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Klute (1971)


kingrat
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*Klute* (1971, dir. Alan J. Pakula) has solid performances and a fairly good script, but is sunk by the murky cinematography of Gordon Willis, which is ugly, dated, pretentious, and dysfunctional. Perhaps TCM showed a poor print of a film badly in need of restoration, but I?m inclined to think this is how Willis wanted the film to look, just as Robert Altman wanted a barely audible soundtrack for *McCabe and Mrs. Miller*. Watching Klute, I didn?t know who had shot it, but thought, ?Wow, this influenced *The Godfather*.? Which Willis also shot, and some of which is also too murky and mannered for my taste, though *Klute* is much worse.

 

Oddly enough, Pakula?s next film, *Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing* (1973), is one of the best-looking films of the 1970s, with superb cinematography by Christopher Challis. At least at this early stage of his career?these are his second and third movies?Pakula seems overshadowed by the visual style of his DPs. I?ve always vaguely associated Pakula with movies I liked, without remembering exactly which films he directed. Checking imdb, I?ve seen nine of his sixteen films and more or less liked all of them except *Klute*. In general, his work is based on the storytelling principles of classic Hollywood, although *Klute* is trendier in this regard than most of his films.

 

Perhaps Willis is trying to create a color equivalent for film noir. If so, he fails. A call girl?s life is a dark world. Yep, I get that, but I like to be able to see what is going on. The brief action scenes are all throwaways because we can?t see what?s going on. When the detective and the call girl finally, as we knew they would, have sex, we can?t tell anything about their emotions by looking at their faces because, you guessed it, we can?t actually see their faces. When the call girl?s apartment is trashed, she holds up something and screams. I was guessing it was a wig, but later dialogue tells us it was ****-stained underwear. When the call girl and the detective find a junkie hooker and her boyfriend, the left side of the screen is in light. Naturally, the two junkies are in darkness on the right.

 

Willis seems eventually to have grown away from his love affair with gloomy brown, and I like his work with Woody Allen. I should mention one brilliantly shot scene in *Klute*: with huge Warhol-like pictures on the wall, a casting director and his assistant go down the row of young women trying out for a cosmetics commercial. We never see the heads of the casting director and his assistant (shades of *Rebel Without a Cause*).

 

Jane Fonda won the Oscar, though she doesn?t really have any big scenes. Her scenes with the psychiatrist are particularly good. In her early movies like *Period of Adjustment* and *In the Cool of the Day* she looks like a very pretty young woman who tries hard but isn?t much of an actress. By *They Shoot Horses, Don?t They?* she had learned to act. By the way, her shag haircut is probably one of the most influential hairstyles in the history of movies. Donald Sutherland?s character is drastically underwritten. He?s a private detective who?s basically a decent guy; everything else is supplied by Sutherland?s agreeable screen presence. Rita Gam has a great scene as a madam, Dorothy Tristan and Roy Scheider excel as the two junkies mentioned above, and Jean Stapleton adds a jolt of energy in her one brief scene late in the movie.

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I loved LOVE AND PAIN AND THE WHOLE DAMN THING and am thankful to TCM for introducing me to this wonderful movie. I only wish that they had not shown the movie in pan-and-scan. Perhaps that's the only version of the movie available, but I always feel I'm not seeing the complete picture when I see a film I know was shot in widescreen in pan-and-scan, not to mention the the fuzziness of the image that results from this process.

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I like Klute in general. It's no great cinematic achievement, but it's a well-done suspense tale. The writing is spare and unsentimental, with little of the modern pop-sociological verbiage, except for a few squeamish moments during the psychiatrist's sessions. I agree the cinematographer tried for a film noir look, but I'm not so outraged by it. As for not seeing peoples faces, well, one of the themes of the movie is emotional disconnection, so maybe that mitigates it a little. It's unfortunate Miss Fonda's haircut was so influential, it's particularly unflattering. That producer-guy in the movie was right, she should get her hair off her face. In fact, paradoxically, considering her profession, she looks the least lovely and sexy in this movie of any of her pictures of this period.

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In an interview with Larry King, Barbra Streisand mentioned that she was offered the role in KLUTE but turned it down. Years later Streisand *would* play a high-class call girl in NUTS. And of course she played a "hooker" in THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT in the 1970s.

 

PS. The shag haircut looked much better on the guy from THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY.

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I didn't find Klute 's cinematography particularly objectionable, and the soundtrack was nowhere near as muffled as 90% of the post-1970 gangster movies I've grown to love.

 

But this was the first time I'd seen it since it was in first run, and it was a minor disappointment. Fonda's acting wasn't remotely on the level of what she displayed in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Sutherland's character is just too pure and perfect and frankly more than a bit unbelievable, and the plot's denouement was obvious from about the second time the camera gave a closeup focus on Cable's face. But then The Big Boss is always going to be the ultimate villain in any Jane Fonda movie. Big surprise.

 

When I first saw Klute back in 1971, I thought it was a fine dramatic portrait of the vulnerability of the street trade. Now it just seems like a period piece that's neither fish nor fowl. It tries to make a social statement but appeal to the mass audience via a run of the mill detective story. But the plot line is tired, and the message part was conveyed much better by Miriam Hopkins in The Story of Temple Drake, even with that movie's eyerolling final scene.

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> her shag haircut is probably one of the most influential hairstyles in the history of movies.

 

It was certainly appreciated more than the godawful fad of Streisand's bee hive. Though women everywhere were affecting that hairspray monstrosity for a couple of years, I never knew a man who liked it.

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It was certainly appreciated more than the godawful fad of Streisand's bee hive. Though women everywhere were affecting that hairspray monstrosity for a couple of years, I never knew a man who liked it.

 

Though if you can believe the urban legend that was known coast to coast like butter and toast, there were a lot of head lice who did. ;)

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and, according to urban legend, spiders.

 

The head lice version was from the DC area. Where did the spiders come from?

 

Though now that I think about it, given that the setup part of the legend was that the poor girl had never washed her hair for something like three months before her rather nasty demise, her skull may well have been infiltrated by a few mice and snakes as well as by all those lice and spiders. :)

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I haven't seen KLUTE in many a year. What I DO recall is that the cinematography was par for the course for the '70's. What I did like about it was the structured, carefully delianated proceedure Klute used in his investigation. Probably more true to life than most "private eye" movies made before or after. I'll have to dig up my copy(on tape) to see if the print held up, and get reaquainted with it.

 

Sepiatone

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