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Quiet Days in Clichy

Blue Underground // Unrated // January 25, 2011 // Region 0
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 16, 2011 | E-mail the Author
"Take it easy, Joey. There's a girl for you too. I'm not sure if she's a whore or not, but does that matter?"

Bill Lustig once said that of all the titles he'd put out through Blue
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Underground, the one he was the most proud of was Quiet Days in Clichy. "[We] did what was right for the integrity of the DVD knowing that at best we might break even financially. This project tested my resolve not to compromise a Blue Underground DVD even in the face of losing money." Think about the state of Blu-ray right now. Even with the format's fifth anniversary just off on the horizon, most cult cinema labels -- the few that are still around, at least -- are reluctant to dive in. There are thousands of Blu-ray releases on these shores, but sift through them all and you'll only find two by Hitchcock. As much of a cinematic icon as Audrey Hepburn is, a grand total of one of her films is floating around on Blu-ray. Nearly everything directed by Steven Spielberg is missing in action. Not only are most studios not taking risks, they're even steering clear of sure things, ignoring older films altogether to concentrate on newer, shinier ones. Meanwhile, Lustig is issuing Quiet Days in Clichy, one of the most obscure and inaccessible titles in Blue Underground's library, onto Blu-ray. That's part of the reason why I love Blue Underground so much. They're taking chances when few others will. They're reaching out to cineastes who haven't embraced Blu-ray to show them what the format has to offer beyond $180 million summer tentpoles. I'm burning to recommend this high-def release of Quiet Days in Clichy even if it's just to support that strengthen that resolve. Of course, that sort of recommendation would be a little easier to make if Quiet Days in Clichy were a better film, but I'll get into all that later.

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
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young Collette away in their flat as a glorified sex slave...a guaranteed decade and a half in prison if they get caught. Carl and Joey giggle about being infested with so many venereal diseases. Neither can go more than a couple of sentences without lobbing out "cunt" at least once.

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
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"CUNT" being scrawled like graffiti on the screen. There are scrawled bursts of explosions like something out of the '60s Batman TV series. Quiet Days in Clichy makes it a point to contrast the meanings of different sexual experiences. Carl and Joey are first introduced as they savagely screw a prostitute to the point where it looks like rape. She's later in the experience shown to clearly be enjoying it, and then it circles around once again to rape. Afterwards, Joey has a more tender sexual encounter, one that loses all diagetic sound in favor of Country Joe McDonald's softly plucked acoustic guitar and a parade of "la la la"s. Money ultimately changes hands in both cases, though, as if to say that at least prostitutes are more upfront about what they're after. Sex is portrayed as being as primal and necessary a drive as hunger. We see the banality of Joey's life...why he might be so compelled to chase after fleeting pleasures. Sex may not mean anything, but his day-to-day life is devoid of much else of interest. There's such a gaping hole that those brief bursts of nothing are everything.

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.
2004 DVD
2011 Blu-ray disc
There's a massive boost in crispness and clarity over the murkier, muddier standard definition presentation from 2004. Detail that was previously lost in the shadows is now more easily discerned. Taking a closer look at this comparison, I can read the label on the cigarette pack on Joey's desk and can almost make out the text on the spines of his books; all of that's a blurry smudge in standard definition. That's not to say that Quiet Days in Clichy is a knockout in high-def, but Blue Underground clearly isn't recycling leftovers from seven years ago the way most other studios would, and that's fantastic to see.

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.
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There's no speckling or wear of note. Every once in a while, I'd spot a hair in the gate or a tiny white fleck in the corner, but that's not even a little bit unexpected. I didn't ever stumble upon any glaring missteps in the AVC encode either. I'll admit to being kind of surprised how understated the grain is, though. I was expecting something with a more pronounced and gritty texture.

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.
  • Dirty Books, Dirty Movies: Barney Rosset on Henry Miller (17 min.; SD): Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer was for years only sold under the counter in the U.S., and it
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    was Barney Rosset's insistence on properly publishing it that resulted in the emergence of the wildly influential Grove Press. Rosset charts the rise of the company, how he'd deliberately try to instigate lawsuits, and the impact Grove Press had on obscenity laws throughout the country. There's also briefly some discussion about Grove's move into film distribution, such as their support of I Am Curious (Yellow). As the title of the interview suggests, Barney does speak at length about Henry Miller and Quiet Days in Clichy in particular, including a smirking coincidence about the time in which this adaptation was filmed, its casting of actual prostitutes during production, the only English language film prints immediately being seized for violating obscenity laws, and how suddenly the movie dropped off the face of the earth even after being cleared.

  • Songs of Clichy (11 min.; SD): This interview with Country Joe McDonald is bookended by live acoustic renditions of his title track from the film. McDonald speaks briefly about how he became ensnared in writing and recording the Greek chorus-slash-score, making it clear how quickly this came together and how far removed he was from the production of the movie itself. He also delves into the gulf that separates porn and erotica, moving from there into how Quiet Days in Clichy relates to the social unrest of the late '60s. I get the impression that this is the first time McDonald's busted out the title song from the film in decades, considering the story he tells about being called a pig when it was part of his set in the early 1970s.

  • Midnight Blue Interview (25 min.; SD): Screw publisher Al Goldstein swaps war stories about obscenity laws with Barney Rosset. Their conversation swirls around their own definitions of pornography, how their battles against obscenity laws impacted popular culture, the general acceptance of violence over sexuality on these shores, and publishing extreme sexual content during the rise of feminism in the '60s. It's a really intriguing interview, and I'm glad to see that Blue Underground added it onto this Blu-ray disc.

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.
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