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.

March 06, 2006

SCARY STUFF T.V – SAPPHIRE & STEEL Part 3



Once upon a time, an age or more ago, at a party in Brighton I was asked to liken Sapphire and Steel to an artist. I pondered and then said ‘Magritte’.


Although I am in no way insinuating artistic parallels as we are looking at two very different forms of medium; I can see the surrealistic ingredient that makes the show so wonderful and it’s obvious appeal to me..

As with the surrealistic art movement, Sapphire and Steel paradoxically resisted the appeal to a mass audience. On a human level, we tend to ignore what we do not understand rather than acknowledging a space to be filled in our heads, so it is with no wonder that the show didn’t become ITV’s ‘Doctor Who’.

The popularity it did receive was mainly because of the two impressive leads. Whatever stories surfaced from the rumour mill about whether Lumley and Mcallum ‘got on’ or whether it was all ' purely professional’ beckons validity; but I defy anyone that could come up with two actors more fitting for the demanding roles.


This was initially what the show was sold on and although we are told what they do (of sorts!), a miniscule amount of other facts but one of the greatest mysteries that is never answered outright - who Sapphire and Steel really are. We have two perfectly juxtaposed individuals who live up to their namesakes. Steel is hard and unyielding but has the odd instances of emotional weakness that when surfaces hinders rather than helps the situation on hand. Sapphire on the other hand comes across more warmer, almost human you might say! She plays the role of adjudicator, advocate and sage to Steels more ‘hands on’ methodology.


Her unworldly psychic power is more on display and apparent than her counterparts. She has the ability to ‘take time back’ witnessing incidents before they happen. She can, make time by stalling it; ideal for someone who’s always late for work and invaluable for saving the cosmos. As Wonder Woman’s twirl caused an exciting fizz , as you could depend on this something groovy was about to happen, the same feeling, but to a more deeper degree, was realized when Sapphire used this aspect of her abilities.


The trademark was when time went backwards the eyes went an iridescent blue and this wonderfully haunting sound permeated the soundtrack. She can also tell the compound and age of objects as well as (worryingly!) sense the date of someone’s death. An ability we all fear of having.

Steel relies on Sapphires ethereal and super psychic ability and only demonstrates similar traits when he communicates telepathically and not forgetting Steels party piece of reducing the temperature to absolute zero.

They both epitomise the quintessential detective lineament of hot and cold. Neither opposes each others methodology although Steel does incessantly and forcefully bully Sapphire into going that little way further when she appears at her maximum mystic level. Unfortunately due to her ‘sensitivity’ she also bares the brunt of many a pissed off manifestation. Poor lass gets whisked to other dimensions, gets possessed by forces beyond explanation and feels strong emotions that Steel can only ever dream of having.

Indications that the two are not always briefed at the same time can be witnessed in instances where they seem to arrive at the same location but there initial ‘hook-up’ is delayed.


So from surrealism and a scratch upon the surface of who these beings are; we can venture into the enigmatic territory. From the powerful opening sequences we are told basic information but it is very rudimentary and leaves one bewildered equally as understanding. The thirst for further enlightenment has therefore already captivated the intelligent viewer. Even the lack of episode titles and identity adds to the mystery and timelessness, even before we analyse the stories.

Another success is that the show has avoided aging miserably like other shows screened around this time. So the hair dos, clothes and interiors may seem very seventies but the whole ‘contemporary’ aspect has not been stifled by these. If anything the late 70’s/early 80’s feel seems to be there because that just happens to be the time period our heroes are based. So it can be argued why they shouldn’t appear in dress and appearance specific to the date where they are routed. This base is just a temporal home rather than a permanent dwelling time.


The series fits within the loose confines of fantasy but has about a quarter of that firmly rooted in science-fiction. Having this harsher compliment enables the subject of time to be dealt with more credibly. Time is no longer manipulated by humans as yardsticks for routine, Time is an entity, it is living, it too can control and the more the series develops the more we realise time is a force so powerful that it will never let up. Therefore Sapphire and Steels briefings aren’t based on the destruction of it but the containment of it within the constraints of this ‘fabric’ boundary.


