Love the author? Rereading something pithy? Here are films – fiction and documentary- about the person.
Top photo: Keira Knightley (L) and Dominic West attend the “Colette” premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival at Eccles Theater.
Colette 2018 Directed by Wash Westmoreland. Dazzled by older, cosmopolitan Henry Gauthier-Villars = Willy (Dominic West), Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightly) marries the “literary entrepreneur” and moves to Paris. (Willy hires people to ghost write books, affixing his own name.) Times are tough, his living style high. When Colette shares some of her school day stories, he suggests she write them down, then dismisses the collection as lacking plot. When money becomes tight,Willy takes a chance, signs the manuscript, and has it published.
The book is a roaring success. Willy publicly soaks up glory while locking his wife in a room to complete a sequel. Again – mass popularity. The Gauthier-Villars become one of Paris’s “it” couples. As Colette is exposed to life, she gains confidence.
An affair with Louisiana debutante Georgie Raoul-Duval (Eleanor Tomlinson) embarrasses her husband who has his own frequent liaisons, but accurately senses he’s losing control. Colette bases her next book on the ménage. Curiously, it’s Willy’s underhanded business practices that provokes her leaving. The rest is history. A colorful glimpse at the author’s early life. Knightly is much better than expected. Free with Amazon Prime,
Nora 2007 Directed by Pat Murphy. The story of Nora Barnacle (Susan Lynch) and James Joyce (Ewan McGregor), Unlike her conforming sex, Nora is not only open to meeting Joyce on the street, but becomes, when the time is right, an aggressor. She’s a freethinking country girl working at a respectable hotel. The couple tumbles into passion and travels to Trieste where Joyce has secured a job at a boarding school that doesn’t know about Nora.
Adrift without the language, dealing with Joyce’s selfishness and alcoholism, Nora has children and holds fast. She builds his confidence and stills his fear, but can’t temper violent, baseless, jealousy. Joyce’s books are banned. Life is threadbare. Joyce leaves, Nora takes to her bed. He returns, they move to Paris, times change…McGregor is a bit soft in this role, but Lynch is terrific. Free with Amazon Prime.
Priest of Love 1977 Based on the biography by Harry T. Moore. Directed by Christopher Miles. A story of D.H. Lawrence (Ian McKellen) and his wife Frieda – née Von Richthofen (Janet Suzman). Beset by scandal from his erotic writing (book burning, banning, confiscation), Lawrence and Frieda, who abandoned a husband and three children, travel to Mexico, New Mexico (under the patronage of Mabel Dodge-Ava Gardner), England, Italy and France relying on the kindness of friends.
Their relationship is explosive, Lawrence often seems bipolar, the travelogue is exhausting. Though a splendid actor, McKellen is the loser here, Suzman, wonderful. With Penelope Keith, Ava Gardner, John Gielgud and Jorge Rivero. Free with Amazon Prime.
Anias Nin Observed 1974 A rambling interview with Nin herself during which we neither see nor hear the interlocutor. Offers a glimpse of her watchful grace, free thinking, measured response and cultivated persona. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Adventures of Anais Nin 2014 Directed by Sarah Aspinal. Anais Nin was, once she emotionally broke out, a sensual, bisexual libertine and the forerunner of modern, confessional, erotic writing. She had a long affair with Henry Miller in Paris while married to her banker husband. (Miller was married to June who supported him from America.) In this film, an actress playing the author (speech pattern is terrific, appearance, not so much) is interviewed by a young woman journalist asking specific questions with reference to published diaries.
Each story/liaison is manifest. Women’s nudity (including that of June) and men’s fascination with her play out evocatively. Gary Dunnington is wonderful as Miller and looks just like him. True to diaries and very likely accurate, if somewhat theatrical. Free with Amazon Prime.
Henry and June 1990 Loosely based on the Anais Nin book. Directed by Philip Kaufman. Beautifully cast with look-alikes Fred Ward (Henry Miller), Uma Thurman (June Miller), Maria de Madeiros (Anais Nin). This take zeroes in on Miller’s tempestuous relationship with wife June, Nin’s Paris affair with the writer, and a visit by June during which the women become in-passing lovers. All true according to Nin’s diaries. Thurman is vibrantly over the top, but then June was too. Rent on Netflix.
Henry Miller 2017 Directed by Gero von Boehm. Featuring “The Prophet of Desire” himself. Henry Miller’s books are unabashedly about sex and, according to various talking heads – including his son – a search for the unattainable perfect woman. Friend Erica Jong declares him a romantic who created the persona for which he’s famous.
Miller’s young life was, in his own words, full of “frustration, humiliation, starvation, and despair.” On the dime of his wife, June, a taxi dancer who assumed he’d never make money, the writer fled the U.S. (he called it “The Air Conditioned Nightmare”) for Paris where he lived many years creating books that would long be banned. “You can’t rise without having your feet in the mud.”
There, Miller met and conducted a long, passionate affair with the quixotic, married author Anais Nin who wrote at length about the relationship and began a lifetime friendship with the photographer Brassai, whose images of the underbelly of Paris in the 1920s have become iconic.
We see the subject in New York, Paris, and California, often with beautiful, naked young women on his arm. Miller married five times and, when he could afford it, held court every night even if ill. Cohesive and entertaining. Free on Amazon Prime.
Revealing Mr. Maugham 2012 Directed by Michael House. A thorough look at the author with interview clips, period footage, photos, excerpts from films made of Maugham’s books, and talking heads of family and famous authors. Maugham’s pronounced stutter kept him from becoming either of his guardian’s choices, a lawyer or clergyman. He had medical training, never became a doctor, yet volunteered during the war and later went into the intelligence service. (A series called Ashenden describes that period.)
Successful quite early, first as a playwright “the aim of drama is not to instruct, but to please,” then with short stories, and finally novels, the writer lived what we’d call the good life. Its personal side was, however, somewhat unexpected. Maugham was forced to marry a woman he impregnated (on a fluke), and traveled extensively with younger men in order to be sexually free.
Two male relationships in particular are described, the love of his life and then, a last companion, who poisoned him against family, seduced Maugham into writing a book that ruined his reputation, and inherited everything. Illuminating and well edited. One gets to like him. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Huxley on Huxley 2009 Directed by Mary Ann Braubach. A documentary of literary prophet Aldous Huxley’s life through the perspective of his wife, Laura who was successively a virtuoso violist, psychotherapist, and author. We meet the remarkable Mrs. Huxley, 89 years young, at the couple’s house in the Hollywood Hills; hear from Ram Dass, Aldous’ nephew, and Timothy Leary (he first wanted to save chemicals for use by learned people, the second to disseminate them like Johnny Appleseed), Nick Nolte, Mike Wallace…
The polymath who wrote some of the most cynical/scathing views of future society –“man is subordinated by his inventions”- is repeatedly described as romantic, gentle, and kind.
Aldous Huxley wrote 50 books. Those about hallucinogens fostered a revolution. “Let me get this straight,” he said on the initial call to Timothy Leary, “you’re experimenting with drugs to expand consciousness…I’ll be there in five minutes.” (LSD etc. was legal then.) The book, Doors of Perception resulted. Huxley’s last novel, The Island, envisions a free spirited paradise which arrives opposite to previous fatalism. A good look at the man even reflected through his wife. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top photo: Bigstock