Dinner With Henry is exactly what the title suggests. Over a plate of food and glass of wine, the 87 year old Buddha of Brooklyn enthusiastically riffs on his hero Blaise Cendrars, D.H. Lawrence, Rimbaud and the surrealists. Shot by Richard Young and John Chesko in 1979, this “lost’ documentary has recently surfaced and it’s a wonderful peek into the life of one literature’s great provocateurs.
Henry Miller, along with Charles Bukowski, Rimbaud and Richard Brautigan, inspired me to buy a typewriter and attempt the life of a writer. Oh, what I would have done to have had a glass of wine with the great man.
Brenda Venus, the last great Miller’s life, wrote about the filming of this dinner in her 1986 book Dear, Dear Brenda: The Love Letters of Henry Miller;
Two filmmakers had requested to film Henry speaking freely about wine. When they arrived at Henry’s home, he was in “an ill temper” explains Venus, who guessed that he’d had a bad sleep. When dinner time arrived, Henry was asked to “speak frankly and spontaneously.” At first, his comments seemed negatively focused on the meal. It’s unclear who prepared the meal, but Henry does not spare anyone’s feelings by calling it “pitiful” and refusing to eat certain things, or complaining about the order of courses. With some coaxing from Brenda, Henry is finally set on track to various personal commentaries. Although he does offer some comparison between French and American wines, he doesn’t offering any real opinion of the wines set before him, which had been the whole point of the film. “I kept encouraging Henry to say something about the various wines he was sipping,” write Venus, “but he pointedly ignored me while regaling the camera with his powers as a raconteur”