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Review: Tropic of Cancer (1970)

Directed by: | 88 minutes | , , | Actors: , Ellen Burstyn, , , , , , , , Gisèle Grimm, Ginette Leclerc, Françoise Lugagne, , Sheila Steafel,

Joseph Strick is no stranger to film adaptations of literary classics. In 1967 ‘Ulysses’ the light of day, Strick’s adaptation of James Joyce’s magnum opus. For the 1970’s Tropic of Cancer, an adaptation of Henry Miller’s 1936 scandal novel, Stricks takes the same approach as three years earlier. Unfortunately, this is not entirely good news. The fragmentary structure, replete with scenes that jump forward and back in time, and the montages without dialogue, give the film an appealingly whimsical, almost abstract tone that undoubtedly suits the characters and story well. At the same time, the emphasis on the literary, the persistent voice-over, the unsympathetic, one-dimensional characters, the focus on sex and shock, and the lack of humor,

The beginning of the film is still fairly hopeful. Not that it is compelling, but at least one couple is followed, with some emotions also coming into play (when Mona says that she would have been very sad if Henry had not come), with the expectation that this relationship will will deepen and the viewer’s investment will be paid back. But unfortunately Mona (Ellen Burstyn) quickly appears when it turns out that her boyfriend is a freeloader, he takes her to a shabby hotel and really only seems to want sex. Although immediately after her departure Henry (Rip Torn) proclaims through a voice-over that he now feels like in hell and life without Mona actually makes no sense, the viewer does not notice these feelings in the character himself.

In fact, Henry’s entire life – at least in the time span of the film story – consists of sex, talking about sex (preferably as vulgar as possible), and hanging out with his like-minded expat friends. The summary of this story may give the impression that this is a romantic life of liberal bohemians, full of philosophical musings, dreams about the future, and on a cinematic level, Nouvelle Vague-esque artistry, but this is hardly present. to be. Aside from some stylistic revivals, this cinematic version of Miller’s book is a remarkably flat affair, where women are treated and discussed as disposables and their genitals are featured frequently, both visually and in the dialogue. While some dialogues are intriguing, is leaned on a bit too much and too literally, just like Strick did in ‘Ulysses’, and this contemplation (when not talking about platitudes) is difficult to reconcile with Henry’s behavior in the film itself. Fortunately, some side characters are interesting – including a friend of Henry’s who talks about his escapades with an (for him) too old woman and a French woman with a hot temperament (and a venereal disease, as it turns out a little later) – and the elliptical film style keeps the viewer sharp, but at the end of the film only an empty feeling remains. The nude is presented in a less provocative way, the sex is “assembly line work” and the characters (especially Henry himself) come across as vulgar, pretentious nihilists. Surely that was not the intention of Strick, or Miller himself. just like Strick did in ‘Ulysses’, this contemplation (when not talking about platitudes) is difficult to reconcile with Henry’s behavior in the film itself. Fortunately, some side characters are interesting – including a friend of Henry’s who talks about his escapades with an (for him) too old woman and a French woman with a hot temperament (and a venereal disease, as it turns out a little later) – and the elliptical film style keeps the viewer sharp, but at the end of the film only an empty feeling remains. The nude is presented in a less provocative way, the sex is “assembly line work” and the characters (especially Henry himself) come across as vulgar, pretentious nihilists. Surely that was not the intention of Strick, or Miller himself. just like Strick did in ‘Ulysses’, this contemplation (when not talking about platitudes) is difficult to reconcile with Henry’s behavior in the film itself. Fortunately, some side characters are interesting – including a friend of Henry’s who talks about his escapades with an (for him) too old woman and a French woman with a hot temperament (and a venereal disease, as it turns out a little later) – and the elliptical film style keeps the viewer sharp, but at the end of the film only an empty feeling remains. The nude is presented in a less provocative way, the sex is “assembly line work” and the characters (especially Henry himself) come across as vulgar, pretentious nihilists. Surely that was not the intention of Strick, or Miller himself. and this contemplation (when not talking about platitudes) is difficult to reconcile with Henry’s behavior in the film itself. Fortunately, some side characters are interesting – including a friend of Henry’s who talks about his escapades with an (for him) too old woman and a French woman with a hot temperament (and a venereal disease, as it turns out a little later) – and the elliptical film style keeps the viewer sharp, but at the end of the film only an empty feeling remains. The nude is presented in a less provocative way, the sex is “assembly line work” and the characters (especially Henry himself) come across as vulgar, pretentious nihilists. Surely that was not the intention of Strick, or Miller himself. and this contemplation (when not talking about platitudes) is difficult to reconcile with Henry’s behavior in the film itself. Fortunately, some side characters are interesting – including a friend of Henry’s who talks about his escapades with an (for him) too old woman and a French woman with a hot temperament (and a venereal disease, as it turns out a little later) – and the elliptical film style keeps the viewer sharp, but at the end of the film only an empty feeling remains. The nude is presented in a less provocative way, the sex is “assembly line work” and the characters (especially Henry himself) come across as vulgar, pretentious nihilists. Surely that was not the intention of Strick, or Miller himself. Fortunately, some side characters are interesting – including a friend of Henry’s who talks about his escapades with an (for him) too old woman and a French woman with a hot temperament (and a venereal disease, as it turns out a little later) – and the elliptical film style keeps the viewer sharp, but at the end of the film only an empty feeling remains. The nude is presented in a less provocative way, the sex is “assembly line work” and the characters (especially Henry himself) come across as vulgar, pretentious nihilists. Surely that was not the intention of Strick, or Miller himself. Fortunately, some side characters are interesting – including a friend of Henry’s who talks about his escapades with an (for him) too old woman and a French woman with a hot temperament (and a venereal disease, as it turns out a little later) – and the elliptical film style keeps the viewer sharp, but at the end of the film only an empty feeling remains. The nude is presented in a less provocative way, the sex is “assembly line work” and the characters (especially Henry himself) come across as vulgar, pretentious nihilists. Surely that was not the intention of Strick, or Miller himself. but at the end of the film only an empty feeling remains. The nude is presented in a less provocative way, the sex is “assembly line work” and the characters (especially Henry himself) come across as vulgar, pretentious nihilists. Surely that was not the intention of Strick, or Miller himself. but at the end of the film only an empty feeling remains. The nude is presented in a less provocative way, the sex is “assembly line work” and the characters (especially Henry himself) come across as vulgar, pretentious nihilists. Surely that was not the intention of Strick, or Miller himself.

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