B&W, 1970, 91 mins. 5 secs.
Directed by Jens Jørgen Thorsen
Starring Paul Valjean, Wayne Rodda, Susanne Krage, Elsebeth Reingaard
Blue Underground (UHD, Blu-ray, DVD) (US R0 4K/HD/NTSC), Stomp (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Ranking just behind James Joyce and Thomas Pyncheon on the list of the most unfilmable authors of all time, Henry Miller managed to strike some notable blows for free speech and remained a hot name among the counterculture crowd far longer than many of his peers. Despite the random, autobiographical nature of his novels, filmmakers have been bold (or foolhardy) enough to tackle him on occasion, with two simultaneous productions in 1970: Joseph Strick's not-bad Tropic of Cancer and a Danish-funded version of Quiet Days in Clichy, both shot in Paris at the same time not far from the real Miller's house. Given the sexually explicit nature of Miller's prose, it's not surprising that the film under discussion here is loaded with salty language and plenty of skin. What is unusual is that, just a short period after the groundbreaking Swedish full-frontal scandals but well before Deep Throat, the director decided to throw in some brief unsimulated sex inserts for good measure. The film subsequently ran into many censorship hassles around the world, with the U.S. distributor (Grove Press, the same outfit that published the novel) having to issue it in watered down form when the uncut prints kept getting seized by authorities. Meanwhile the soundtrack by then-popular folk/pop singer/songwriter Country Joe McDonald was released on LP but quickly faded into oblivion, partially thanks to its lyrics which frankly mirrored the misogyny of the main characters.
In Paris, American writer Joey (Valjean) finds his work taking a backseat to his exploits with local Carl (Rodda), a roomie who shares his apparent desire to sleep with as many women as possible. Their conquests range from local girls at restaurants and bars to prostitutes, while the efforts to live day to day force them into some bizarre situations scrambling for food and shelter. They briefly leave the city for nearby Luxembourg, only to return for another round of debauchery.
As with many European productions of the period, Quiet Days in Clichy was geared for an English language audience and had most of its actors speaking English during the shoot, with dubbing in post-production taking care of the heavier accents. Anyone who's sat through their share of Italian cinema will be more than familiar with the process here. Though they're nothing special and sometimes incredibly amateurish, the actors all do fine with the nuttier comic aspects of the nearly plotless screenplay and spend huge portions of the film unclothed; likewise, director Thorsen (who didn't do anything as significant before or after) shows off his French New Wave influences with lots of free-associative cutting, cartoon dialogue bubbles, and '60s cinematic tics that turn this into an unexpectedly valuable time capsule. Love it or hate it, there's definitely no other film quite like it. Incredibly, renowned French director Claude Chabrol took his own stab at the same novel with far more sedate results in 1990 (with Andrew McCarthy playing Joey), but that one drifted almost immediately into obscurity.
Quiet Days in Clichy was one of Blue Underground's earliest titles to make it out on DVD in 2002, and its mixture of Euro pop value, art house aspirations, and graphic content paved the way for many future titles to come. Their decision to put it out on Blu-ray in 2011 made perfect sense, and the upgrade improves the monochromatic photography throughout. Detail is better, and the visual textures are surprisingly slick and impressive in HD. It doesn't look even remotely as gritty as you might imagine. Unlike the DVD, the Blu-ray adds optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish for the original English DTS-HD mono audio. The main extra (on both formats) is "Dirty Books, Dirty Movies" (17m19s) with Miller's American publisher, Barney Rosset, explaining in depth the intricate censorship problems with both the film and the novel. "Songs of Clichy" (11m13s) features MacDonald (leader of Country Joe and the Fish) talking about his work on the film and its less than charitable response among feminists. After that the DVD and Blu-ray part ways, with the former offering a DVD-Rom selection of court documents chronicling more censorship issues while the Blu-ray adds another Rosset interview with Al Goldstein (25m4s) from the public access adult show Midnight Blue, which covers some of the same ground in a much more ribald fashion.
In 2022, Blue Underground reissued the film as a 4K UHD and Blu-ray combo featuring a greatly improved new scan from the rediscovered fine-grain negative. The uptick in detail is dramatic with far finer film grain to boot and a bit of extra image info. The UHD in particular looks stunning with Dolby Vision HDR adding to the gorgeous gray scale on display here and rich, deep blacks. It's a real beauty, even when the visuals themselves aren't! This version also runs slightly longer (28s) thanks to the addition of a female voice warning you at the beginning about the film as a possible "offence against decency." The DTS-HD MA 1.0 English mono track is also in excellent shape, with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles provided. The two Rosset interviews and MacDonald featurette are ported over on the Blu-ray, while the court documents return as a click-through gallery instead -- plus a 26-image gallery of book covers and, for the first time. On both the Blu-ray and UHD are a long theatrical trailer (making its video debut here) that definitely couldn't run at mainstream theaters, and the new inclusion of a 6m11s deleted scene showing Joey having a rock-scored dream and trying to decide whether to have breakfast or get drunk before coming up with a really unhygienic solution.
Updated review on September 24, 2022