Henry & June and Backbeat are two very good movies with
similar views on artists and artists' loves.
Henry & June was the first film to carry an NC-17 rating. It was meant to be the trailblazer for a new breed of films that were adult, but without the smut associations the 'X' label carried. (Unfortunately, this goal failed, and NC-17 is nearly considered box office suicide, a loss.) It's the story of Henry Miller, the author whose books were once banned in all English- speaking countries, and his years in Paris. It covers the interplay between him, his wife June (who travels between Brooklyn and Paris) Anais Nin (whose diaries much of the movie is drawn from) and her husband Hugo. Themes of friendship, love, the meaning of fidelity, and art are intertwined with Anais' exploration of her own adult identity; her attraction to Miller, June, and Hugo.
Henry & June contains many erotic scenes, but they are produced in a very formalistic way, and manage to miss the rawness and truth that gave Miller's semi-autobiographical works their power. The film has a lot of nuances that you may not catch unless you've read some of Anais' journals; even then, the texture of the film is rich enough to merit repeated viewings.
Backbeat aims a little lower in terms of artistic goals than Henry & June, but succeeds admirably in capturing the feel of Hamburg of the 60s, where the Beatles first began to capture attention as a musical force. You see the attraction / tension between John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe (the fifth Beatle, who at that time was beginning a career as a painter) and Astrid Kirchherr, the German photographer who acts as somewhat of a bridge into the bohemian community of the place.
This film is a treat for fans of the Beatles, although the remaining three Beatles aren't given much room as three-dimensional characters. The soundtrack, played by a cover band consisting of many big names in modern rock, is excellent.
Both films capture a feeling of the eras they cover convincingly. You really feel as if you're seeing the world and the loves that shaped these artists and their works.
What struck me about both films was the accomplishments of the 'supporting characters'. Both works end with texts going over the lives of the people portrayed. Anais' husband Hugo, portrayed as a loving but stifled banker, was an experimental film maker whose films are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Klaus Voormann, who loses his 'soulsibling' Astrid to the loose-cannon artistry of Stuart Sutcliffe, went on to create the cover to The Beatles' Revolver album (OK, not my favorite piece of album art, but still...) and played Bass in Lennon's Plastic Ono Band. To me, these ending texts are really the saga of the other men, the ones whose loves might've been the ones immortalized in film decades after the fact, if only fate had been different.
Two excellent films, worth renting or buying on video. (And after you see the films, you can read the books, see the photographs, and listen to the music.)