one experiences when the habitual gray of the world is rent asunder and the color of life splashes forth in song and poem” (p. 162); “He it is, if any man today possesses the gift, who knows where to dissolve the human figure, who has the courage to sacrifice an harmonious line in order to detect the rhythm and murmur of the blood, who takes the light that has been refracted inside him and lets it flood the keyboard of color” (p. 164) [4]. (see Raoul Ibarguen’s critique of this passage in Narrative Detours).

Henri Matisse (left) at the 1931 Galerie Geroges Petit exhibit in Paris, which Miller attended. (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images; this is cropped from the larger original found here).

With this level of enthusiasm, it’s not surprising that an early edition of Tropic Of Cancer—a Czech translation published in 1938—should feature an image of a naked woman “specially drawn” by Matisse (at left) [5]. According to Ferguson’s Henry Miller: A Life, Miller eventually met Matisse and got into an argument with him about the work of Miró, which Miller thought was intellectual, but Matisse found was the work of a “peasant” (p. 241).

Henri Matisse would continue to be casually referenced in Miller’s later works, as an example of an accomplished artist (often in lists of names like Picasso and Proust).

Henri Matisse’s son Pierre Matisse (1900-1989) did not become a painter like his father, but instead took a different angle on the family legacy and became an art dealer. In 1931, he opened the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York City, which remained operative until his death in 1989.

In 1936, Henry had befriended Pierre Matisse, although I can’t say anything about the origin or nature of this relationship at that time. They were friendly enough that Pierre shipped a copy of Black Spring to James Laughlin on Henry’s behalf, then wrote to tell him he’d done so [6].

In 1947, Henry published a limited run of Into The Nightlife, which showcased the artwork of Bezalel Schatz. Henry’s ledger book shows that Pierre bought a copy (as referenced in the PBA Gallery archive—see item 33). Late in 1958, Miller needed money and sought to sell some Fernand Léger artwork that he had acquired for The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder. Pierre Matisse bought them for $3500. Henry was happy about the sale, writing to Matisse that “there is indeed a Santa Claus!” In a letter to Bob MacGregor, Henry described Matisse as “a brick” who could be counted on for a favour [7].

Finally we come to the anecdote about the daughter-in-law of Henri Matisse, whose birth name was Alexina Sattler. The brief reference is made by Alexina’s daughter, Jacquline Matisse Monnier on the website for the Tate Museum, and in relation to artist Marcel Duchamp:

“There was something about Marcel Duchamp that people found attractive. My mother thought he had a charismatic allure. She told me a story that at one point Henry Miller had a crush on her, but he was rather vulgar and had no grace in what he was proposing, whereas Marcel just knew how to say and do things. He had a very light touch.”

Yes, this is the minor, paltry piece of gossip that inspired this entire post. I soon found myself on a personal mission to flesh it out with something more substantial. Let me say this: there is no more, other than the context and conjecture I’ll attempt to bring to it.

Alexina Sattler (1906-1995) entered into the Matisse family through her marriage to Pierre Matisse [8]. The American-born artist—nicknamed “teeny” because of her petite stature—went to Paris in 1921 to pursue her artistic vocation. She married Pierre in 1929. In 1939, Pierre went into service for WWII; in his absence, Alexina took over duty at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. She divorced Pierre in 1949, and later married Marcel Duchamp in 1954, although she had originally met him in 1923.

At right: A illustrated portrai of Alexina made by Henri Matisse in 1938. (Source: Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art)

Henry did not arrive in Paris for his extended stay until March 1930, at which time Alexina was newly married as Alexina Matisse. The Matisses then opened Pierre’s gallery in New York in 1931.That leaves a window of opportunity for Henry meeting Alexina in 1930-31. Henry was familiar with NY-based Pierre in 1936, so possibly they’d all met during one of Pierre’s return visits to Paris in the 30s. Alexina was unmarried from 1949 to 1953, but Henry was in Big Sur most of that time, and married to two different women in that period. As well, I don’t have any impression that he really knew Alexina outside of her relation to Pierre. Bottom line: if this anecdote is accurate, then Henry seems to have made a crude proposition to a married woman, whether she was Alexina Matisse or Alexina Duchamp.

