Klute (1971)

klute2Its rare that I watch a film these days and just think, wow, I’ve just seen one of my favourite films, ever. That’s what happened watching Alan Pakula’s 1971 thriller Klute. It was just… brilliant. Almost faultless. The script, the acting, the cinematography, the understated direction, the subtle, unnerving music score… wonderful stuff. To think I stumbled into buying this Criterion edition on Blu-ray pretty much by accident.

Its a comforting thought that there are lots of excellent films out there that I just simply haven’t stumbled across yet. Its then a scary realisation that, following that flow of logic, that there are lots of excellent films that I never will. Well, at least Klute didn’t escape me.

Its a curiosity that the subject of the films title, detective John Klute (Donald Sutherland) isn’t really the focus of the film: he’s secondary throughout to the drama and ensuing character study surrounding call-girl/aspiring actress Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda), a breathtaking turn that rightfully won Fonda an Academy Award. I’m not a fan of Fonda -it was really Sutherland’s involvement that turned me onto this film- but she blew me away with this one, causing me to reconsider my appraisal of her as an actress. The film follows a missing-persons investigation that brings John Klute to New York, his only lead to finding missing businessman and friend Tom Gruneman bringing him to the door of Bree Daniels, and a subsequent tour of the low-rent, low-life worst of 1970s New York.

klute3The setting is everything: there is a gritty, nightmare reality to New York depicted in this film, far removed from the post-bankruptcy Disneyland that the city has since become. These are streets not far from those of Taxi Driver. There is something so simple and direct about it: Pakula isn’t trying to shock, he’s simply showing us how things are (were). Likewise none of the cast really draws any attention to themselves- this is the era of 1970s American Cinema and an understated realism to performances and appearances: these are not remarkable-looking, beautiful people populating this film, just ordinary-looking Joes, and indeed the scariest thing about the killer that stalks Bree is that he appears to be an Everyman, nothing remarkable about him at all. I think modern Hollywood would be hard-pressed to cast this film now; the whole point of actors now is to draw attention to themselves, engender individuality to justify their multi-million dollar pay-cheques. Sutherland seems to blend with the wallpaper and brickwork in some scenes, as if he’s trying top convince us he isn’t even there. Fonda, of course, only benefits from the vacumn he leaves in his wake: the film is really her story, and everyone else -Klute, her clients, her psychiatrist, the killer- orbit around her like satellites caught in her gravity.

The cinematography by Gordon Willis (described as the “prince of darkness” because of his skills with light and dark in his films) is draw-droppingly beautiful. Several times I was reminded of Blade Runner, and its clear to me that Klute was likely an influence on how that film looked (compare much of Klute to, say, the lighting of Deckard’s apartment), but while Blade Runner‘s cinematography always drew attention to itself, becoming a character all its own in that film, there is a subtlety to the photography here. And yet the atmosphere, the claustrophobia that fills Klute is all from that cinematography: Bree has an heart of darkness that we can see in every scene, and the delicious (oh so 1970s!) ending has an ambiguity enough to suggest she never escapes from it.

Fantastic film. I absolutely loved it. If by some slim chance you were like me and have never seen it, rectify that as soon as you can.


Stabbing Tedium

fanatic2017.56: Fanatic (1965)

This one’s a pretty strange Hammer movie. It lacks the usual ‘look’ and cast of a Hammer film, with more the feel of a (bad) Hitchcock thriller. But there’s plenty in it that deserves a watch- a young Stefanie Powers is really pretty great in a very under written part, as a heroine who does very little heroic and there’s Tallulah Bankhead chewing up scenery like she’s in full-blown demolition mode. It’s really very odd and I doubt it’s ever really in line for a rewatch (it’s the worst of the four films featured in Indicator’s first Hammer box), but you never know, sometimes these crazy curio pictures pull you back more often than you’d expect.

