Quiet Days in Clichy  (1970) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"Yes, it was a period when cunt was in the air"

Henry Miller, Quiet days in Clichy

The sixties were a decade of liberation in many ways, including the publication of some material which had been forbidden for decades. When making the case for publication, the lawyers would argue that the works were not pornographic. This would have been a tough sell with Henry Miller's Quiet Days in Clichy, because the author wrote it with the specific intention of making it pornographic.

Miller had returned to the United States in 1940 after spending the 1930s in France. He was penniless, as usual, looking around for a source of ready cash, when he came upon an offer he could not refuse. An erotic book dealer in Manhattan told Miller about Roy Johnson, an oil tycoon who was willing to pay a dollar a page for original pornographic stories. Miller quickly cashed in with two hurriedly scribbled fictionalized accounts of the months in Paris when he shared an apartment with his friend Alfred Perlés of The Trib. Miller and Perlés are thinly disguised as "Joey" and "Carl" in the two books, Quiet Days in Clichy and Mara Marignon.

Living in California in 1956, Miller found the manuscripts and thought he could improve them, so he rewrote them and submitted them to his French publisher. The revisions were published in France, but were banned in the USA, as was the routine procedure with Miller's books, which were considered pornographic. Of course, it would have been impossible to argue that they were not pornographic when the author wrote them for a guy who was paying a buck a page for porn. The times were a-changin' in the middle sixties, however, and in 1965 the United States Supreme Court declared that Miller's Tropic of Cancer could be published or imported legally. Grove Press, a small publishing house that specialized in avant-garde material, rushed five of Miller's works to press. That summer, those five books occupied the top spots on the Publisher's Weekly bestseller list. Since they were rushed out after the landmark court ruling, the Miller books had no real competition in the dirty book world, and Americans had collectively decided that they were ready for dirty books.

Not long after that time, somewhat after the hippie era had been inaugurated by the Summer of Love in 1967, the Danish filmmaker Jens Thorsen was looking for a project that would appeal to the new baby boomer credo of free love. He thought Miller's work was perfect fodder for the Woodstock generation. Miller was a classic bohemian whose only goals in Paris were to write as much as possible, and to get laid as much as possible, not necessarily in that order. He was opposed to the conventional notions of morality, and he opposed anyone who told him what to do, what to write, or what to publish. He seemed to be the perfect icon for the 60s.

Thorsen may or may not have been right. While the 60s era of liberation embraced some of Miller's anti-authoritarian principles, Miller's concepts of womanhood were developed decades before our collective consciousness had been raised by feminism. His work is kind of intellectually sexy, but it was also sexist by the standards of the 60s and 70s. County Joe McDonald, who wrote the score, which was essentially a summary of the plot in a long narrative song, noted that he was booed and hooted from the stage when he performed it for hippie crowds. And that was Country Joe they were booing - veritable hero and honorary bard of the Woodstock Nation. So it goes.


  • Louise White - all
  • Anne Kehler - frontal
  • Lisbet Lundquist -breasts
  • Ulla Koppel - all
  • Susanne Krage -all
  • Petronella -all
  • frontal nudity from various others
  • buns from Paul Valjean
  • buns and erect penis from Wayne Rodda

There is a brief penetration shot between Rodda and White

Whether Thorson's basic theory was correct or incorrect, his execution was dreadful.