[1] (New York Times). 1954. On This Day. “Obituary-Art World Mourns Henri Matisse, Dead at Home in Nice at Age of 84:” November 4, 1954. LINK; [2] The New Instinctivism was published only recently in Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal, Vol. 4. Matisse refs on pages 22-24. With acknowledgement to Karl Orend who had previously explored the Henri Matisse connection in footnote 107 of this published Instinctivism essay; [3] I found the dates for this exhibition in several on-line sources, including a reference to a 1931 commemorative book from the exhibit. See listing at Antiqbook; [4] Miller, Henry. 1987 [1934]. Tropic Of Cancer. NY: Grove Press; [5] Ferguson, Robert. 1991. Henry Miller: A Life. NY: WW Norton, p. 346. I’ve found no other references to this be specially drawn, or simply acquired-- Ferguson does not list his source; [6] Wickes, George, ed. 1996. Henry Miller And James Laughlin: Selected Letters. New York: Norton, p. 7; [7] Wickes, George, ed. 1996. Henry Miller And James Laughlin: Selected Letters. New York: Norton, pp. 147-154; [8] Sattler's bio was sourced with Wikipedia, (in Dutch), Geneall, and a couple fo other minor references elsewhere. Her photo was found here, as part of a group shot from the 1940s.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Letters To Gustav Hellström

Two years ago, I discovered two letters written by Miller to a Swedish writer named Lars Gustav Hellström, on the website. The following is my own summary of the content of this pair of letters, along with some background information.
SEPT 29, 2008: NOTE -- Thanks to Leo for leaving the following comment in my Comments section. I hope to have asome time soon to make the necessary corrections in this post, but for now I give you his warning: "I'm sorry to say that You have mixed up two persons. Lars Gustav Hellström,1915-1988, was a translator. Gustaf Hellström (1882-1953) was a writer, journalist and member of the Swedish Academy. He lived in New York (1918-21) with his american wife but also stayed in The Maverick Art Colony, Wodstock, founded by Hervey White (1866–1944)."
Henry Miller had been corresponding with poet Hugo Manning since about 1944 [1]. In 1949, Henry received word from Hugo that a Swede named Lars Gustav Hellström had done a translation of one of Miller’s Hamlet letters for a Swedish magazine. On November 28, 1949, Henry wrote a letter to the 62-year old Hellström. Although it seems that permission had not been sought to do the translation, Henry gives Hellström permission to continue to do so, as long as he gets the O.K. from the publisher. “I scarcely ever write anything for magazines,” writes Henry, who is curious to receive a copy of the Swedish magazine in which the translation appears.

This is the actual letter that Miller wote to Hellstrom in 1949. This image is copywritten by, but I hope they don't mind my use of it here, as it draws attention to their merchandise. The original document currently sells for US $ 1, 499.

“How does my 'Air-Conditioned Nightmare' go there?” adds Henry. “Haven't the slightest idea. I rather imagine it doesn't go at all!” With a “Sincerely Yours,” Henry signed his name. As an afterthought, he wrote vertically along the left-hand column, “Presume you've heard that Book I of 'Rosy Crucifixion' is out now in Paris - same publisher.” Henry posted this letter from his home in Big Sur, addressing it to Lars Gustav Hellström at Östervägen 25 in Solna, Sweden.

Gustav (or Gustaf) Hellström was born in Sweden in August 1882 [2]. He worked as a foreign correspondent for a Swedish newspaper until 1935, reporting from the big Western cultural centres of Paris, New York and London. As a novelist, he worked in a realist style, including his 1927 “masterpiece,” a saga of a provincial Swedish family called Snörmakare Lekholm får en idé (Lacemaker Lekholm Has an Ideafull text). According to the Nobel Prize website, Hellstrom was member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and had deleivered Nobel presentation speeches for T.S. Eliot and William Faulkner. It is said that Hellström’s wife was a friend of Marcel Duchamp and Carl Van Vechten (who took the photo of Henry found on the Wikipedia website).


The second letter from Henry to Gustav was written on April 24, 1951, again from Big Sur. In it, Henry asks if Gustav received a book he sent him, which implies that a correspondence existed beyond these two letters. Here is the text in full, followed by notes on the references:

“The rights to 'Picodiribi' belong pro tem to James Laughlin, New Directions, 333 6th Avenue, N.Y.C. Have not sold rights (in English) for the book yet. It will be published in French by Corréa, Paris. Can't believe Girodias has no copies of the 'Tropics'. Will write him to send you them. Must be some mistake. That experience at Döme - reminds me of the unique occasion when I was in a book store and some one asked for one of my books. Have you seen the February and March issues of 'The World Review' (London) which contain chapter from my new book about books - this chapter on Blaise Cendrars? Haven't heard a word about Patchen. Did you get the Hart Crane book I sent you?”

