Rose Kaufman recalls the making of Henry and June

Rose Kaufman, wife of Philip Kaufman, the director of Henry and June (1990), and co-writer of the screenplay for the film, died December 7, 2009 at her home in San Francisco at the age of 70. For Anaïs Nin: A Book of Mirrors (Sky Blue Press, 1996), she and her husband submitted a series of responses to interview questions, the compilation of which appears in the article “On Henry and June: The Making of the Movie,” pp 264-268. These are excepts from her commentary:

Henry and June sort of fell off the shelf over on Fillmore Street, at Browser Books, and I happened to have the time that night to read it, and I stayed up and finished it and got to bed about two or three in the morning. I was pretty wildly excited by it. And I felt, “Maybe there’s a film here.” It was the revelation of these two people that we had known, had met, and had been inspired by. And then we were inspired all over again by their wild passion, particularly since there was this June element. The wild card, the pivot, was June.

[Anaïs Nin’s] sense of the personal is just extraordinary; it comes out of her intuition. That’s the thing she really sought to preserve among women during a time of liberation, that we not become clones of men or less than men—like the newscasters who try to be tougher than men. She wanted us to preserve the virtues that women have, and at the same time to have the confidence and the intellect and the strength to believe in ourselves.

We responded to the fact that Henry [Miller] could respond to this delicate sort of hothouse person—that he honestly was moved and inspired by her, by her passion and her givingness and all of it, and at the same time that she could receive the strength of his own rough character, with his terrifying sincerity, his pain, his struggle. That she could perceive the strength of this guy and he could perceive the uniqueness of this woman—really, it was astonishing to me, because usually men and women go after the same. In a sense, we go after ourselves, but they didn’t. And they could help each other. She could make him more tender, more reflective—more feminine, if you will. And he could see the brilliance in her, and at the same time go half-mad trying to deal with the problems that she had with the way she expressed herself. He adored the diaries, but I think he wanted to strengthen the fiction.

[Nin] wasn’t s wealthy as most think. Miller and June were so terribly poor that Anaïs seemed wealthy next to them. In fact, her husband, Hugo, was the low man at the bank, and they didn’t have that much money. But you could live outside Paris, like Anaïs and Hugo, and have a maid for very little.

On [the set of] Henry and June it was very fluent, very open. I happened to get into the Picasso Museum, actually, and he has this series of engravings of women watching each other sleep. And it inspired the scene of women watching each other. In Paris, we would constantly improvise on things we saw… Phil’s very inventive that way. He worked out the routines with the out-of-work magicians and clowns that hung out with Henry. The performers who played them were geniuses!

The French accept it all. That’s why it was so great to shoot in Paris because the French do accept sex. It’s the course after dessert—a liqueur or whatever. They really have accepted pleasure in all its forms.

[Shooting in Paris] inspired me to think about sexuality, my own and everybody else’s, and the way sexuality is treated in our society. We still have, I think, a Playboy mentality. I hate to see that phrase because it seems so passé. But in view of the MPAA controversy [Henry and June was the first film rated NC-17] I think we have the mentality that sexuality isn’t something we feel, it isn’t part of us. So many people can’t accept that sexuality doesn’t have to be prurient or prudish.

So many people are ashamed of sex and want to get rid of it after a certain point in their lives, because they haven’t worked it out in a loving way. And then the best thing to do is to brush it away and scrape it away and say that we don’t need to think about it, read about it, see films about it, any of it.

Some people want to have sex just for the purpose of having children, and then get on with their household chores and their jobs and have an asexual existence. And some people prefer sex to be underworld, prefer the women in the boudoir so they can just have their perverse dream they want with this person, and have no relationship—they prefer sex to be separated from love.

That way they didn’t have to make the commitment that they have never made with anyone in their lives, on any level. In the Playboy brand of sex, sex with the Barbie doll, there’s no intimacy. It may contain the most flagrant insertions and everything, but there is no intimacy between two beings. It’s sort of masturbatory. And that’s part of the problem that we have in this country, this lack of flow, of caring, of the personal, the thing Anaïs wanted—to know that intimacy.

Source material is originally from Image (November 11, 1990) and American Film (September 1990).

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