Our review of Quiet Days In Clichy (Blu-Ray), published January 27th, 2011, is also available.
"Come on people and listen to me, I'll tell you the story of Carl and Joey…"—Country Joe McDonald
Joey and Carl are two liberated bohemians living in Paris during the 1960s. Joey is a writer who finds the city of lights filled with many carnal charms. He can literally sense sex in the air. Carl, on the other hand, is a prototypical Frenchman whose appetite for physical pleasure is insatiable. Together they roam the streets, picking up prostitutes and other willing, wanton woman to calm their near-desperate need for the female form. Occasionally scandalous, as when Carl beds a 15 year old runaway, and sad, as when Joey treats a needy hooker so kindly that she literally melts at his feet, our hard hearted heroes adventures turn the Champes Elysees into one big moveable flesh feast. Yet without true love in their lives, they feel as empty as their poverty row bellies.
Quiet Days in Clichy is the kind of film that many would consider "arty" or "experimental." It's a movie that would show up only as part of a college class or a chic snobbish festival. And that's too bad, since it is a very down to earth and quite philosophical cautionary tale about sex and its addictive, destructive power. Based on an infamous 1956 Henry Miller novel, it takes a frank, fresh, and fetish-like look at free love and its consequences. In Joey and Carl, our voracious omni-whores, we see the unloved dead; men doomed to walk the streets penniless and hungry, destined to be (proudly) infected with numerous cases of venereal disease and slave to the loneliness of physical love without emotional connection. There is a definite misogynistic, anti-feminism playing throughout the sordid vignettes. Women are viewed (and considered) stupid, juvenile, sluttish, brash, vulgar, and more often than not, willing to trade their virtue for a few hundred francs. Quiet Days in Clichy is not an exploitation movie, per se. It is more an exploration of the sexual liberation movement and the battered, beaten victims left in its wake.
This is brave, inventive filmmaking at its early '70s best. There are techniques that director Jens Jorgen Thorsen uses to draw attention to himself and his vision. He employs cartoon thought balloons, subtitle exposition, and voiceover interludes throughout the movie. He also upsets his mise-en-scène by using still photomontages to illustrate a trip to Copenhagen and random, interruptive jump cuts to set tone and tension. He repeats shots and sets the camera in provocative places. These composition and narrative tricks would seemingly sink another film, making it too clever and crafty in a self-serving fashion. But that is not the case here. Quiet Days in Clichy is a movie primarily about sex, its joy, its freedom, and its degradation. The cinematic monkeyshines underscore the various triumphs and tribulations that derive from a lifetime in pursuit of physical pleasure alone. Some of the dialogue (apparently lifted directly from Miller's book) is profound, explaining the hedonistic ideology while acknowledging its limitations. Be warned; this is a film with explicit material and graphic scenes of copulation, but it is also a funny and tragic testament to the free spirits and the hollow heart they all seem to carry.
The Big Blue U (otherwise known as Blue Underground) does a terrific job with this DVD release. We are treated to a pristine, uncut anamorphic transfer that preserves Thorsen's unusual 1.66:1 framing and all his borderline hardcore histrionics. Films of this type come alive in monochrome. Color would render them overly comic and sickeningly explicit. The noir flavor is preserved in the sharp contrast between black and white. As for extras, we are treated to an extensive photo and poster gallery. There is an informative set of talent bios for Miller and Thorsen (the director's belief in the situationalist dogma explains a great deal about the film's technique) along with liner notes, which outline the film's legal battles. We also get a rather odd set of interviews. One is with Country Joe McDonald, who wrote the sing-song musical score (and seems fairly proud of it). The other is with longtime Miller editor Barney Rossett. While entertaining, they both offer only ancillary insight into the film and its creation. Still, for a title virtually unknown in the US (the prints were seized in L.A. before there could be a national distribution: more information on this can be found in the DVD-ROM material), this is a lavish, in-depth presentation. And Quiet Days in Clichy deserves it. While not a work of astounding wisdom or cinematic importance, it startles as it bluntly suggests that it's the life without emotional love that is indeed the most silent…and saddest.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
• "Dirty Books, Dirty Movies: Barney Rosset on Henry Miller" -- Interview with Henry Miller's Editor and Publisher
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