Quiet Days in Clichy
Denmark / 1970
Directed by Jens Jørgen Thorsen
Starring
Paul Valjean
Wayne Rodda
Ulla Lemvigh-Müller
B&W / 90 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Blue Underground
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
4
    8   10 = Highest Rating  
Is it sexploitation? Is it art? Let's just call Quiet Days in Clichy a sexplartation film for now...
    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 relationships. They 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 end.
    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 camera.
Some 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 no hiss.
    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
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