Bill Lustig once said that of all the titles he'd put out through Blue
Beneath the nod from Norman Mailer on the front cover is a quote by the Catholic Bishops Board of Review: "Morally offensive. A portrait of human depravity." That kind of doubles as condemnation and a plot summary. Adapted from Henry Miller's novel of the same name, Quiet Days in Clichy revolves around two flatmates in Paris who revel in their freedom. Joey (Paul Valjean), the older of the two, is a writer who's been unable to cash in on his infamy. It's never really made clear how Carl (Wayne Rodda) can afford such a decadent lifestyle, but his moustache and ascot apparently make the knees of Parisian women tremble. Neither are shown as having much of a personality. This isn't a story with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. There are few hurdles to overcome, and ultimately nothing is resolved. These are the same characters at the end of the movie as they are at the outset, and that's rather the point. Joey and Carl while away their nights fucking every woman that's willing, and that often means paying for it. Every franc they have goes to sex. They're so consumed by their carnal urges that after giving away the last of his money to a lover, Joey's forced to forage through the garbage to find something to eat. There's nothing the least bit likeable about either of them. Carl seduces a 15-year-old runaway who's clearly not all there mentally, brags about his bedsheets being stained with her virginal blood, and then squirrels
There may not be a plot to Quiet Days in Clichy, but there is a point to all this. Joey and Carl devote everything to fleeting carnal pleasures and ultimately have nothing to show for it. They're incapable of ever being truly happy. The two of them are grotesque monsters, and Quiet Days in Clichy doesn't glorify them for it. The question at the end is whether or not they know or care. As extreme as the film's imagery and dialogue is -- and remains so more than forty years later -- there's an underlying intelligence and at least an attempt at artistry that separate it from the empty titillation of pornography. Make no mistake, though: Quiet Days in Clichy is unflinchingly vulgar and unapologetically sexual. Every woman in the cast is completely naked at some point, and most of them wind up having the camera closed in tightly on their genitals. Rather than cast actresses as the movie's whores, director Jens Jørgen Thorsen chose instead to walk the streets and hire the genuine articles. Some of these actual prostitutes may not be conventionally attractive, but they're certainly more interesting looking than anything a casting director would line up. There are graphic inserts of hardcore sex early on, and I wouldn't be surprised if at least some of the screwing afer that point wasn't simulated either.
At least at the outset, there's quite a lot for a failed essayist like myself to ramble on about. Quiet Days in Clichy is daringly experimental. It opens with Country Joe McDonald and his acoustic guitar taking the reins as Greek chorus. McDonald's title song makes it a point to mention that it's part of a film's soundtrack, and his music for much of Quiet Days in Clichy takes the place of traditional narration or exposition. In fact, there's surprisingly little dialogue for much of the movie. Early sequences place typewritten text directly on the screen like captions in a comic book...sometimes even in word bubbles. Its visual inventiveness extends to the word
I can't say that I liked Quiet Days in Clichy, but I was fascinated by it for the first half hour or forty-five minutes. The spark of the first half of the film quickly fades, unfortunately. Country Joe McDonald's Greek chorus disappears altogether. The visual experimentation is largely tossed aside. The economy of its dialogue early on makes way for long, endlessly rambling monologues, culminating in one torturous scene with a manic Polish prostitute in a diner that made me want to give up on the movie altogether. Its characters don't really start talking until the film has all but run out of things to say. Quiet Days in Clichy is so extreme and uncompromising that it's not hard to imagine the government seizing all available film prints on obscenity charges, but it's also not difficult to see why audiences refused to embrace the movie even when it was cleared and escaped into a handful of arthouses. This isn't an easy film to watch. Again, though, I greatly respect that Blue Underground would release something so obscure and fiercely non-commercial on Blu-ray in a time when most other studios have their heads in the sand. Even though I think Quiet Days in Clichy ultimately doesn't succeed, it's at least an interesting failure, and I'm glad I've had a chance to watch it. It should go without saying that a film this extreme is difficult to recommend buying sight-unseen. If you haven't been repulsed enough to close your web browser or click off to another review by now, it's a safe bet you'll find Quiet Days in Clichy worth experiencing at least once, even if it's just as a rental. Rent It.