Having established that the detectives are based in our current period we have time also represented as paranormal. Old bygone objects become sacrosanct and can ultimately be very, very dangerous. Age is attributed to such objects that all act as triggers for when time becomes very bad. These are always measured and dated from the present time should we go along with the big bang theory.


The names of our titular detectives are done for euphonic purpose as neither is a single element in there selves, Sapphire is aluminium oxide and Steel manufactured from iron and Carbon. Therefore this could explain why the time detectives are so important to each other, one covers what their other team member lacks? Some of the other ‘medium atomic weights’ from the opening credits mentioned are pure elements namely Gold, Lead, Copper, Radium and Silver. Diamond is another form of carbon and Jet, a polished ignite (a rock formed by partially decomposed vegetation, and therefore another form of carbon with traces of hydrogen, oxygen and magnesium). It is noticeable to the very observant that ‘Lead’ is replaced by ‘Mercury’ in the titles narrative for story 6 and the third episode of story four.


One of the other praises are for the noteworthy supporting cast, their integrity to the plot can at times be as pinnacle and essential as the leads. In story one and lesser degree story four the child actors and actresses are most convincing. Some of the stage school droids churned out then, and now, can be toe curlingly bad and can let a whole episode down due to the way they have been mishandled by the director. The examples of this show are leagues above the norm, playing their cameos with artistic skill making yet again the whole scenario highly believable.

Gerald James’ performance as George Tully, doomed ghost-hunter is absolutely spot on, praise for the ‘ghosts’ that haunt him to. They come across as genuinely scary but just as sad, the sadness however is touching but not used as a weakness for it is this emotional drive that is causing the instability and the desire to exist until justice is satisfactorily carried out. No wonder this tale is the most fondly remembered.


Visually and technologically this story works well too, the haunting possession of Sapphire as she is taken over by ‘The Darkness’ rendering her face to nothing more than organic decay is one of many superbly executed pieces that nightmares are only made of. Shaun O’Riordan skilfully crafts sadness and claustrophobia in this story and milks it for all it is worth for maximum impact.


Eldred and Rothwyn featuring in story 3 are relatively weak in comparison to predecessors and successors but this let down is superseded by Paul Collings portrayal of the puckish Silver. ‘Leads’ a bit of a let down as he comes across as a guffawing stereotype that wouldn’t be out of place in ‘Uncle Toms Cabin’ .Setting this minor affectation aside Lead is also a welcomed addition as we see more of the mystery mentioned at the very beginning a la credit roll.

Alyson Spiros’ character Liz in the fourth story sees the return of the strong character in the form of ‘a tart with a heart’. There for identifiability and fondness for the audience we can see that this is merely face value. As the plot unfolds Liz’s’ integrity to the story is essential as ultimately she is the one that saves Sapphire and Steel from entrapment by the haunting magritte-esque ‘faceless man’.


The fifth story is the worst I feel, the characters plod their way through a confused, sentimental plot. There is a small display of ‘Ham’ from the male entourage and some of it seems like a badly filmed episode of a game show murder-mystery, I am afraid it is more ‘Cluedo’ than ‘Christie’.

This doesn’t spoil ones enjoyment as this still could be used as an example of a slice of decent television still blowing most of our contemporary British and Yank import dross out of the water. There is the odd gruesome incident to stop the spectator from dozing but it all ends rather hurriedly and swimmingly ….. WHACKO!!!

Another contender for the ‘Best of…’ crown has respectively been saved for last. Story six combines all the elements that made the other stories work so well and they're delivered gift wrapped! Force fields, ghosts, rhymes of a bygone age and people from different time zones are all staple ingredients to this cracking yarn from P.J Hammond.