Even at 97 mins though it really outstays its welcome, with a very flimsy plot. Our ill-fated heroine, Patricia Carroll (Powers) feels she has to visit the mother of her recently-deceased boyfriend to pay her respects, little knowing that the mother, Mrs Trefoile (Bankhead) is a religious zealot and nuttier than the fruitiest fruit cake. The old lady imprisons Patricia in her isolated house and suffers her to listen to her bible readings, intent on cleansing the young girl’s soul before killing her (and therefore reuniting Patricia with her son). That might make the film seem more interesting than it really is.

What helps the film, like in so many bad movies such as Lifeforce, is the retrospective oddity of its casting. The supporting cast includes the late great Peter Vaughan (I’m thinking of Brazil but most will be thinking of Game of Thrones) and Yootha Joyce, famous here for 1970s sitcoms (and apparently subject to unwelcome attentions from the bisexual Bankhead during filming). Couple this with a bizarre turn by an impossibly young Donald Sutherland, and it’s quite a strange item.

Unfortunately by the time it stutters to its ending it really becomes rather tedious. They don’t make ’em like they used to, and sometimes maybe that’s just as well.

Revisiting ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1978)

bodyI’m not a big fan of remakes, we live in an age when  we are swamped with them (and the remake’s bastard child, the dreaded reboot). There was a time when remakes were quite rare, and this was one of the first and possibly very best. Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers– like John Carpenter’s The Thing a few years later, is a genuinely great remake that offers something new while at the same time being respectful of the original work. It also shares with Carpenter’s film an incredibly bleak ending. Both films show humans struggling against an alien presence and it can be seen that in both films that struggle fails. I suppose Carpenter’s film offers some hint of hope in its ambiguity, but there’s no doubt about Body Snatchers; its the End of the World, for humanity at least (although where does the pods propensity for copying lifeforms end? Once humanity is copied, would they need to turn their attention to all the rest of Earth’s lifeforms next?).

Kaufman’s Body Snatchers is a refreshing experience compared to current sci-fi/horror films. You can certainly tell it was a 1970s film- it carries much of the feel of films of that decade, in that it all looks very real and ordinary, without any Hollywood artifice. It features a brilliant cast of ordinary-looking actors playing ordinary characters. Well, I say ‘ordinary’ but there’s something pleasantly kooky about each of them, the film showing them as examples of what makes each of us different, each of us truly human, as opposed to the pod-person version. There is nothing particularly special or heroic about any of them but they are fascinating all the same.

body2Our protagonist is an ‘Everyman’: Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland). a San Francisco health inspector, whose best friend Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) is a lab analyst in his department. Elizabeth is in a relationship but her boyfriend that she is living with has started to act strangely. Bennell has noticed other people complaining the same about their partners too; he thinks maybe she should see David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) a psychologist friend of his. When they finally meet, Kibner reveals he has had a number of patients saying the same thing- but he dismisses it as surely just a symptom of the modern world, an excuse for getting out of a failing relationship, for not showing commitment or being able to compromise. At least that’s what he is saying- but he’s basically asking people to ‘sleep on it’ and it soon becomes apparent that sleep is death. So is Kibner really Kibner anymore? Can anyone be trusted?

The film taps into very real modern-world anxieties. In a busy city of thousands of strangers, is there something odd about strangers seeming strange? In the film, we ‘see’ countless faces of people/characters in crowded scenes that we cannot know; who is human, who not? The pacing of the film is slow and hypnotic- from the very start of the film, it’s already too late. How many days or weeks before have the alien lifeforms been drifting down from the sky? The films characters are stumbling onto something that has alread progressed beyond the tipping point. We are witnessing the slow end of everything. Street scenes feature mundane events like trash lorries collecting rubbish; until the familiarity of it in successive scenes becomes disturbing and we realise that’s not just normal domestic rubbish being trashed. We see crowd scenes with isolated figures running by, sometimes being chased by others, ignored by both the general crowd and the main characters. They are all hints at other stories of horror unfolding in the background as the menace slowly spreads. It is all very subtle. The world is ending and no-one knows it.

I guess that makes it the scariest End of the World scenario there is. Great movie, and one that is certainly standing the test of time, as relevant now as it ever was back on its release.