On this day in 1990, Henry and June, the first NC-17 movie, premiered. The only reason I wanted to see it was because of the rating—I had to know what it meant. I knew it was the new X, so there had to be sex, and lots of it. I could tell from the trailer that it wasn’t the American formula of sex and violence, which I abhor (think Basic Instinct), and that it was set in Paris in the 1930s, which intrigued me, so off we went.
When the film began, I must have missed the part that said it was based on the diary of Anaïs Nin, so I thought that Nin and Henry Miller were fictional characters. The theatre was mostly empty—I was later to find out that the NC-17 rating killed any chance for a wide audience. I feel that the rating was uncalled for, that there was nothing in the film that didn’t cry out “R”—but I suppose it was because of the so-called “lesbian scene,” during which Nin asks two female prostitutes to make love while she watched (and most of that scene was left to the imagination). Henry and June would never be rated NC-17 today, and I imagine the rating still keeps many from seeing it, which is a shame, in my opinion.
The film, I thought, was a bit over-acted, and it was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the sexiest of films—and yet it “got” me. I felt the same way I did when I saw the first Star Wars film—like a kid on an adventure. Only this adventure was of the mind, of sensuality, of freedom, of daring, risk-taking, creativity, and joy. It was a rebellion against the status quo.
And then, when the final credits rolled, I discovered that not only were Nin and Miller real people, they wrote about everything I’d just seen. On the way home, we stopped at the used book store and I bought Diary 1 and Tropic of Cancer.
Little did I know that my curiosity about a sexy movie would shape the rest of my life and career.
To order Henry and June, the movie, click here.
To see the full trailer of the movie, click here.
This blog post is sponsored by The Quotable Anaïs Nin: 365 Quotations with Citations and The Portable Anaïs Nin.