TSPDT placing: #797
Directed by: Alan J. Pakula
Written by: Andy Lewis, David P. Lewis
Starring: Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Roy Scheider, Charles Cioffi, Dorothy Tristan
For the most part, the advent of sound was utilised simply to accompany the on screen action. In Klute (1971), director Alan J. Pakula does something very interesting: he uses audio to layer one scene on top of another. Call-girl Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda), held at the whim of a desperate sexual deviant, is forced to hear the tape recording of a murder. The camera never leaves Bree's face, but the viewer barely sees her. Instead, the mind conjures up an entire scene that was never filmed, the sickening final moments of a drug-addled prostitute at the hands of a disturbed man. A less-assured director might have used video footage, or even a flashback. Pakula understood that the audience would provide its own flashback, and his merging of disparate visual and audio streams allows him to tell two stories at once. In this respect, I wouldn't be surprised if the film was the partial inspiration (along with Antonioni's Blow Up (1966), of course) for Coppola's The Conversation (1974).
Though the film takes its title from Donald Sutherland's small-town detective John Klute, the character himself remains oddly detached throughout. Instead, Pakula is most concerned with Fonda's reluctant call-girl, an aspiring actress who keeps returning to prostitution because it involves an "acting performance" during which she always feels in control. Fonda brings an acute warmth and vulnerability to a film that is, by design, rather cold and detached. Pakula deliberately distances the viewer from the story, placing his audience – not in the room where the action is taking place – but on the opposite end of a recording device. His accusation that the viewer is himself engaging in voyeurism runs alongside such films as Powell's Peeping Tom (1960), Antonioni's Blow Up and many works of Hitchcock. It is Fonda's performance that gives the film its core, more so than the mystery itself, the solution of which is offered early on. However, the extra details we glean from Bree's regular visits to a therapist could easily have been peppered more subtly throughout the film.
Currently my #5 film of 1971:
1) A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)
2) Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah)
3) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart)
4) The French Connection (William Friedkin)
5) Klute (Alan J. Pakula)
6) Get Carter (Mike Hodges)
7) Bananas (Woody Allen)
8) The Stalls of Barchester (Lawrence Gordon Clark) (TV)
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