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Henry & June poses paradox of innocence and sexuality

HENRY & JUNE

Directed by Philip Kaufman.

Starring Maria de Medeiros, Fred Ward, Uma Thurman, and Richard E. Grant.

At the Cheri and Harvard Square.

By JOANNA STONE

"I FEEL INNOCENT," pronounces the protagonist, Anais, time and again during the course of Henry and June. Indeed, in perhaps the most controversially erotic film of the decade, we find a protagonist who personifies innocence. However, this same protagonist is the incarnation of female sexuality. And here is where the paradox arises.

Lying naked next to her husband's best friend, fantasizing about her lover's wife, Anais maintains, even intensifies, her own innocence. For it is not her acts which dictate her state of innocence, it is instead her self-perception. Never during the course of Henry and June do we forget that we are seeing the decadent European society of the early 1930s -- around which the film is centered -- through the eyes of Anais.

Henry & June is based on the unexpurgated diaries of Anais Nin. Thus, the world we see in this film is the world as described by the diary entries of a young woman. The film skillfully maintains a diary-like quality to it, not only through constant reference to the diaries of Anais, but also through an unreal-world quality heightened through all mediums of the film. Indeed, the dialogue uttered can be thought of as that of writers -- overly eloquent, lacking spontaneity. And the events that occur throughout the film lack a certain credibility -- presumably dramatized through the perception of a writer.

When Anais first embarks on her affair with Henry Miller, it is behind a stage on which her oblivious husband plays the bongos. The fantastic quality of this unlikely scenario is heightened through the photography, a translucent red screen separating Anais from her husband, his shadowed image and a close up of his hands shows him playing the drums to a climax. One can imagine that this would be the scene as recalled by a romantic writer. Indeed, the quality of the photography appears picturesque throughout. Even the film's finale has a fairy-tale quality to it -- not until the end do we first become cognizant of sunlight -- consistent with Anais' imagination.

It is by no mistake that Marie de Medeiros, who plays Anais, is able to appear overtly wide-eyed through the film. Medeiros manages to portray the dichotomy of innocence and erotica with great deftness. It is Anais' role to tell us a story, it is Medeiros' role to hold the film, and she does so beautifully. The audience can sympathize with, envy, or abhor Anais, yet with Medeiros' strong performance one never loses interest in her.

Thus, the film Henry & June is not about the author Henry Miller and his wife June; it is about how Anais Nin perceived Henry and June, how she loved and sexually yearned for them, and how she viewed herself in relation to both of them. It is indeed a rendition of Anais' tribute to them.

Similar to his work with Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, director Phillip Kaufman does a superb job of taking a written work of art and transforming it to the screen. Through such a transformation, he does not lose any of the work's original point of view or original naive beauty.

Equal in greatness to the film's achievement of the visualization of the written records of one woman's sexual awakening, is the exceptional performance by Uma Thurman as Henry Miller's wife, June. So rare is it in today's cinema to witness a performance which lacks flaw. Yet, Thurman manages to produce just such flawless work. She is completely believable as the promiscuous, lower-class girl from Brooklyn (quite a change from her upper-class, 18th century virgin role in Dangerous Liaisons). If it is Medeiros who holds the audience, it is Thurman who steals the show.

The amount of quality and talent displayed in this film is far too expansive to list. All that can succinctly be said is that, like Kaufman's earlier work (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Henry & June is a must-see.

MIT FESTIVAL JAZZ ENSEMBLE

Debut compact disc.

$8 general, $7 MIT/Wellesley students.

[ah]

By MARK ROMAN

MIT'S FESTIVAL JAZZ ENSEMBLE has been making a name for itself over the past several years, through local performances and national festivals. Despite the turnover that comes with a collegiate career, the ensemble has managed overall continuity and consistency. With the release of their debut compact disc, they can now build on that reputation with radio stations and the listening public.

The 11 selections on the disc offer 70 minutes of music, but even at that length the listener won't feel put upon or overloaded. The production is smooth and clean, and the sound a pleasure. The music covers a broad range, demonstrating the versatility in the ensemble's repertoire, from more quiet, contemplative pieces to the full-scale swing normally associated with jazz orchestras. Categorizing the music isn't a very easy thing to do, and as tired as that description gets to be, it is entirely appropriate for describing the ensemble and its work.

Represented on the disc are five years of Jazz Ensemble history, highlighting the involvement of the students who played and the people who took the ensemble beyond a pedestrian student activity and made it into a serious and worthwhile student endeavor. Chief on that list are two champions of the ensemble, Herb Pomeroy and Jamsheid Sharifi '83. Pomeroy, a widely recognized jazz arranger, musician, and educator, organized the band in 1962 and conducted it for 22 years. Under his direction, the Jazz Ensemble earned national acclaim at collegiate jazz festivals, and gained its reputation as an outstanding collegiate band.

Sharifi, a graduate of MIT and the Berklee School of Music, and former member of the ensemble, assumed directorship after Pomeroy. Sharifi's role is particularly notable, in that most of the selections on this disc are his original compositions.

It is this kind of personal involvement and creative input that distinguishes the work of the ensemble from other concert jazz bands, and characterizes the approach of the musicians as well. For many this is not an academic effort, but a matter of personal commitment -- something outside of their academic program which they find the time to do. It is this dedication that has earned the ensemble its well-deserved reputation -- even among music schools -- and has fueled the creation of this album, from the composition, arrangement, and performance of the music, to the engineering, production, and realization of this disc.

Arrangement and direction on the entire disc is first-rate. Larger ensemble work can lapse into an incoherent, unwieldy sound without able direction and charting, while the MIT Jazz Ensemble seems to effortlessly avoid these pitfalls in their performance. Especially pleasing are the quieter pieces, like "Turn" and "Rain," because they demonstrate the musicianship of the entire ensemble and the ability of the trumpeters to elicit the power of their instruments without overplaying. Sharifi's orchestration makes rich use of a variety of instruments and exploits the talents of the musicians. "Crossing Time Zones" demonstrates the technical capability of the group, with parts scored in different time signatures. The best work on the album, however, is "Katarina's First Song," an original composition by Sharifi. The arrangement and performance show the band at its best.

More uptempo and swinging are "Boston Baritone," "One Road," and "Giant Steps," with their rock-solid rhythm and precision. The ensemble builds from a quiet opening on "Giant Steps," to lean, swinging solos from saxophonists Mark Messier '93 and Steve Saito '91, and pianist Michael Valdez '90. The Miles Davis composition, "Tutu," gets a fine reading from the rhythm section and Ray Zepeda '88 on saxophone. The tune seems to extend into something longer than it should be, and while the performance is no liability, it squanders some of the punch it builds in the beginning.

Across all the tunes, however, the saxophonists repeatedly stand out. Their sound is wonderfully tight and cohesive, and the musicianship on the solos remarkable. Witness the soloists' work on "Turn" and "Katarina," and the entire section on "One Road." Zepeda has clear command of his instrument, which is featured on "Turn" and "Katarina," as does Messier on "One Road" or Susan Ward '92 on "The Change," none of which ever sound rehashed or gratuitous.

Where does the ensemble take it from here? Their debut disc illustrates the evolution of some serious musical talent, and gives us a hint at how much potential there is waiting in the wings. The MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble has done remarkably well with this disc, and it should earn further respect among the Boston jazz community, collegiate ensembles, and beyond.

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(The MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble CD will be on sale today in Lobby 10. The ensemble will perform in a CD release concert on Oct. 20 in Kresge at 9 pm.)