March 11, 2006

BANNED ! QUIET DAYS IN CLICHY (A.K.A STILLE DAGE I CLICHY) (1970) REVIEW 7


One of the most infamous authors on explicit erotica was ‘Henry Miller’. Miller differed from any ‘flowery’ euphemisms for acts of love in favour of the language of the common man e.g. Make love = fuck, her ‘sex’ = her ‘cunt’. What was also revealed within the confines of Millers' text is pure hedonism and primarily the male, misogynist, desire.

To understand the controversial viewpoint (to some anyway) we need to understand the man. Henry Miller entered this world in 1891 New York. It was in the early 1930’s Miller left his second wife and expatriated to Paris (hooray! my favourite city!!!!!). 1934 saw the publication of Millers ‘Tropic of Cancer’ which explored his life and majority of his sexual escapades abroad. The book went on to become an underground literate smash, to achieve this the novel ended up being ‘banned’ for it’s lewdness in the right-wing U.S.A (evidence that not much has changed in 60 years, then it was sex now religion). The book was deemed ‘pornographic’ and staid at this status for nearly 30 years or more; the mid 1960’s saw the novels first legal, legitimate ‘outing’. As well as 'Tropic...' another couple of literary masterpieces suffered the same fatality ‘Black Spring’ in (1936) and ‘The Tropic of Capricorn’ (1939).


At the time of World War Two, Miller went back to the U.S.A, he returned to his home of Big Sur where he continued his writing. However as before the writings of this libertine were dutifully banned by prudes and could not be obtained ‘legally’. 1956 Miller decided to‘re-visit’ a few of his old tales. The majority of the inspiration behind the writing was based on Millers escapades with his best mate ‘Alfred Perles’. They met each other on Millers first excursion to Europe and it is this history that reflects in ‘Quiet Days…’


Quiet Days was a mammoth success when published, it featured an ‘alien’ bohemian lifestyle unheard of in suburbia, scandalous language and sexual odyssey which appealed to the sensationalist seeking hoardes, also mentioned and as explicitly as the fun bits were the pitfalls especaially on the 'clap' side of things . The content about two bohemians drinking, fucking and celebrating freedom in pre-war Paris (j’taime !!!) proved too much for some and resulted in much controversy which ....... done it the world of good !!!!

In 1968/1969 Jans Jorgen Thorsen directed the most faithful adaptation to Millers Classic. There had been other remakes since but these were awful, pretentious bollocks that lacked the gritty realism of Thorsens’ version and produced for the silver screen a ‘castrated Henry Miller’. Mainstream audiences would rather imagine their characters without genitals I’ve noticed; therefore they don’t feel inadequate that the sex life on screen is unashamedly better than their own. As the paperback version the celluloid interpretation was ridiculously banned for 30 years in the United Kingdom finally granted the joke ‘18’ certificate in December 2002.



THE PLOT

Two writers, one a freelance journalist Carl and the other a writer of smut Joey are as poor as church mice and can barely scrape the price of a meal. However living Millers’ philosophy of ‘live life to the full and fuck freely’ compensates for such poverty. Eat, sleep and shit when you can but never at the cost of libertinage.

The pair drift from one sexual vignette to another in their naive quest of finding true love amongst Parisian fleshpots and Gallic bohemia’s’ underbelly. We meet the most ‘fringe/surreal’ sort of characters totally exposed in ‘warts and all’ lifestyles that are lovingly captured on film in the most voyeuristic way possible.

A rollercoster ride of liberating experiences that dominate the plot veiling the sadnesses of Carl, Joey and the females they meet along the way.

CRITIC

Starring Paul Vajean as Joey (Millers’ persona) and Wayne John Rodda as Carl (Perles in the book) the film is an absolute joy to watch. Several moments celebrate pure unadulterated ‘fun’. This fun is the pure ‘breathtaking’ sort where one would say to oneself ‘stop the world…..’ etc, etc. This cool pleasant surge of iced air in the name of freedom can only be experienced when living life to the full as clearly the two main protagonists do. Thorsen moves at a very sharp pace, this a reflection of the frenzied environment we find ourselves in. Thorsen achieves also a certain ‘playfulness’ featuring visual jokes that border on absolute crudity but presented with a bucketload of schoolboy cheek; to me personally, this comes over as hilarious, experimental and poignant.

