By 1970, the sexual revolution had secured a slew of previously considered taboo subjects a place in the American way of life. Monogamy, sex for procreation, and abstinence gave way to orgies, sex for recreation, and birth control. The country was still deeply divided on the topic, but sex, as it was beginning to be conceived, was here to stay. The appetite for sex went beyond the bedroom, and into the local cineplex, where thousands stood in line to see the first mainstream "porno", the French sex farce Yellow (aka: I am Curious). While hardly as graphic as films to follow, Yellow served as the opening volley in a barrage of adult themed entertainment.
Decades before anyone could have forseen the legitimization of adult films, a writer named Henry Miller had crafted a tome that would go on to become one of the most controversial works in literature: the raunchy and unflinching Tropic of Cancer. Miller's book was summarily banned from "over-the-counter" sale, but it sold enough copies to whet the appetites of a repressed society. Miller's work continued to defy the moral quotient of his time, and by the mid 1960's, the author's oeuvre was considered by many to be at the spearhead of the radical restructuring of the American perception of sex. In 1970, two films based on his time in France were offered to the masses; Joseph Strick's extremely sanitized Tropic of Cancer, and Jens Jørgen Thorsen's alternately perverse and graphic Quiet Days in Clichy.
An American writer named Joey (Valjean) and his French pal, Carl (Rodda) fall into the trappings of the sexual delights of prostitutes and party girls in Paris. The two bohemians struggle to pay rent, eat, and support their lifestyle only to blow every penny they've saved on one sexual conquest after another. When they aren't buying the company of women they are experimenting with them to see what makes them tick. From Joey's testing the boundaries of his “lover" (the closest he gets to one, anyway) to the naive' homeless waif who the duo attempt to transform into their feminine ideal, Joey and Carl's obsession with women transcends that which can only happen between the sheets.
Clichy is essentially another chapter in Miller's Paris period that was visited in greater detail with Tropic of Cancer. Ironically, of the two tales, Clichy is more restrained, yet on film the mainstream adaptation of Tropic of Cancer is positively benign in comparison. Miller's screenplay, as adapted by director Jørgen Thorsen, comes to life as graphically as the author's written word, with a few scenes of actual "hardcore" sex and an unwavering commitment to the source material's need for such a fearless approach.
Shot in black and white on a miniscule budget, Quiet Days in Clichy benefits from the irreverent style of Jørgen Thorsen. The director implements tools from other media, such as collage effects, writing on the film negative, and layering of images. The director also chose musician "Country" Joe McDonald to score the film with his brand of wryly poetic folk songs that serve as a narrative element and work beautifully with the images onscreen. It's touches like this that make Clichy equal parts French New Wave and artistic erotica.
Blue Underground present the film in a 1.66:1 transfer that’s a marked improvement over the grainy, somewhat over contrasted transfer from their previous DVD release a few years back. The image is much sharper and more defined. There’s still grain, but Blue Underground have done a fine job cleaning up the image so that it’s more of a pleasing cinematic variety rather than the distraction it once was. The DTS HD Master Audio track is also a dramatic improvement over its DVD counterpart, with much crisper dialogue and score.
Blue Underground carries over a few of the supplements from the DVD, including the very entertaining "Dirty Books, Dirty Movies: Barney Rosset on Henry Miller", an interview segment with Miller's publisher, who, as the distributor for Yellow and financier for Clichy, is quite an important figure in the world of adult entertainment himself. Rosset is a virtual font of knowledge and enthusiastically waxes nostalgic about his friendship with Miller and the time the pair spent together tipping the world on its ear. Songs of Clichy offers an interview with Joe McDonald, who shares his thoughts and reasoning behind the music he composed for the film. New to this set is an interview feature with Screw publisher, Al Goldstein, entitled Midnight Blue, where Goldstein offers insight into the era, touching on everything from the woman’s rights movement to freedom of speech and obscenity laws. It’s a solid collection of bonus features, and, while the set doesn’t include the DVD’s stills gallery or liner notes, the inclusion of the Goldstein interview more than makes up for it.
While I wholeheartedly endorse the film, I must warn viewers that it's not for everyone, and is an especially graphic and sometimes uncomfortable film to watch. Joey and Carl's adventures are truly the stuff of male fantasy, and even though there's an element of thematic sleight of hand near the film's conclusion, some may not notice this intended redemption and write the film off as wholly misogynistic. While fans of Miller may not be at all surprised, the uninitiated may take offense, so watch with an open mind and a sense of awareness for the sociopolitical climate at the time of Clichy's release to better absorb this lost classic. Blue Underground’s Blu-ray presentation marks quite an improvement over its previous DVD release, making this the best this unique and overlooked film has ever looked or sounded.