Sunday, July 24, 2005

Fred Ward's Back

What made me think of this? Maybe it was bluegirl's posting of a couple of paintings Friday, the work of her husband (go look). I love this movie, Henry & June, for a number of reasons, but one of them is certainly the beauty of Fred Ward, playing Henry Miller, in bed with Anaïs Nin (Maria de Medeiros), his back in particular. I used to see him with a trainer at Gold's in Venice, and all I can say is that the work paid off (per Short Cuts, a couple of years later, the front shaped up, too). Ah, gym!

But there's much more to this fantasia on Nin and Miller than beautiful people fucking. It's about why they fuck, and sex as an exploration into unknown territory, and throwing away your provisions on the trek - it's almost a primer on Lawrence's notion of pursuing sex in the head, but it's not from repression. It's more like a grasping for sensation, and through sensation, for power, for knowledge. June, Henry's wife (Uma Thurman in a role that proved unequivocally to me that she had awesome resources) is steamrolled by her husband and Nin; she's just not in their hunger league - she hasn't their ruthlessness. And while she's the most spectacular and touching of their victims, she's not alone.

It's funny, but I dragged my psycho semi-ex to a screening in LA, and in spite of his enormous sexual street cred, he was - ahem - rather offended. Prudery from the oddest places. It's a very sexy movie, and because it engages the emotional costs of sex - especially to the bystanders in relationships - it may be too much for some people. Yet it has a lightness (there are jugglers and illusionists performing in the backgrounds and the edges of the frame) that promises some kind of survival, even for the disappointed. You don't get dipped all the way into the marvelous scuzz of Tropic of Cancer, for example, but watching Fred lop off the top of a perfect soufflé, plop it on his plate, and pass the rest on is - fuck! - delicious.

One thing I do find intriguing. On the IMDb site that gives ratings, women give this movie higher ratings than men. I'd be interested in feedback on that from readers. I'm not going to link to it, but John Simon in The National Review gave it one of his most deeply misogynist spits.

I already have a VCR of this one, but, savoring (and not having a tape player), I am pretty sure I want the DVD. Part of me can never let go of la vie bohémienne, just for sanity.


Lance Mannion said...

Strange thing. I never wanted to see this film, despite its starring Uma Thurman. You have Fred. I have Uma.

Something about those people---the real people, not the actors playing them---has always put me off.

But now that I have NetFlix and your recommendation, I think I'll give it a try.

Btw, the title of the post got me excited. I thought it meant Fred Ward has returned. He's a great actor and I don't know why he hasn't been in more movies over the last ten years. Last thing I saw him in was Altman's The Player.

Maybe I haven't been going to the right movies.

grishaxxx said...

I know what you mean, Lance - the Cult of Nin went right by me, often, and I'm sort of ashamed to say that didn't read "Tropic of Cancer" until after I saw H&J. I liked Miller, though - he's vital.
In the movie, there's a lot of Nin, but she is (forgive me) half a ninny, too, so the experience isn't solemn. On the other hand, Maria de Medeiros (whom you may remember as Bruce Willis's honey in Pulp Fiction,) captures the goofiness of her falling for Henry and the pots they stir together. They're like naughty children, but Kaufman somehow makes it all romantic, and hot, too. Lots of Brassai setups around this and that corner.

What Thurman gives it is a sense of the cost of all that exploration - it really hurts her. But the whole thing is a kind of carnival - and like a good one, it's a bit scary in how far it and its characters are willing to go.

And re Fred Ward - yeah, he's great. I love the one where he's the cop in Miami - Miami Blues? With the choppers? :-)