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Quet Days In Clichy
cast: Paul Valjean, Wayne Rodda, Ulla Koppel, Avi Sagild, and Susanne Krage

director: Jen Jorgen Thorsen

91 minutes (18) 1970 widescreen ratio 16:9
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Arrow Films have picked up Blue Hollywood's rich DVD package for Jens Jorgen Thorsen's 1970 film adaptation of Henry Miller's novel, Quiet Days In Clichy. Filmed in Paris at the time that Joseph Strick was in the city filming Miller's Tropic Of Cancer, it could not have been more different from the Hollywood feature (nor Chabrol's later shot at the Clichy novel, come to that) and was a double treat for Miller making set visits to both. Thorsen was an artiste, filmmaker and hoaxer from the school of situation-ism, his belief system creation through free expression, at liberty from the workplace, commercialisation, politics and regimentation. Few novelists would find the movement complementary to the narrative form, no beginning, no end and no plot. Miller's novel, simply put, is two foreign men, in the Clichy region of Paris, on a sexist fantasy ride, from fuck to fuck, women hurling themselves at them, the men taking on all comers. The hardcore is very limited but there are many intimate moments, it's a crotch groping frenzy and the moral groups of the day successfully saw it banned in America, Britain and Denmark making it less of a name than it might have made for itself had it seen general release in English language territories, for it is considerably more than a porn film. Indeed it fits in neither the category of hardcore nor soft porn wavering uncaringly (as anything successfully situationist is wont to be) on the border between the two. The black and white cinematography when colour was king meant that exploiters only a few years later were unwilling to commit to it at a time when the harnessing of the vulgar and the explicit had been relaxed. Any arty accusations and explanations as to its lack of a vengeful return before the end of the decade don't hold muster either, the orgiastic in the film a constant contradiction to it and the whimsical interludes, odd filmic devices and time expensive montages, never doing enough to distract from the young limbs flailing around the screen.
   Taking the novel's autobiographic centrifugal force to heart Thorsen sought out a Henry Miller look-a-like in Paul Valjean and so the film's antihero is a lanky, balding man of bookish appearance, pseudonym of Joe, a writer sharing rooms in Chichy with the equally misogynistic Carl, an ugly and gangly stretch of a man. They live a life of cunt and grey days, or so they might whinge, but they are never short of pleasure, too cruel to suffer and pain themselves. Joe bemoans the game of sexual tag in favour of the woman for him. Is it coincidence only that the girl with the closest resemblance to Anais Nin is Carl's girl at the end of the film. Not that Carl is particularly possessive; he is willing to share the girl of his dreams. There is no denying that this is an unusual and unflinchingly adventurous film. It opens on an episode with the landlady demanding sex in lieu of the rent money like some shoddy 1970s' porn film, past her prime, her performance terrible, her delivery of the vulgar dialogue appalling, the intimate coital close-ups and her failure to re-appear on screen strongly suggesting that she was one of the prostitutes that the filmmaker rented for the night rather than cast a genuine actress. It is an insane sequence, Joe's thoughts are superimposed over this pre-title sequence, he doesn't want to pay with sex but with money his flatmate has hidden, send the woman away then steal the money back and return it to the hiding place at a later date; Carl must clearly need the money, Joe informs us that he had near starved himself previously maintaining the story that he was broke. For all his intentions Joe gets overexcited by the naked and prone landlady, so having given her the money, for all his exhibited reluctance, he begins to paw her, only to be pulled away by Carl, who had throughout cawed how he wanted to go first. The lunatic landlady forgets the deal and the money, post-coital, and wants to go to her bag for a handgun, but following the panic, the wrestle and the removal of the woman from their rooms, our zeroes slip back into a preposterously natural ease, and the hilariously abusive photomontage of snapshot Parisian top spots to the opening titles and Country Joe song reminds us that the film has only just begun.
   The film moves from one freak beauty to the next. But there are episodes that are not occupied by pulchritudinous female flesh and skinny buttocks. Impressive montages rise up occasion like the light interlude in which an underage girl housemaids the flat. Also in the same girls city meandering with the nudges on her character and the clever succession shots of advertising hoarding double and triply pasted over in an abstractly running sequence. At another stage Joe is starving having 'kindly' handed the last of his francs and cents to a pleasant, carefree creature, named Nys ('pronounced Nice'); his partner of a carnal afternoon. The sequence runs too unbearably long for anyone seeking a sex film, but is genuinely amusing and well composed as he ponders tabs in restaurants, returns home to scour the cupboard and finally, revoltingly, explores the kitchen bin, before suffering pre-sleep hallucinations of food stalls. He accuses the 'bitch' of taking the last of his money and imagines her eating out on it... with her boyfriend... pictured at a table, obviously aware how daft the idea is, imagining them in the day when it is now night. "Determined to ask for credit at his local restaurant..." cut to the shot of him entering the establishment then cowardly, quickly turning about and leaving, "..he lost his nerve."
   There is delicious irony. "Don't worry Joe, there's a girl for you," comes reassurance from Carl, "she may be a whore but that doesn't matter, does it?" Nys returns and there is lengthy narrated appreciation for the happy go lucky dumb thing, a pastoral carefree nymph. Proof that pure happiness is an empty mind, or as Joe egocentrically adds, perhaps realising how content he is in his getting-away-with-it lot, "or a full rich one."
   The entire film is unreal yet not beyond happening. Joe and Carl are impossible to like. It is the Parisian backdrop, a steady conveyer of interesting female physiognomies in beautiful shades of skin, the editing and the frantic sexual mauling doing enough of a job to keep you watching. It does however wear one down and is ultimately unrewarding. Its brutalism is unpleasant, unnecessary, and there is a loud, fast and heavy ninety minutes of it. There are comparisons to be made with the early work of Richard Lester, Peter Schamoni and Carl Anderson respectively, the hyper-conscious, orderly disorder of content in the hands of the edit. The hearty spiritedness of the early Lester and Schamoni films, however, clearly distinguishes and separates that work from Quiet Days In Clichy, though one could genuinely perceive the influence on Anderson in his bold Vampiros Sexos (aka: I Was a Teenage Zabbadoing!, 1988) or Jungfrau am abgrund (aka: Mondo Weirdo: Halfway to Paradise, 1990).
   Blue Hollywood has forwarded a terrific batch of supplementary documentation including a 10-minute film interview with Country Joe McDonald (of Country Joe and the Fish), hired to write lyrically offensive but contrarily pleasant tunes for the film in 1970, topping up the section with fresh performances of his tunes and the filthiest of images from the featured film. A documentary interview titled Dirty Books, Dirty Movies: Barney Russell On Henry Miller has the leading light at Grove Press in his personal recollections of the writer and his own battles against censorship in bringing Miller, D.H. Lawrence, Burroughs, I Am Curious, Orange and Quiet Days In Clichy to the reading and viewing crowds of the curious. There is also a splendid gallery featuring front-of-house stills, behind the scenes shots and posters, both official for theatrical runs and makeshift for the underground circuit. That and historical notes on Thorsen and his film make this a worthwhile package, the last word on this outrageous film.
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