Tom Schiller’s 1975 Journey Through Henry Miller’s Bathroom (NSFW)

No sur­prise, you might think, that a doc­u­men­tary about the man who wrote Trop­ic of Can­cer would mer­it an NSFW label. But what if I were to tell you that this par­tic­u­lar doc­u­men­tary spends almost every one of its 35 min­utes in Hen­ry Miller’s bath­room? Yet the writer has imbued this bath­room with a great deal of noto­ri­ety, at least in his cir­cles, thanks to how care­ful­ly he adorned its walls with visu­al curiosi­ties. Fol­low­ing its sub­ject as he grunts him­self awake, puts on a robe, and tells the sto­ries behind what­ev­er the cam­era sees, Hen­ry Miller Asleep and Awake uses these bath­room walls as a gate­way into his mind. We see repro­duc­tions of paint­ings by Hierony­mus Bosch and Paul Gau­guin. We see por­traits of Miller’s per­son­al­ly inspir­ing lumi­nar­ies, like Her­mann Hesse and the less­er-known Swiss mod­ernist nov­el­ist Blaise Cen­drars. And of course, we see a still from the Trop­ic of Can­cer movie and the expect­ed amount of nude pin-ups. “I put these here express­ly for the peo­ple who want to be shocked,” Miller explains.

Tom Schiller, the doc­u­men­tary’s direc­tor, made his name cre­at­ing short films for Sat­ur­day Night Live. Obscu­ri­ty-ori­ent­ed cinephiles may know him best as the direc­tor of Noth­ing Lasts For­ev­er, a 1984 com­e­dy fea­tur­ing Bill Mur­ray and Dan Aykroyd that, to this day, lan­guish­es some­where in Warn­er Broth­ers’ legal depart­ment. Schiller received this guid­ed tour of Miller’s bath­room — and, by exten­sion, his mem­o­ry — in 1975, when the author had reached his 82nd year and fifth mar­riage; his wife, Hiroko “Hoki” Toku­da, appears in one of the wal­l’s pho­tographs. He also points out a blown-up cov­er of a favorite Junichi­ro Taniza­ki nov­el, a scrap of Chi­nese text for which every Chi­nese vis­i­tor has a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent trans­la­tion, an image of a leg­en­dar­i­ly randy Bud­dhist monk, dra­mat­ic por­traits of Chi­nese actress­es and Japan­ese bar girls, and — in the absence of reli­gious iconog­ra­phy of any oth­er kind — count­less rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Bud­dha. And if you’d like to see some­thing else from Asia pre­sent­ed in an espe­cial­ly Milleresque spir­it, don’t miss when Schiller’s cam­era turns toward the show­er. Just make sure you’re not watch­ing at work. Seri­ous­ly.

The films has been added to our big col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online. Look under Doc­u­men­tary.

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • I was a hope­less dream­er at age 19 and read through Hen­ry Miller’s works as a hotel front desk clerk one sum­mer. I even­tu­al­ly took a road trip to San Fran­cis­co and just by chnace found myself parked in front of Hen­ry Miller’s home. I was over­whelmed to be so close to the man I had come to idol­ize that sum­mer. I sat on a rock by the stream behind the house and want­ed to take some­thing with me from that won­der­ful place. I had a small peb­ble from the creek in my hand. So, I ate the peb­ble.

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