Blue Underground // 1970 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // January 27th, 2011
"Morally offensive. A portrait of human depravity." -- The Catholic Bishops Board of Review on Quiet Days in Clichy
There are few writers I love more than Henry Miller. Sure, I love reading sex scenes and would never deny that's part of his appeal (he wrote them very well, after all), but he means more than that to me. What I love most about his work is how he sets a scene. His language is so free and bright; what he lacks in subtlety, he makes up for in the sheer ecstasy of writing. His novella, Quiet Days in Clichy, published in 1956, was banned for years in this country and, while it isn't Miller's best work or a substantial piece of fiction at all, it is a lot of fun to read in its own boring and sex-filled way. Director Jens Jørgen Thorsen made a film in 1970, banned itself for many years, that mimics the story in every way possible. It's a light and breezy film, full of life and full of sex. It isn't the most memorable film in the world, but there's no adaptation of Henry Miller that fits his language and attitude more perfectly.
Joey (Paul Valjean) spends his days in Paris drinking and sleeping with women. His roommate Carl (Wayne Rodda) does the same. Expat writers living in France, they have few francs and often hungry bellies, but many of their other organs stay perfectly satisfied.
Quiet Days in Clichy is little more than a series of moments over a few months in Henry Miller's life sometime in the 1930s. The movie, in a slightly different order, commits these moments to film without much adulteration. It's a sexually explicit, hedonistic romp through Paris and Luxembourg. There's no meaning, just wine and sex and some bread when you can afford it. It's pure romance, not between a man and a woman, but between a man and his life.
Thorsen, a Swedish director working in Paris in the late 1960s, transfers the action from the time the story was written (which notes no specific year) into his time frame and it's a lovely little snapshot of that world. The film is far from perfect, and the the acting is amateurish at best. Many of the women cast were prostitutes hired off the Paris streets and it shows. They were not cast for their thespian skills, however, and they perform their roles with all the enthusiasm their profession demands. This is a dirty film, outwardly and proudly dirty, but it stops just shy of hardcore. This is pre-Deep Throat action and resembles the early shy nudie films of Thorsen's Swedish homeland much more than any kind of pornography.
Quiet Days in Clichy is by no means a great film, but it's an effective adaptation and a fine piece of work. Essentially all of the dialog is taken from Miller's own pen and everybody looks thrilled to be part of the production. A cult film that sat unwatched for many years, it's arty and frivolous and altogether shallow, but I love it and I'm glad it's around.
Blue Underground is the undisputed champ of niche labels, and they once again do beautiful work with their Blu-ray edition of Quiet Days in Clichy. It's not a huge upgrade from their 2002 SD release, but enough is different that it's worth the upgrade. The image transfer is basically perfect, with only a very occasional defect due to the films age. The black and white contrast looks spectacular with a gorgeous palette of gray tones. It's slightly better than the original DVD version, but that looked great and the improvement is not significant. The sound is mono, and there's only so much that can be done here, but it sounds great for what it is, perfectly clear music and dialog throughout.
The extras are great; though a few pieces from the original have been excised for this release, some choice pieces were added in. They amount to a mere three interviews totaling approximately an hour, but though scant, they're all quite valuable. We start on a discussion with Country Joe McDonald, in which he describes the writing and performing of his dirty theme song. He's got a few good stories and, while it has little to do with anything but a very small part of the film, it's a very funny talk. The next two interviews are both with Barney Rosset, founder of Grove Press and personal hero of mine. He's the man who introduced the United States to Miller, Jean Genet, and Samuel Beckett, along with a host of other "degenerate" authors, and somebody who would fight some of the most important battles in the war on obscenity. Rosset first, in a piece from the original release, discusses his history as a reader of Henry Miller and the founding of Grove as a means to publish Tropic of Cancer before moving onto the business of importing films, dirty of course, like I Am Curious and our film here. It's a great interview, but it's topped by his second interview, this time an archival piece from Midnight Blue, the talk show by Al Goldstein, founder of Screw Magazine. A Michael Dukakis joke dates the episode to about 1987, but the timeline is unclear. Here, they barely discuss Quiet Days in Clichy at all, rather talking about the philosophy of pornography and obscenity. It's a brilliant piece and, alone, makes the upgrade worth your time.
The feminist argument about Henry Miller in general and Quiet Days in Clicy in particular is absolutely valid. In Miller's stories, women are equal to wine, a cherished but consumable commodity. The film is such a close representation of his work, that it's not surprising the screen version treats women the same. Some people will find this treatment mildly offensive, and I understand that. You have to hand it to Henry Miller for one thing, though. He was honest about his feelings towards the women in his life, at least in print, and if you can't forgive his machismo or his misogyny, you must at least respect Miller's (and Thorsen's, by proxy in making the film) honesty in regards to his feelings. Like them or not, these characters are open books, and I appreciate that.
Quiet Days in Clichy is a dirty book and a dirty film, but I'd have it no other way. The film captures the free and easy nature of Henry Miller's novella and it's a tiny gem of erotic cinema.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Not Rated