Blue Underground has again resuscitated a notorious sex film of the past. This time the hot rediscovery is Quiet Days in Clichy (Stille dage i Clichy), a saucy b&w erotic epic that appears to be an honest attempt to recreate Henry Miller's banned novel for 1970's swinging, liberated free love generation. Even though the film was shot in English, according to the authoritative notes on this DVD edition, it didn't get very far in the United States. Henry Miller's books had come out of hiding a few years earlier, but customs officials exercising loopholes in import rules took the opportunity to seize prints as they arrived in America.
The film charts the fairly aimless pursuits of two hedonists, Joey (Paul Valjean) and Henry Miller surrogate Carl (Wayne Rodda), as they pursue sex with as many Parisian females as possible. Many of their 'conquests' are whores (the notes say that real prostitutes played most of the women) but the randy pair also amuse themselves with odd pickups on the street. They often ask for money afterwards anyway.
Savant's full exposure to Henry Miller is seeing articles about him in Playboy, sometimes accompanied by photos of a 70 year old naked man playing ping pong with his naked female companions. If Quiet Days in Clichy's dialogue accurately conveys his philosophy, it's that free love and indolent irresponsibility are peaceful pursuits that hurt no one and are a lot of fun. Carl and Joey have no trouble finding compliant, attractive partners; they find them everywhere, in fact. A mysterious woman shows up, says she needs rent money, strips and starts writing dada poetry on their bathroom walls. Carl spends a day riding bicycles and making love to a prostitute with whom he forms a slightly longer-lasting relationship. Joey brings home a fifteen year old runaway, an apparently brain-damaged Lolita, who cooks, cleans and screws 24-7. When her parents reclaim her they don't press charges, leaving the lucky duo free to take a break in Luxembourg to see what's cooking there, sex-wise. On their return they bring home a pair of professionals from a jazz bar, and Carl has a fairly disgusting romp with them in a tub-ful of wine and soggy French bread. The last scene has a Scandinavian beauty screaming insults as she excuses herself from an orgy, calling them perverts. The two men and their other ladyfriend laugh themselves silly.
Director Jens Jorgen Thorsen approaches all of this fairly seriously. The film has the production sheen of a good b&w Truffaut movie, and utilizes some okay Lester-ish devices to good effect. Comments, thought dialogue, and 'author's notes' are superimposed on the screen. The montage cutting is good, especially showing Parisian details, 1969-era posters, etc. When so broke and starving that he's rooting through the garbage for scraps, Carl dreams of shops bursting with foodstuffs, a craving nicely handled through visuals.
Although there is explicit material - no fake sex here - Quiet Days in Clichy is not shot like a porn film. There's nothing particularly exciting for fans of post - Deep Throat material. Most of the 'cast' acts remarkably well, as if it's what they did all day in their real lives, and the show plays naturally, unforced. In the realm of erotic cinema, that's high praise in itself.
Every so often, the Miller philosophy is expressed through a little character rant on the sidewalk, or voiceover. The idea of eating, having sex, contributing nothing and accomplishing nothing except living a pleasant life of sensory adventures doesn't come off as very attractive. Joey and Carl are certainly happy with themselves, and, well, God bless 'em. I tend to think that their disaffected use and abuse of others (they're uninterested in drugs or heavy drink, I guess) would not only become tiresome, but require some steady source of income. They also aren't going to be young forever. Carl wastes some pity on himself for letting a particularly wonderful woman get away, and that's as sentimental as things get. Lucky girl. Quiet Days in Clichy offers a sex fantasy where our heroes have the edge on the rest of the square world. But even casual sex is a relationship, relationships always have givers and takers, and people suffer when they are used, even if they're paid. Perhaps it's only because the film is so well made, that it exposes Henry Miller's philosophy as selfish and squalid, fit only to sell dirty books.
Films like I Am Curious- Yellow had gotten very good distribution in the U.S., and in their effort to be equally successful, this film uses Country Joe McDonald music for its score. Much of the light guitar background music is very good, better than the obscene title tune. Another song is used as an entr'acte and exit music over a black screen, as in a roadshow release.
Blue Underground's presentation of Quiet Days in Clichy is exemplary. The enhanced b&w transfer is handsome and practically unblemished. There are no subtitles or other languages, but the post-dubbed English dialogue matches mouths perfectly, and we don't get the feeling that anything in this version was changed.
There are key extras. An illustrated interview with Barney Rosset of Grove Press gives us an excellent background on Henry Miller's literary roots. His truly was a fame created by censors. Rosset is a prime source if there ever was one, and he candidly tells the tale. There's also an interview with Country Joe McDonald, a poster and still gallery, and talent bios and good liner notes by Jim Knipfel. A DVD-rom extra is said to contain court documents. I couldn't access them, but they promise to be fascinating - I don't know whether they are about the book or this Danish film version.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Quiet Days in Clichy rates: