Tropic of Cancer (1970):

"A prolonged insult," Henry Miller's words gush in the voiceover, along an ejaculating water fountain over the credits, but Joseph Strick's adaptation is a far less banal work than his mauling of Joyce, Genet, et al. The epoch isn't so much the free-floating Paris of the 1930s as the awkward, interim slot in censorship ratings circa 1969-1970, when a studio could consider a screen version of Miller's classic porno-comic text, about the same time a scampering renegade like Rip Torn could bounce around in a Godard collage set in Chicago. Torn plays Miller, of course, the rumpled satyr mooching change off his buds in Paris sidewalks cafés to finance his latest debauchery with the ladies. Ellen Burstyn is up first, flashing bush only to wake up in a grotty hotel room, covered with ants; Magali Noël, another nifty vaudeville turn, plays voluptuous cartoon loyalty, scoffing at Yankee prudery over venereal diseases ("It's only gonorrhea. Mmph, you Americans"). Sheila Steafel, Gisèle Grimm, Laurence Lignères, Françoise Lugagne, and Sabine Sun are amid the worn nymphs, though Torn's more lasting relationships are with his male friends, particularly James Callahan and David Baur, fellow middle-aged American expatriates no less prone to stand agog at the mysteries of Woman and liberally toss around the word "cunt." "So much crowds into my head when I say this to myself... Images." Strick's job is to provide the images, and his visuals remain as calcified as Miller's geysering raunchiness is flowing (a shot of a black kitten inserted as "muff" gets heard in the narration could stand for the waning directorial mojo), yet the author's horned-up humanism, ringing as ecstatically as on the page, overrides the filmmaker's disillusionment, itself closer to Bukowski than to Miller. The novel is a ferocious single-take, hot with life, but, with Strick behind the camera, the image cannot help but lose out to the word. Strick and Betty Botley wrote the adaptation.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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