Henry and June … and Rene and Francesco

Over the last few weeks I've watched two films by Philip Kaufman, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Henry and June.

Watching both films is a bit of a milestone for me, given that when they came out in theaters I was too young to have gotten much out of them – nor would I have been allowed to see either. The release of Henry and June is the first time I remember hearing about the NC-17 rating. Apparently it's the first film to receive the rating.

What I remember about The Unbearable Lightness of Being was that it showed at the old Jefferson Square theater in downtown Columbia, South Carolina. There was some technical reason my father had to see it at the Jefferson – at the time the best theater in Columbia, though people rarely went there. It may have been the screen or – if I remember – it was their sound system that made it the most proper place to screen the film.

With such films from my past, I often watch the preview prior to beginning the movie itself – as a way of taking me back in time. And perhaps also to remind myself that watching films on physical media still offers superior options, save perhaps that of convenience, over online streaming.

While watching the preview last night of Henry and June, I noticed something that would, naturally, be of particular interest to a guitarist.

What I saw was a clip from a scene in which a guitar hung on the wall. But not just any old, stock classical guitar.

No, this was a nineteenth century guitar hung on the wall in a film set in early 20th century France. The wall is in the house of Anais Nin and her husband. The image below is from that scene (during the film, not the preview).

Uma Thurman with Lacote(?) guitar in the background 

As someone who only now plays a 19th century guitar (a James Buckland after Luis Panormo) with gut strings, I couldn't help but first wonder what kind of guitar this may be and, secondly, what other visual representations of the guitar may exist in the film.

Granted, I'm embarrassingly ignorant of the real details of builders of the period, but given "19th century" + "France" even the most ignorant, like myself, might think of Rene Lacote. By the way, Lacote is not to be confused with the tennis player, Rene Lacoste.

Having just logged on to earlyromanticguitar.com looking for clues, there is an image (below) of what – judging from the filename – is a Bernhard Kresse reproduction photograph of an 1823 Lacote. Notice the fretboard, the rosette, and the moustache bridge in both images.

Kresse 1823 Lacote reproduction

Interestingly, this was not the only guitar in the film.

At another stage in the movie, also in the same house, there appears to be a headstock protruding from behind a clock in a room corner (image below).

headstock behind clock

Lastly, Anais' husband, Hugh Parker Guiler, plays a more "modern" classical guitar while, of course, his wife is cheating on him with Henry Miller only a few steps away. The image below is from that scene.

Richard E. Grant's character playing Tarrega's "Grand Vals"

The piece is Francesco Tarrega's Grand Vals. While I didn't know the piece off-hand, this also was an easy, educated guess in terms of the composer. Need a early 20th century stereotypical classical guitar piece that's accessible to all to put in your film? Tarrega's your guy. Looking the soundtrack up on Amazon.com revealed the title of the work. That was much faster than traversing scores of all of Tarrega's works.

And as a last bit of mystery, the screen credits are prefaced with some explanatory text as to the fates of all the main characters. Apparently, Guiler went on to make a few films as well.

I was able to find one, Bells of Atlantis, on YouTube here although I've not yet watched it as of this writing.

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