There are, thankfully, no flash gadgets and no o.t.t graphics but there is plenty of atmosphere and scares by the bucket load which compensate for the simple sfx on display. It is because of this simplicity that the stories are so credible I feel anything CGI or similar would dumb down the impetus as the viewers would be distracted from what quality show is really offering the viewer.



Story six also sees the focus switch from people in jeopardy to solely on the main leads. Silver makes a welcome return but a big question marked exit – did he manage to escape? If he did maybe he freed Sapphire and Steel in an adventure we could only ever imagine but will never see.


The programme uses the detective story idiom owing more to Agatha Christie for all its would be Chanderlesque overtones, and yet its science as magic approach is retrospective of H.G Wells’ spacious and part sincere rambling at the beginning of ‘The Time Machine’ about the nature of time.


Sapphire and Steel are time detectives unyet the ‘crimes’ they sleuth are more like misguided accidents. Each story follows the same principality; something goes wrong with time people reappear from it and vice-versa, enigmatic malignant forces try to distort and machinate time to the point it wants to destroy humanity as well as the unpredictable behaviour of time itself.

Our duos job is to restore the balance and general status quo to make things ‘o.k.’ again. The pair profess that they have emotional deficiency but most definitely comprehend it and can be seen to be displaying it in others. They may be alien with dispassion but their sense of values are very humanistic. It seems they have lost their aptitude to express it rather than never having it in the first place.

There is also an undertone of sexual frisson between the characters. Only once do I recall Steel mentioning the word ‘love’ and that was highly cant in manner. He is also jealous of Sapphires attention to Silvers flirtatious manner and praise. Steel can also on the other hand be extremely waspish towards Sapphire, these instances last the majority of screen time fortunately, a cuddly Steel – perish the thought!

If we hypothesise that Sapphire has ‘feelings’ for Steel, she could have a soft spot for his inner child who on the surface seems acrimonious and aloof when it comes to displaying any affection.

Minimalist without sacrificing realism is the order of the day for the feel of the show. All the houses and buildings are cobwebbed derelicts, settings and costumes are naturalistic and sparse, colours are recherché. Palettes of sepia, grey and blue are permanent washes to the supernal settings, I hope you can see these from the screenshots supplied. The number of sets used for each set are very few and fairly basic, but it works so, so well thanks to O’Riordans superlative camerawork.


Another thing that brings this to life and an important ingredient as flour is to bread are the quality performances by the supporting cast , their talents are truly first rate making the unbelievable even more believable.

It is with a crestfallen heart that I realise we will never see a show of this calibre and style again. The demand for vulgarity has overtaken the quality aspect that used to be for the viewing public first and foremost. In our times this has been sailed down the river in favour of monotony where the stakes of getting a lucrative cash cow has taken over the risks of bringing in brand new talent and concepts.

Where are our Comedy Playhouses? Where are the Play for Today’s? Where are our anthology series, that proved the best possible breeding ground for up and coming talent fused with household names.

That helps new writers get their works realised, that are performed by new talent in front of new directors? Such possibilities can come from such a wealth of plays on different themes, different ideas and different perception; this individualism seems no longer applicable as television is becoming like the high street globalised and faceless. One will be able to stand in most town centres and won’t be able to differentiate between them

With this lack of innovativity the televisual media will be as safe as it always has been but a much bigger and powerful little money making machine that will feed us quality television in drips and drabs but pump the rest out in all it’s diamante and glittery spangle.

Setting the above aside you can pick up the Region 1 DVD stateside that has lots more extras and neat packaging and watch digitally enhanced adventures of the most unusual detectives of latter 1970s televisions golden age.

If you have some more spare time and like to relax whilst being spooked check out the new ‘Big Finish’ c.d adventures, these are surprisingly nifty little adventures with not to much change to disappoint the fan. Fortunately they also managed to use the original theme that gives it that little ‘seal of approval’. Thanks for keeping this show alive all involved.



Hope you enjoyed the break from the norm, now back to our more adult orientated fayre………………………………………………..