This quirky and entertaining little film Henry Miller: Asleep and Awake has the legendary author of Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, Tropic of Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy giving a personal tour of the images festooned on the walls of his bathroom. Miller must have spent a lot of time in there to have pasted and pinned all the photographs, posters and mementoes that decorated the walls. He claims his bathroom became so talked about among friends that they would visit not to see him but to view his secret gallery. “People often come in here and get lost, as it were,” Miller explains.
They’re in here for how long? I don’t know, and I imagine something happened that they got constipated or something. But it isn’t that, of course, they get fascinated with these pictures.
I myself, to tell you the truth, spend long minutes in here viewing them all, wondering where did I get them? Why did I put them up there? They run quite a gamut from the Buddhists to the whores to the maniac who made that beautiful castle up there. In a way, again it’s very much like a… it’s a sort of a voyage, I look upon it, a voyage of ideas. We’re traveling not around the world, but around my bathroom which is a little microcosm like the world.
The pictures reflect Miller’s interest in art (Paul Gauguin, Hieronymus Bosch), his favorite writers (Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Blaise Cedrars, Hermann Hesse and a wide selection of beautiful women (including a brief appearance by fourth and final wife Hiroko Tokuda). There’s even a hidden corner for all the pornographic pictures. It’s a place for contemplation as Miller explains, “one of the beauties about it is it can take you anywhere, if you let your mind roam.”
Director Tom Schiller allows Miller to roam and connect the pictures bringing out the occasional nugget of personal information with the author finally relating a dream about escaping from an insane asylum before he returns to that “shithole New York” (or a studio backlot—the set for Hello Dolly) to bring the film to a poignant close.
My whole life seems like one long dream punctuated with nightmares.