Above: An excerpt of Miller's letter from April 1951.

Picodiribi: Miller actually meant Picodiribibi, which was a portrait he wrote about an “Italian who used to visit our speakeasy in the Village—circa 1925 or ’26—an extraordinary conversationalist, a buffoon, and cultured to the fingertips” [3]. The piece originally appeared as “The Robot Picodiribibi” in the July 1950 issue of World Review magazine (Shifreen & Jackson, C233), then again in December of that year in New Directions 12 anthology (Shifreen & Jackson, B69). It would be incorporated into Plexus in 1952.

James Laughlin: founded the New Directions imprint in 1936, and became one of Henry’s publishers.

Corréa, Paris: Henry’s French publisher, which had released the first edition of Plexus in 1952 (Shifreen & Jackson, A83a), amongst other things. When Henry refers to “the book,” I’m not sure if he means Plexus, or if he’d had planned to release the short “Robot Picodiribibi” as a booklet.

Girodias: Maurice Girodias, heir to the Obelisk Press, which had first published Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn.

Döme: Le Dôme is a café in Paris which became Miller’s prime hang-out during his early days in Paris. The way he mentions it here, I get the impression that Henry is referencing Hellstrom’s own experience at Le Dôme from a previous letter.

February and March issues of 'The World Review': “Blaise Cendrars” (Shifreen & Jackson, C239) and “More about Blaise Cendrars” (Shifreen & Jackson, C241) were published in the February and March issues of World Review, respectively.

my new book about books: Miller’s The Books in My Life was first published in October 1952 (Shifreen & Jackson, A86a). Henry had been working “feverishly” on this book since January 17, 1950 [4]. At the time of writing this letter, Henry was struggling with coming up with a better title for this book than what it became [5].

Patchen: Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972) was an American writer/poet, who had made a strong impression on Henry (see Miller’s homage to him, “Patchen: Man Of Anger & Light,” which originally appeared in 1946, and was re-published in Stand Still Like The Hummingbird). After five years of living in a little cottage in a small town in Connecticut, Patchen moved to San Francisco in 1951 [6]. Perhaps Miller is referencing his relocation.

Hart Crane: Hart Crane (1899-1932) was an Ohio-born poet who lived one of those tragic poet’s lives, ending with suicide off of a steamship at age 32. Miller was not particularly fond of Crane’s work. Writing to Wallace Fowlie in 1944, Henry wrote: “I can’t read Crane. I mean I don’t find anything in him that others see. My fault doubtless” [7]. (Miller is perhaps being kind because Fowlie had written an essay on Crane). Crane’s suicide is mentioned in passing in Books in My Life (p.217) [he was referenced in a letter written by Sherwood Anderson, which Miller had read]. I’m thinking that Henry unloaded his Crane book on Hellström because he didn’t really care for it. The favour must have been returned by Hellström, because Henry included his name in an appendix in Books in My Life, entitled “Friends Who Supplied Me With Books.”

Lars Gustav Hellstrom died in Sweden less than two years later, on February 27, 1953.


[1] Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, U. of Texas. Hugo Manning Papers - "Biographical Sketch." . [2] The bio of Hellstrom has been mostly cobbled together from info drawn from Encyclopedia Britannica and the Hellstrom website (which is in Swedish, but I translated through Translation Guide). [3] Durrell, Lawrence (ed.). 1959. The Henry Miller Reader. NY: New Directions; p. 83. [4] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.). 1989. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. London: Faber & Faber, p. 246; [5] Wickes, George, ed. 1996. Henry Miller And James Laughlin: Selected Letters. New York: Norton, p. 85; [6] Smith, Larry (ed.) "Kenneth Patchen Places." ; [7] Miller, Henry, and Wallace Fowlie. 1975. Letters of Henry Miller and Wallace Fowlie (1943-1972). NY: Grove Press; letter dated March 1, 1944, p. 41.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Filming 'Tropic Of Cancer'

