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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