I don't have the original DVD release of Quiet Days in Clichy handy to do a direct comparison, but if the extras carried over from that earlier disc are any indication, this new high-def transfer looks to be a considerable step up.
The presentation can be a bit erratic, although at least some of that seems to date back to the original photography. Highlights tend to be pushed hotter in the more brightly lit interiors. Exteriors -- which I'm guessing rely heavily, if not entirely, on practical light -- are sometimes darker and veer away from those heightened whites. Tighter close-ups can be really striking; detail is passable elsewhere but doesn't consistently impress, often leaning somewhat soft. There are a lot of shots, especially early on, with narration or squiggles overlaid on them, and those optical effects are expectedly accompanied by a hit in quality. There are also other moments where the image looks strangely smeary. This isn't a persistent nuisance, but there's something about shots such as the one below that just doesn't look natural to me.
I'm not really sure where to set my expectations for a release like this. Quiet Days in Clichy was a lost film until Blue Underground rescued it. This is a movie that doesn't have the marquee draw of some Criterion release from the French New Wave...a title with a guaranteed audience that could fund a world-class restoration. I'm floored that Quiet Days in Clichy has made its way to Blu-ray at all, and that makes me feel as if I ought to grade on a curve. This high-def release isn't a revelation in the same league as...oh, I don't know, Breathless, but by any reasonable standard, Quiet Days in Clichy looks good: undoubtedly the best it's ever looked, even for those few who caught the film when it played in a handful of arthouses forty years ago. All things considered, I'd say I'm very pleased with the way Quiet Days in Clichy looks on Blu-ray, and I'm sure longtime admirers of the film will find it well-worth the upgrade.
Quiet Days in Clichy is presented on a single layer Blu-ray disc at its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. As is the case with pretty much everything on Blu-ray these days, the video has been encoded with AVC.
I'm really impressed by how terrific Quiet Days in Clichy sounds on Blu-ray. This disc features a robust DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, and the film's original monaural intentions are preserved here. The looped dialogue -- primarily in English -- is consistently clean and clear throughout. Country Joe McDonald's playful acoustic score is rendered with remarkable clarity and is more full-bodied than expected. There are no intrusive clicks, pops, or hissing whatsoever...if anything, it's so clean that you can't help but notice that all the dialogue and sound effects were recorded entirely in post-production. This is a very strong presentation for a forty year old film by any measure, but especially factoring in the low budget and obscurity of Quiet Days in Clichy, Blue Underground has delivered something so much more impressive than I ever could've hoped to hear.
There aren't any alternate soundtracks on this Blu-ray disc, although subtitles are offered in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.
The film opens with a very quick audio disclaimer dating back to 1970 about how filmgoers may demand a refund. That's a bonus I wasn't expecting. The majority of the extras from the 2004 DVD release have been carried over to this Blu-ray disc, although the stills gallery, liner notes, and court documents are missing in action. To make up for that, Blue Underground has included one additional feature: a half-hour interview from Al Goldstein's Midnight Blue public access show.
The Final Word
There are still plenty of smaller labels that haven't gotten around to embracing high-def at all, and even massive studios like Paramount and Disney are extremely conservative when it comes to fishing titles out of their back catalogs. That's part of the reason why I have so much respect for Blue Underground. No other studio would consider releasing a title as obscure and inaccessible as Quiet Days in Clichy on Blu-ray.
This isn't an easy film to recommend, especially sight-unseen. There's essentially no plot: just two men reveling in their freedom and screwing every woman in arm's reach. Don't expect much in the way of lush characterization either. The staggering amount of sex and nudity is still shocking even four decades later, and the hardcore inserts early on may immediately repulse many curious viewers. As fascinated I was at first by how extreme and uncompromising Quiet Days in Clichy is, I found the second half to be tougher to slog through, largely stepping away from the visual inventiveness of its earliest moments and becoming increasingly reliant on long, rambling monologues. I don't think I'd say that I like the movie all that much, but I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to watch it, and if you're still reading this review, chances are you'll find it worth experiencing at least once as well. If at all possible, I'd recommend a rental first, though. Rent It.