As heartrending, tearjerking, romantic or erotic a love story may be written, they simply do not compare to the juicy tales of woe and wallowing lived by the writers themselves. Driven mad by passion, consumed by desire, enflamed with eros, writers and artists go to great lengths to win the hearts of their objects of affection, from penning volumes of ballads, sonnets and odes to carving off an ear. Henry & June and Total Eclipse are two such accounts of anguish, ardor and amour.
Henry & June (1990)
The greatest expatriated American writer living in Paris in the Twenties, Fitzgerald and Hemingway included, Henry Miller was the most blissful of romantics. An artist haunted by the demons of self-doubt, sexual repression, poverty, mental illness and the pangs of love, Henry fled New York and his torturous marriage to June Smith, an actress/whore for whom Miller suffered the most humiliating, degrading, debasement they called love. Henry emigrated to Paris where he was befriended by fledgling writer and tortured-artist magnet Anais Ninn. Henry and Ninn began a passionate affair, consumed by love and art and sex and circus performers. However, Henry’s happiness is dashed against the craggy shores of love when June mysteriously arrives, only to mock Henry incessantly and seduce Anais. Based loosely on Ninn’s diaries (and certainly culled from Miller’s own accounts of the depravity), director Philip Kaufman’s film is a beautiful tribute to Henry and Ninn and Paris in the Twenties. But most of all, this is a chronicle of a man who would plunge headfirst into the depths of despair and soar to impossible heights for love. A sick and twisted love, but love nontheless.
Total Eclipse (1995)
Rarely seen, Total Eclipse is the shocking and titillating Leo Dicaprio movie that not only shocked and titillated fans of the young heartthrob, but also fueled the “flames” of out-Hollywood speculators. Leo plays notorious French poet Arthur Rimbaud, a petulant little manboy all of seventeen when he took Parisian poesy by storm. When he wasn’t writing naughty little rhymes about diarrhea, Rimbaud was taking advantage of the good graces of respected French symbolist Paul Verlaine (David Thewlis). Verlaine, in turn, took advantage of Rimbaud. Total Eclipse dramatizes their tumultuous relationship, based on the scant evidence of the affair that actually exists, but mostly filling in the blanks with the rumors and innuendo that so shocked and titillated European gossipmongers of the 1860s. For all of the salacious details--homosexual relations, absinthe addiction, episodes of violence--Total Eclipse is also a love story, albeit a maddening love story, of two tortured artists driven to excess by love, insanity, poetry, bohemia, poverty, jealousy and all the other good parts of a love affair.
It should be noted that Henry Miller was profoundly influenced by Rimbaud and wrote a critical history of the young poet, The Time of the Assassins.