it sexploitation? Is it art? Let's just call Quiet
Days in Clichy a sexplartation film
The "Situationist" philosophy
of avant-garde director Jens Jørgen Thorsen is
given free reign in this adaptation of controversial
author Henry Miller's 1956 novel. The film chronicles
the sexual exploits of expatriate American writer
Joey (Paul Valjean) and his good buddy Carl (Wayne
Rodda), a carefree Frenchman, who share a flat
in the Clichy section of Paris. Though it's mentioned
that Carl has a job with a newspaper and Joey
has been published, the two men have very little
money between them. This doesn't bother them in
the slightest, however, as their lack of funds
never inhibits their ability to pick up women
even though most of their 'conquests' are prostitutes.
Their biggest problem is getting a decent meal
once all the francs are gone.
Joey and Carl apparently care
about nothing except getting laid. This, then,
is the entire thrust of the film (if you'll pardon
the pun). They wander the streets, haunting the
cafés and bistros, continually trolling
for chicks. That women other the prostitutes would
have anything to do with them seems problematic.
These aren't exactly the best-looking guys in
the world —
balding, bespectacled Joey is modeled after Henry
Miller himself —
and, as mentioned, they're constantly broke. They
don't treat women too kindly, either, dismissing
most of them as "cunts"... even to the ladies'
faces. The pair drift in and out of casual, meaningless
share a laugh about spreading venereal disease;
Joey even tries to give it a philosophical bent,
as if infecting their numerous partners with the
clap was some kind of performance art.
Such charming lads.
And that's pretty much the entire plot.
The film shows us vignettes of Joey and Carl's
bohemian existence and then just peters out. The
Thorsen, a painter and experimental short film
maker, uses some interesting techniques to create
Clichy's loose narrative
structure. Text captions from Miller's novel occasionally
flash on the screen; every now and then a comic
strip-style word balloon appears to relate Joey's
inner thoughts. Montages of still photos are often
used to convey the two men's wanderings about
Paris (as well as a brief excursion to Luxembourg).
There are long stretches without any dialog. Frankly,
this all gets to be rather boring after awhile.
The interminable 'walking around' sequences, in
particular, routinely lapse into tedium. Anyone
peering in on Clichy
in pursuit of of the purely prurient — try saying
that fast 5 times! — is
apt to be disappointed. The women shed their clothes
at the drop of a hat but some of them are kind
of skanky. (Real Parisian prostitutes were cast
in the film.) The one scene in which the movie
skirts the edge of hardcore porn involves close-ups
of Carl's scrotum as he's pumping a hooker. (Oh,
thank you, Mr. Thorsen. Just what I wanted
to see...) In fact, a sizable chunk of the movie
is concerned with showing us a nude bald white
guy lying atop various women and squeezing his
ass cheeks together. This just isn't exactly my
idea of thought-provoking or titillating entertainment.
Yet there is some worthwhile
stuff here. I liked a good deal of the music score
by '60s folk rock artist Country Joe MacDonald.
(Its songs, replete with silly 'blue' lyrics,
act as a sort of amusing Greek Chorus throughout
the film. Where the score shines, however, is
in its moody instrumental pieces.) A scene set
in a jazz club features some wonderfully smoky
riffs from sax player Ben Webster, who plays on
of Miller's prose is quite arresting, when not
completely gonzo. ("It was steaming like
manure under her dress.") There's a really
funny scene involving Joey being flat broke and
starving. (After resorting to the apartment's
garbage can for a few unsatisfactory morsels,
he goes to bed hungry and is plagued by nightmare
visions of food.) There's a bathtub joke that
could've come straight out of a Farrelly Brothers
movie, too. But these moments are few and far
between. Quiet Days in Clichy
is mostly a yawner.
Call me an Alan Alda pantywaist if you will, but
my biggest problem with the film is its total
disregard for the female characters. It is antifeminist
to the core. Women are portrayed as nothing but
dumb, neurotic cum receptacles for our protagonists
even the ones that aren't hookers. I've never
read any of Miller's works, and am cognizant he
wrote the story a half century ago, but Clichy
was filmed in 1970... its unapologetic misogyny
is simply galling. The absolute nadir comes in
the form of Colette (Elsebeth Reingaard), a mentally-challenged
teenage girl whom Joey and Carl take in as a virtual
sex slave. In between banging her they make the
girl clean the apartment, later joking that "all
her brains are between her legs." Now I enjoy
a good T &
A flick like the next hetero dude, but Clichy's
two protagonists just aren't the type of fellas
I'd like to hang out with. C'mon, guys! Show a
little respect to the gals whose brains
you wanna ball out...
Quiet Days in Clichy
is about as obscure a film as it gets, yet Blue
Underground has done a superb job with its recent
DVD release. Picture and sound quality are extremely
good considering the film's age and low budget origins.
The black and white cinematography looks very crisp;
dialog and song lyrics are clear with little or
Some terrific extras are included, which for me
were the most entertaining elements of the disc.
Along with a poster/still gallery, talent bios (of
Miller and Thorsen), and liner notes by Jim Knipfel,
there are two short documentary featurettes. The
first is Dirty Books, Dirty Movies: Barney Rosset
On Henry Miller, a 17-minute interview piece
with Miller's publisher and longtime friend. Rosset
sketches out the fascinating historical background
of Miller —
one of America's most controversial literary figures
and the transition of his work from page to screen.
(The notion of fictional works, both in print and
on film, actually being banned in this country —
as late as 1970!
may now seem
quaint, even ridiculous, but it is vital to remember
that at one time not so long ago this actually happened.)
The second documentary is Songs
of Clichy (11 minutes), in which aging rocker
Country Joe MacDonald discusses the genesis of the
film's unusual music and songs. Both docs are terrific
adjuncts to the main feature. (Note: For those with
a DVD-ROM drive in their PC, the DVD also contains
reproductions of actual court documents used in
the California obscenity case against the film.
And keep an eye out for some interesting Easter
Eggs on two of the menu screens.) 12/12/02