“The film of Tropic of Cancer will be definitively produced and directed by Joseph Strick, who made Ulysses (by Joyce). He’ll do it the same way. No castration, no modification. Bravo for him, I say!”
---- Henry Miller in a letter to Brassai, July 31, 1968
Henry Miller’s 1934 novel, Tropic Of Cancer, was adapted and released as a feature film in 1970. Although the film maintained Paris as its locale—as it had been in the novel—the action was shifted to contemporary times (1969). Although it remains the only film adaptation of Miller’s classic novel, it had not been the first attempt to do so.
Joseph E. Levine’s Embassy Pictures distributed foreign films in the U.S., most notably Godzilla (1956) and Fellini’s (1963). It was around this time that Embassy decided to get into the film production business, and in 1962 Levine bankrolled a film version of Tropic Of Cancer [1]. In January 1963, Henry was looking forward to going to Paris for 17 weeks as a “consultant” on the film, which would also yield a substantial payday [2]. But by June 1963, the production was bogged down in litigation [3], with production partners and an actress suing Levine. Due to these troubles, Henry’s contract as advisor was terminated at the end of the year [4]. In June 1964, the conflicts were settled out of court [3] and Levine was ready to forge ahead again with Tropic, but, by the following summer, Henry expressed his concern to Brassai: “I'm increasingly convinced they're going to massacre my Cancer. What can be done? The author counts for nothing” [5]. The project eventually lost steam and died in development.

Famed Hollywood producer Robert Evans has many saucy stories to tell in his memoirs The Kid Stays in the Picture. Although the dialogue exchange he provides between he and Henry [6] seems apocryphal to me (maybe it isn’t, but it remains otherwise unsubstantiated), Evans tells of a friendly ping-pong game that turned into a hustled wager in which Henry bet him to turn Tropic Of Cancer into a film if he won. The balls fell in Miller’s favour. As the head of production at Paramount Pictures, Evans had the clout to get it made, but, writes Evans, the top brass were less than impressed, and threatened to fire him and burn the negative. “It played in one theater and disappeared for good,” writes Evans. “Because of Henry Miller, I traveled a back elevator for the next two months. Henry, you got the last laugh, wherever you are, and I'm sure it ain't heaven” [6].
Above left: A German poster for the movie.

In another telling of this same story [7], Evans makes no mention of a wager, but instead quotes Henry as challenging him verbally: “'You don't have the guts to make Cancer.'” Is any of this true? In fact, Joseph Strick’s production company Tropic Film Corporation (half backed by a Swiss film corporation) [12] produced the film in 1969, while Evans’ Paramount seems to have been involved only as far as picking up distribution rights [13].

On December 8, 1968, the New York Times reported that director Joseph Strick would be attached to direct. Strick had previously earned an edgy reputation for his film adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1967), whose raw language caused much controversy, including a ban in Ireland that would last 33 years. Henry initially felt encouraged by the vision of the 45-year old director, whose unorthodox approach got him fired the previous year by the Hollywood honchos who were paying for a conventional adaptation of Lawrence Durrell’s Justine.
Above: A 1971 Japanese poster for the film.
After a visit to London, Miller was sent to Paris in the summer of 1969 as a consultant on the film, an experience he wrote about for a article called “Tropic Of Cancer Revisited,” published in Playboy’s June 1970 issue: “I had hardly arrived at my hotel when I was summoned to the shooting of a scene in a night spot on a narrow little street called Passage du Depart off the rue d’Odessa” (p. 133). The chauffered ride to the set gave Henry a flashback of his bike rides from Porte de Clichy to Louveciennes in 1932-33 to see Anais Nin (135). Paris “looked better to me than it ever had,” wrote Miller, despite the “ugly modern apartments,” but he seemed resigned to the fact that “there would be no attempt to re-create the Paris of the Thirties” for the film(133). Henry’s impressions of Paris was to be the most-asked media question (201) during his nearly-two month visit. He would never return to Paris again [8].

James Decker’s essay “Literary Text, Cinematic ‘Edition’: Adaptation, Textual Authority, and the Filming of Tropic of Cancer (2007) covers details about the filming of Tropic Of Cancer as well as offering analysis of its adaptation: “Strick attempts to preserve as much of Miller's language as possible, but he hardly follows the novel word-for-word or scene-by-scene, choosing instead to alter those parts of the book that would not translate well to the screen. Strick, moreover, consciously chose to emphasize the book's comedic elements.”

Decker quotes Strick admitting that he “doesn't write well enough to do an original screenplay.” Although Strick is listed as a co-writer--along with associate producer Betty Botley--Strick’s Ulysses writing partner Fred Haines was originally assigned the task. According to Haines’ obituary in The Independent (he died this month, on May 4th), the two men “disagreed on the shape of the screenplay, [and] Haines simply asked that he not be credited as the writer.”