Millers’ view of the world is purely anti-feminist; this is brought over in the film as candidly as it is frank. Not everyone’s cup of tea admittedly but so refreshing to glimpse in our modern age where the hunter gatherer mentality, based on instinct, is dead. Women get a raw deal; they are represented in juvenile, brash, sluttish and predominantly ‘insecure’ ways. These unfortunates of their own doing appear just as desperate as their male counterparts at finding true companionship and totally oblivious to the fact that their lifestyle is preventing this from ever happening. They also seem blinkered to misogyny and pander to male dominance that Carl and Joey never restrain from dishing out. If you are looking for the modern acceptable ‘women with bollocks’ somewhere in the film; that have become the safety net for film companies and television stations, so they can please the feminists, please note I said the feminists not women in general, you will be most disappointed (what the hell would a feminist minded individual be doing touching Millers works anyway?).


The first character/victim call her what you will, is Nys’, she is the first to be seen who will quite eagerly part her thighs for Joeys’ food money; next into the mix is ‘Baby’ Collette an underage retard who sparks the comment ‘she’s got all her brains in her cunt, the little half wit!’ she drudges for Carl and Joey and when not doing this is wandering aimlessly around Paris’ decadent streets in a skimpy dress sucking on a lollipop. Finally we greet Mara, she is the stereotypical ‘round-the-blocker’ we can now see on modern day package tours and on a WAL-MART checkout (yes those Yanks have brought another scourge of globalisation to the U.K as part of their ‘would be nice’ manifestos e.g. wouldn’t it be nice if Britain becomes a ‘detached’ American state). The rest of the female characters predominantly crop up as whores and varied objects of sexist swipes. Thorsen actually used real hookers for integrity and in the bathtub sequences we can really see why.


Just in the written word of Miller, the frequent misogyny is juxtaposed with a ‘reverence’ for the female. On occasions, amidst the hedonism, there is the loneliness and yearning for the impetus to be loved – wholesomely, and for finding that rare breed ‘a true soul mate’. ‘If only I would marry Christine’ laments Joey.


Amidst the frenetic whirlpool of licentiousness the question surfaces for the protagonists ‘is this the best way of living?’ This reaches to a head in one of the most unexpected, startling moments in the film where Mara collapses hysterically at Joey’s feet. The reason is that Joey buys her a meal and offers her some money with no ‘you can have this for a trick’ mentality. The black and white photography is also a triumph and the uninhibited attitude towards the sexual impetus gives the movie a relaxed ‘surrealism’.


The sheer sexual abandonment can be viewed in the first segments of plot where a ‘stoned’ neighbour breezes in and offers the ‘boys’ any type of sex they want for rent money. The film launches into a no-holds-barred declaration on misogynistic virtue by the two male leads as the women strips nude and wanders into the bathroom where she scrawls disjointed Dadaist poetry on the walls, crouched in a bidet!

Another worthwhile mention is the soundtrack, superbly accomplished by Country Joe Macdonald as they take to narrating the bawdy adventure of the duo on the soundtrack – great stuff! Listening to the soundtrack alone we can sense the headiness of Clichy with its bygone Accordion homages to all things French; fused with Chanson and hippy emotive ballad.

Whilst Miller was undeniably an intellectual whose voluminous readings incorporated Nietzsche, Elie Faire and Dostoevsky, his hedonistic dictat of ‘we are all guilty of crime, the great crime of not living life to the full’ actually lead to five disastrous marriages, copious S.T.D’s and the first three quarters of life virtually penniless, there is no surprise the pitfalls of extremity are not swept under the carpet in 'Clichy'. On your last dollar tactics are incorporated into the narrative and can be seen achieved very well indeed. There is one instance where Joey is starving and this comes across as virtual insanity for him. After wandering around a French market admiring the food stuffs he cannot buy, Joey decides to sleep so he can blot out the hunger but every time he closes his eyes we see a snapshot of mouth watering delicacies. All rationale of going to bed and sleeping to avoid sufferance is well and truly defeated; this is quite cleverly visualised stuff as it has the strength for us to draw comparisons in our own lives of similar situation.


