May 15, 2008

The Delirious Fictions of William Klein


Reviewer: Monica Peck
Rating (out of 5): ****½

The Delirious Fictions of William Klein

This remarkable trio of films - now out on DVD thanks to the Eclipse Collection, a director-centric arm of Criterion -- needs no introduction to those already familiar with the ultra-fabulous visual oeuvre of William Klein, whose satirical visions have been called prescient by so many. Yet, perhaps any artist of note is in some way prescient, and prescience itself is neither virtue nor vice in a world without grand narrative.

So, what is so remarkable about Klein? These three movies pry open claustrophobic worlds with all too familiar social and political structures - and familiarity breeds contempt. What keeps us watching is the energy, the sheer aesthetic force that empowers each frame, each worthy of a Vogue cover, sent into our drab-weary retina. From the runway models clad in swirling metal in Who Are you, Molly Magoo? to the 'fashionably green' Ikea-esque furniture in The Model Couple to the stars-and-stripes retail cheerleaders in Mr. Freedom, Klein uses our perceptions of what is chic - and consumable, as such - to point out inequities, injustices, and hypocrisies that occur simply through the structure of systems themselves. By virtue of the very fabric of his vision, Klein coerces us into examining our own ways of being in the world, as citizens of a post-industrial, televised (and now streaming) universe.

As forward-thinking as Klein's films may seem, they are also deeply rooted in the cinema of their time. The black-and-white Who Are you, Molly Magoo? (1966) seems almost like a conversation with Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) both in terms of topic - a troubled ingénue caught in celebrity's cross-hairs - and in terms of attempting to capture the surreal verities of daily life. Likewise, the color-kitschy Mr. Freedom (1969) also speaks, or shouts, from its iconic year. Mr. Freedom's gaudiness participates in the spirit of the Sixties psychedelic radicalism that also brought us Planet of the Apes (1968) and Catch-22 (1970). And where would The Model Couple (1977) stand without the context of John Cassavettes' Faces (1968)?

There is something charmingly low-brow in Klein's films, too, in the goofy dialogue, garish gore, campy political gesturing. What better way to inform the over-informed than through pure aesthetic volleys of hilarious ridiculousness? It may be the weakness of Klein is also his greatest strength: for some these films will be too intense, perhaps too overtly dogmatic, and even too long. Only those able to completely surrender to Klein's generous child-like duplications will be able to fully enjoy such relevant visual hedonism.

The Eclipse set, alas, doesn't offer any bonus features, but the films themselves are reward enough.

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Posted by cphillips at May 15, 2008 3:58 PM
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