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.

 

The Criterion Six

criterion6I don’t really write much about disc purchases too often of late. Its true that I’ve even tried to limit those purchases, mainly because I’ve so many discs now, too many double-dips across so many formats over the years (even for a film-lover that can be wearing) and too many on the shelf still unwatched. There’s only one thing worse than spending too much money on films I only watch once, and that’s films I still haven’t gotten around to watching at all.

In any case, sometimes sales get the better of me, and in the past week or so a sale on Criterion discs across most vendors here in the UK has just proved too much to resist, especially as I’ve recently been turning my attention to older films that I’ve missed. So here is the Criterion Six- six films that I have bought in the past two weeks while the sale was running. I’m intending to make a point of both watching and reviewing these films to justify, well, buying them.

I tried to be a bit canny choosing the films- indeed I actually struggled to pick six (the offer was two films for £25 so I had to pick films in pairs) as some films in the offer I already owned and I wanted the ones I chose to be films I was really curious to watch, rather than films that might just end up on that shelf. Naturally another thing was to choose films I hadn’t seen before (although one slipped through that net) so that nixed the temptations of the Criterion Solaris and Stalker. So anyway, a few notes about the films I chose:

c6cranesThe Cranes Are Flying: This is a film/release that exemplifies what is so great about boutique labels like Criterion, Arrow etc: up until about a week ago, I didn’t even know this film existed. The beautiful cover art on the Criterion caught my eye first (so yeah, good graphic design still matters!), and then investigating it, the film became irresistible to me. A Russian film from 1957, its described as being beautifully shot and powerfully affecting, and someone online reckoned it was similar in theme and mood to Legends of the Fall, only better. That’s a hell of a bait to someone like me, and got to be worth what amounts to a £12.50 punt: blind buys can be exciting and so rewarding. Besides which I really don’t see enough World Cinema, so should be a welcome change of pace.

c6kissKiss Me Deadly: The first thing I looked for when going through the Criterion’s in the offer was film noir, because that’s what I’ve been settling into the past few weeks (blame Covid 19 I suppose) and a genre I’ve always found enjoyable: pretty much a safe bet for a blind buy. As usual I’ve avoided any details and dodged the trailers, but it looks pretty wild from what I’ve seen of it.

Anatomy of a Murder: This is the film that got me onto this Criterion deal in the first place, so has a lot to answer for. Bunny Lake is Missing and Laura brought me to this one, as its directed by Otto Preminger, and I seem to be going through his filmography at the moment. The fact that it starred one of my favourite actors, the great James Stewart sealed the deal and had me looking for another Criterion to go with it. I actually watched this last night and really enjoyed it, so review coming soon: I will just say that this film is so morally obtuse it should have been re-titled Fifty Shades of Grey.

Detour: Another film noir and one with quite a reputation by all accounts, and another one of those films that I had no idea even existed a few weeks ago. Its cheaply made on half a shoestring and perhaps as a consequence of that is very short (69 mins, crikey) and used to be available only in horrible prints, apparently, but this release followed an extensive restoration. Really curious about this one, but I have the feeling I need to wait for the right night to watch it (suspect its absolutely a late-night experience like most, if not all, film noir but maybe in this case especially so).

c6kluteKlute: I’ve heard about this one but never seen it. I’m a big fan of 1970s American Cinema and love the frequent sense of paranoia that infects so many films of that era (The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor etc). I’ve never really had much time for Jane Fonda in films, no doubt one of the reasons I’ve never seen this before, so I’d be pleasantly surprised if her turn here impresses me, but I am a fan of Donald Sutherland so hopefully worth the punt at the price being asked. I’m reminded however that I never bought Three Days of the Condor on Blu-ray, so if this reignites my penchant for 1970s American Cinema it could turn out be more expensive a purchase than initially thought.

c6failFail Safe: The one film of the six that I have seen before- once, and many years ago: late at night on BBC2 when it blew my mind. It used to be so great, watching late-night films, its something nobody seems to do anymore on the network channels. Anyway, I’m looking forward to watching this again after so many years in a much better presentation than all those years ago.