DVD Review: Henry Miller: Asleep & Awake

STUDIO: IndiePix | DIRECTOR: Tom Schiller
RELEASE DATE: April 7, 2018 | PRICE: DVD $19.95
SPECS: NR | 35 min. | Documentary short | mono

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes):
Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

From 1975, Henry Miller: Asleep & Awake is a 35 minute video rumination on the pictures and mementos hung in the bathroom of the celebrated/notorious expatriate author. It’s by Tom Schiller, an Emmy winner for his writing and short films on Saturday Night Live back in the day.

Henrv Valentine Miller (1891-1980) spent his active career in Paris where he penned autobiographical novels such as Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn and Sexus. Denounced as pornography, their literary merits are still debated. The Guardian called …Cancer 59 of the 100 best novels, while The Spectator said “…is any writer less deserving of resuscitation…” than Miller. Regardless, Miller’s was a life fully lived and Schillers’s doc is an offbeat, unsentimental vignette of his later years.

The film opens with a pile of bedding starting to move. Miller gets up and walks to his bathroom. He checks his facial muscles in the mirror (making sure he hasn’t had a stroke?). He then offers the viewer a survey of the photos, prints and hangings on the wall. There’s a shot of mad king Ludwig’s castle, which bankrupted the kingdom of Bavaria. There are writers and philosophers such as Herrmann Hesse, Gurdjieff and his literary idol, the modernist Blaise Cendrars. “…writers don’t look so hot…” Miller muses, because they spend too much time alone. The Buddha fascinates him, as does his favorite artist, Hieronymous Bosch, who he pronounced  “the first surrealist.” Behind one panel are nudes that look like vintage French postcards which seem intended to titillate those who expect him to maintain his pornographic image. All these are interspersed with stories from Miller’s own experience and prolific reading.

The cliche “the kind they don’t make anymore” applies equally to Miller and this film, which is nostalgic for the writer as well as the post-WWII generation (too old to be called “baby boomers” or baby anything). They not only read Miller’s books with titillation on college campuses in the 60s and 70s (on the erotic literary spectrum between D.H. Lawrence and The Story Of O), but made icons of the authors that he admired who, today, are all quaint curiosities at best.

In a touching coda Miller appears on a street taking about growing up in Williamsburg, NY. Has he come full circle? No, he’s on the set of Hello, Dolly!.

Buy or Rent Henry Miller: Asleep & Awake
on DVD

About David

David Leopold is an actor, writer and videographer who would take a Sherpa ride up a Tibetan mountain to see an Edwige Feuillère movie.