  • He had never made a commercially viable feature film before, and it showed. The no-budget B&W film looks like a home movie made by your dad with a hand-held 8 mm camera, except it has "arty" touches like handwriting on the film cels, or additional narrative provided by word slides and songs and other such corny gimmicks.
  • Some typed or hand-written words are added as an overlay to the action. To illustrate Miller's famous "cunt was in the air" line, for example, the visuals consisted of picture postcard shots of Paris with the word "cunt" hand-written on every available bit of open sky. In the air - get it?
  • Other typed quotations occupy the entire frame, like the dialogue cards from the silent movies. "Then Joey remembered the money hidden in the Proust volume". "Simon LeGree knew that Tess Trueheart had no other way to pay the rent".
  • The first two minutes consists of a blank screen. (Country Joe sings on the audio track.)
  • The sex scenes are boring and poorly lit.
  • Most of the running time consists of either boring sex scenes or street scenes in Paris and Luxembourg. All right! Another shot of fish on display in the open market! Yessssss!
  • It isn't really a movie at all, in the conventional sense. Miller's books are rich in dialogue, light on narration. They are also episodic, with no real structural glue to hold the episodes together. Thorsen's film just placed some people in rooms and had them recite Miller's dialogue verbatim from the book, while his word slides showed us the narrative portion of Miller's words. Voila! Instant cinema. About the only thing Thorsen added to the Miller Stew was a slight change in the order of the episodes, for no apparent purpose.
  • The supporting cast consisted of Danish hippies and actual Parisian prostitutes
  • The lead is hilarious. The guy who played Henry Miller's alter ego looked like Miller, but there is very little possibility that this performer was either an actor or a heterosexual. If he was straight, he could easily have gotten the lead in the biopic of "Lyle, the Effeminate Heterosexual". He was a ballet choreographer who happened to speak both English and Danish, and could therefore do both versions of the film. His only other film acting was a insignificant part in an obscure Danish film seven years later. If he were still alive, he would be up for the lead role in the Danish version of the Rawhide Kid movie.

SIDEBAR: Explaining the obscure reference: Marvel Comics has announced plans to uncloset a gay gunslinger, The Rawhide Kid, who comments in the first edition how much he admires the Lone Ranger's powder blue outfit. Yup, he's an ornery sidewinder, yet he never forgets to set aside a little time for his mother. He's tough and squinty-eyed, but a good moisturizer helps him avoid any telltale crow's-feet. He's a desperado who's quick on the draw, yet not too quick to leave the hide-out without accessorizing. He's one well groomed rootin'-tootin' buckaroo who'll send ya to Boot Hill in a pine box color-coordinated with your outfit. He'll never shoot a man in the back -  at least not with his gun. He's seen on the streets of Tombstone, except when there's a good new musical revue opening down at the Long Branch.

OK, enough about the star. What about the director?

Thorsen himself was still around, as incompetent as ever, as late as 1992, when he directed something called Jesus Comes Back. As I write this, Jesus Vender Tilbage is rated 1.1 at IMDb. The lowest possible score is 1.0, thus making it, at least temporarily, the single lowest rated movie ever made. (The plot: When Jesus returns, he joins a terrorist group!)

Announcer voice: He's back, and he's through with that "turning the other cheek" crap.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.66:1.

  • The DVD has some interesting features. The publisher of Grove Press talks about Henry Miller and this movie, and Country Joe talks about his experiences with the musical score. I watched every minute of the extra material, and read the court documents concerning the film (a DVD-ROM bonus), and the stories behind the film were far more interesting and far livelier than the film.

Of course, lunch with Dick Cheney would be livelier than this film.

Quiet Days in Clichy has minimal cinematic merit, but is at least interesting as a historical footnote. The film was impounded in Los Angeles when it arrived. When it won its court case, the Catholic Bishops Board of Review give it the highest praise, "Morally offensive. A portrait of human depravity." I wish. If it were really that depraved, it would be interesting. Norman Mailer wrote that it was a "celebration of love, art, and bohemian life". Despite these glowing recommendations, it has very little appeal either as a hippie film or as a sex film.

The uncut version has never been seen before in this country, although 75 still images from the film were published in a Grove Press edition of the book, and a few of these images actually became semi-famous posters back in the hippie years. I guess the banned footage is about 5 seconds of an erection, and about a 15 second close-up of the old in-out, as seen from just behind some guy's bottom. In other words, you basically can see his arsehole and his balls in front of some dark stuff. That was controversial stuff in 1970, especially since this was supposed to be arthouse, not grindhouse.

The Critics Vote

  • no major reviews online

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. Voting results: IMDb voters score it a fairly respectable 5.3/10
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, F. As a movie, terrible. As a historical footnote, fascinating!

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