Although Henry uses the Playboy article to express admiration for Strick’s directing demeanor, Rip Torn’s vitality (playing Henry 30 years younger), and Ellyn Burstyn’s penetrating understanding of Mona/June (whom she portrayed), Henry was most pleased to socialize with a short, hunched French bit-actor named Alfred Baillou, who played a minor part as a night watchman at the lycée at Dijon (a role that essentially ended up on the cutting room floor): “the most interesting person I had the pleasure of conversing with during my visits to the set,” wrote Miller. “We talked as people talk who have known each other for years […] like myself, he was drawn to the arcane and the occult” (Playboy, 200).

Henry also had the company of his son Tony, who got some work on the film [8]. His young wife, Hoki, was to join him in Paris, but chose to stay away most of the time, even though Henry got Strick to call her to offer her a small part in the film [9].

Henry was invited to view the raw, unedited film dailies, but he found the process “tedious and confusing” (Playboy 134). He also made a fleeting appearance in the film as a “spectator” in a wedding scene. His tenure as advisor ended around August 10th [5].


Cancer film opened in N.Y. at the Paris Cinema on 58th & 5th Ave. last week. Mixed reviews by critics,” wrote Henry to Lawrence Durrel on February 27, 1970 [10]. Some critics felt that the faithful narration slowed the action down; parts of the film were considered unintentionally funny, or even sexist [8]. Pauline Kael, however, seems to have appreciated it: “This series of vignettes and fantasies, with bits of Miller's language rolling out, may be closer to Russ Meyer's THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS than to its source, but at least it isn't fusty. It makes you laugh” [from Kael’s 5001 Nights at the Movies, and online here]. (Kael had originally written a longer review for The New Yorker on March 7, 1970. For a full analysis of the use of sex in this film, and a thorough breakdown of its content, read Decker’s essay.)

To make matters worse, the film was saddled with a “X” rating. Strick, as the Producer, immediately took antitrust legal action against his own distributor, Paramount Pictures, who refused to release the film without a rating (which Strick wanted); being branded with an "X" severely restricted its sales potential. (Tropic Film Corp v. Paramount Pictures Corp. 319 F Supp., 1247 (S.D.N.Y. 1970).

Regardless of the accuracy of Robert Evans’ ping-pong anecdote with Henry, perhaps he had made a bad wager after all; perhaps he was hoping to cash in on the “X” cachet that had reached its peak with the Academy Award wins for the X-rated Midnight Cowboy in 1969. The Paramount publicity packets for theatre owners in 1970 reveals their eagerness to cash in on scandal: "One of the things that you can do to heighten [the] controversy, thereby bringing attention to your engagement, would be to screen the film for a number of local dignitaries, judges, lawyers, college professors, and students and let them debate on their pro and con feelings" [14].

I am not clear that the film was originally X-rated due to sexual portrayals or for language. However, when re-classified in the 1992, Tropic Of Cancer was labelled with the new NC-17 rating: “for strong language and sex-related dialogue.”

Miller, 1970: “[It’s] possible that a public that has been feeding on raw meat will find [the movie] Tropic Of Cancer tame, even innocent, like the author himself. One thing that I suspect audiences will not find tame, however, is the narration, taken word for word from the book” (Playboy 201).

Colour photos of Miller on the film set are available from the Life Magazine photo archive.


[1] Martin, Jay. 1978. Henry Miller: Always Merry And Bright. NY: Penguin; p. 471; [2] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.). 1989. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. London: Faber & Faber, p. 392; [3] Wickes, George, ed. 1996. Henry Miller And James Laughlin: Selected Letters. New York: Norton, p. 226; [4] Decker, James. 2007. “Literary Text, Cinematic ‘Edition’: Adaptation, Textual Authority, and the Filming of Tropic of Cancer” in College Literature, Summer 2007; n12; [5] Brassai. 2002. Henry Miller: Happy Rock. U. Of Chicago Press; p. 155; [6] Evans, Robert. 2002. The Kid Stays in the Picture. New Millenium Press, p. 176-177; [7] Grobel, Lawrence. 2000. Above the Line: Conversations about the Movies. US. Da Capo Press, p. 24; [8] Dearborn, Mary. Happiest Man Alive: Biography of Henry Miller. NY: Simon & Shuster; p. 296; [9] Howard, Joyce (ed.). 1986. Letters by Henry Miller to Hoki Tokuda Miller; pp.155; [10] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.). 1989. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. London: Faber & Faber, p. 438; [12] Journal of Marketing, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Jan., 1971), pp. 74-85; [13] U.S. Federal Trade Commission: , p.28; [14] Decker, James., Note 22.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


I've been insanely busy with other things. I hope to get back to posting by May 9th.