Many people have tried and failed to adapt Henry Miller’s semi-autobiographical style that incorporated free-wheeling and surrealist free association to break narratives free of conventional restraints. But of all the Miller adaptations for the big screen, Jens Jørgen Thorsen’s 1970 effort Quiet Days in Clichy comes very close to depicting Miller’s potpourri of influences by grafting French New Wave technique onto the source material, creating an obscene and pornographic reflection that’s mostly plotless and filled with hetero hijinks the likes of which Miller reveled in. Blue Underground brings this provocative film (that was originally seized by the US Government) to 4K UHD with a beautiful filmic presentation sourced from the recently discovered uncut and uncensored original fine-grain negative. Blue Underground ports over the special features from their 2011 Blu-ray release and adds a couple more to become a Recommended 4K UHD release.
The adaptation of Quiet Days in Clichy updates the novel from 1930s-era Paris to the 1960s, when free love and the sexual revolution were clearly being felt, upsetting the norms already established for years. In Paris, the sexual revolution can even be tied right back to the May 1968 student uprising in Paris that resulted in a public confrontation with France’s Minister of Sports. I bring up that moment in time because that event isn’t directly tied to the film but properly illustrates the kind of energy and attitude toward the government and conservatism in general. You can take the film as offering much of the same energy, finding power in the depiction of sex acts that do so much to support the threadbare story.
If you’ve ever read the Henry Miller novel of the same name, then you know Quiet Days in Clichy is semi-autobiographical and involves Miller’s experiences in France as he was writing Black Spring. In the film, American writer Joey (Paul Valjean) and his European roommate Carl (Wayne Rodda) share an apartment in the Clichy-sous-Bois district of Paris. They’re both broke, but whatever money they can throw together they use to chase women. The 91-minute runtime filled with the duo flitting across Paris in pursuit of the right to have a good time.
If we’re to take the film as its own narrative effort, then it falls flat. But that’s not exactly what Danish filmmaker Jens Jørgen Thorsen was going for to begin with. In contrast to the Henry Miller adaptation made at the same exact time, Joseph Strick’s Tropic of Cancer starring Rip Torn, Quiet Days in Clichy does away with pretty much every narrative convention to create something as free-wheeling as Miller’s writing. Where Tropic of Cancer was too tied into the actualization of Miller’s literary voice on the screen, Quiet Days in Clichy revels in being able to depict something looser and in turn, more provocative.
Unsimulated hardcore sex is depicted at different points in the film, yet it’s clear none of it was meant to be erotic. The film finds humor in watching these two idiots run across town and try to have sex with anyone that gives them the time of day. Thorsen even went as far as to take sex workers off of the streets and have them play themselves in the film. The kind of thing that would probably make Miller proud and a great deal of other people uncomfortable. But hey, that’s the ethos of Miller’s work. To depict is to liberate.
In 1970, two prints of Quiet Days in Clichy were seized by US Customs and soon the distributor was put on trial on charges of indecency. Thankfully the charges were dropped after there was no malice to be found, yet that action is indicative of just how much Miller’s work upset the norms. Whether you think the film is a proper representation of that is another thing entirely, but I encourage you to check it out to see a moment in time captured breathlessly and without boundaries or limitations.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Country Joe McDonald croons and men chase women in Quiet Days in Clichy with Blue Underground’s two-disc (BD-66 for the UHD and BD-50 for the Blu-ray). Both discs are housed in a black Scanavo case and the case comes with reversible artwork. The case itself is housed in a limited-edition slipcover with nice embossing found on other Blue Underground releases. The 4K BD-66 disc boots up to a menu screen with options to play the film, choose subtitle, select scenes and explore extras. Snippets from the score play over a static menu screen.
Before tackling this review, I took a look at the 2014 review of the original 1080p Blu-ray of the film from Blue Underground. Detail levels weren’t too strong on that release, struggling to bring the most out of the black and white aesthetic. That being said, it’s my grand pleasure to report that this new 2160p presentation was sourced from a new 4K restoration of the original fine-grain camera negative stuns in every way possible. Some people may deride the presentation for offering too clean of a look, but I thought it looked marvelously filmic, with those Paris locations looking more defined than ever with rich, deep blacks.
The Dolby Vision HDR layer really pulls the most out of the source possible and really aids the heavy shadows that are prevalent in the interiors. Those exteriors on the streets of Paris look remarkably deep and film grain, although very thick, is resolved beautifully. There’s nary any damage to find in this presentation as well, plus it looks like this presentation offers a bit extra image information over the previous 2011 Blu-ray. Comparing screenshots from the old Blu-ray to this new presentation only reveals just how much of an upgrade this release is. Another bang-up job from the crew at Blue Underground.
Speaking of upgrades, the new 24-bit DTS-HD 1.0 Mono track is leaps and bounds better than the Mono track included on the 2011 Blu-ray. Where the old track had a ton of crackle, hiss, flat spots and other damage notes, this new track comes out strong with none of that damage. It offers a very clean and balanced representation of the sometimes-haphazard dubbing and while it’s not the most robust track, it’s a treat to have all the dialogue and sound effects cleaned up as much as possible.
Blue Underground ports over the three interviews included on the 2011 Blu-ray release. The interview with Country Joe McDonald is worth paying attention to, as the singer provided the provocative music for the film and may himself be a bit too conservative for a film that’s about free love and expression. In addition, Blue Underground has provided both a Deleted Scene and Original Theatrical Trailer in 4K UHD (with Dolby Vision), which is a very nice touch for this release.
Provocation is the name of the game in Quiet Days in Clichy, but what sticks is the freedom to express. Blue Underground has upgraded their previous 2011 Blu-ray release of the film beautifully to 4K UHD with a stellar 4K presentation sourced from a recently discovered fine-grain negative, plus they’ve ported over the previous features and added a couple of supplements for this release. No matter what you think about Henry Miller’s work, this film is emblematic of the free-wheeling, dissociative work he changed the world with. This new 4K UHD release comes Recommended!