The sex on show here is quite mild and is hardly sordid enough to whip up a moralist froth, the sex scenes role out as an X-rated Brian Rix farce. There is the old 'in-out' penetrative shot, relegated to about 5 seconds in total of screen time. There is also an erection ‘peek’ when our anti-heroes hang out in a jazz club surrounded by wanton women; they fumble around in the pants of Carl and Joey with stiffeningly tissued consequence. So although this is not the norm for British and American conservative audiences who will no doubt find it totally unacceptable (not getting enough dears?) it cannot be deemed as jaw dropping insertion used to the max by Radley Metzger and Dusan Makavejev. It certainly is a brave attempt and ideal for demonstrating an earthiness, and the whole 'i don't give a toss if we offend or not' freeness so imperative to the plot. A mere glimpse of bollocks banging up against an ass a porn film it doth not make, so anyone stating this as porn is really missing the whole point and should do media studies or some other ‘Mickey Mouse’ subject to help them partially understand the visual arts.


The language is the only other shock on display, it is rather ‘blue’ but this is Miller for fucks sakes not D.H Lawrence both amazing authors but radically different in style and pace. So I can conclude from this that it was probably nothing more than the paramount priggishness of our culture at the time that really warranted the ban of this film, hiding behind the antiquarian obscenity laws contaminating both here and stateside . If this on display is corruption and depravity then I welcome it with arms wide open. This movie lifts spirits and despite its darker allegedly ‘sexist’ edge is a fistful of boisterous gaiety for me personally.

It is something not to be taken serious all the time, only when the film wants you to be, so to enjoy it don’t try and analyse the moral right and wrong context, just go with it , let it lift you to a place where in your life you have clandestinely aspired to be.

Thorsen has worked miracles updating this from the 1940’s to the late 1960’s generation. The Country Joe soundtrack once again spearheads this history retrenchment without detriment to Millers soliloquy. The parties are brought into a time of the Kafkaesque bohemian and the focus on this generation. With his skilful application of directorial technique using photo montage, subtitle exposition and voice over relaying Millers text adds all to a grinning elevation in viewers’ spirits...

The sexist humour really made me laugh, how people could just see women as cattle awaiting to be fertilised beggars belief but is just so brassy and candid; it works as liberation in itself. When invited back their squalor an attractive Danish girl is the focus of Carl’s remark to Joey, ‘she’s the best cunt you ever dug up’. Such denigration on display could still be eyebrow raising due to modern day brainwashing in what is wrong and what is right in accordance with people who think they know better than the ‘we’, but what the fuck do they know anyway apart from trying too make others as miserable as they. The sexist arrogances of both leads is necessary as it reinforces just how blatantly carefree they are, free in speech as in action a case well conceptualised via Thorsens skills behind the lens.


Charmingly vulgar but naive too ‘Quiet Days in Clichy’ counter balances in what we witness, as a voyeur we know that this will never lead to what the characters long for – a faithful partner and ‘special’ one. So a bit of pitifulness is chucked in the stories framework for good measure as well.



A riveting and thoroughly enjoyable piece of underground avant garde worthy of any counter-culture enthusiasts collection, a time capsule lovingly displaying freedom in all its’ forms from direction to comprehension demonstrating what the majority of men dream of becoming and what most women fear a man could become !



MOST OUTSTANDING MOMENT

One of the most hilarious, to me, was the vocal misogyny on display at a party. It didn’t shock me but the clever usage of two words to actualise obscenity is mastered in a way that makes it wonderfully offensive. The scene is where Carl is cracking on to a pretty blonde dolly bird, he waxes lyrical for a moment then claims one of her most attractive attributes was having ‘a cunt like hot manure’ in his hands. Ha-ha!!! Priceless! Try using that one in a chat up and escape bruise free! Mind you there are plenty stuck up bitches (thirtysomethings, big income, big bore, sacrificing her femininity for ugly male aggression to prove a point, i'm a women in the workplace !!) that are more than deserved of such a word. Just to say such a thing and watch that chip on their navy blue power dressed shoulder come crashing down would be worth the fuss surely – should we dare!

The Film; Quiet Days in Clichy

The Year; 1970

The Director; Jans Jorgen Thorsen

The Country; Denmark

I am also known as; Stille Dage I Clichy / Not So Quiet Days

The Music; Joe McDonald & guests.

Did you know this about me…?

1/ This was filmed at the same time with another Henry Miller adaptation, the weak in comparison Tropic of Cancer (1970). Both were partly filmed in Paris using some of Millers’ fave haunts, and Miller himself would turn up on the sets of both films.


2/ Feminists protested to some of the lyrics of Country Joe's Quiet Days in Clichy title theme. He claims that the song was greeted with boos and curses when he played it on student campus demonstrations.

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