The Walker Art Center’s ongoing
Regis Dialogue and Film Retrospective
program, which brings together some of the most innovative and influential filmmakers of our time with leading critics, writers, and historians, welcomes back legendary filmmaker William Klein with
In & Out of Fashion: The Films of William Klein
, a showcase of his work presented May 15–June 6. A Regis Dialogue with Klein and filmmaker Paulina del Paso takes place at 8 pm Friday, June 26. Highlights of the series include screenings of Klein’s first feature film Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?; the extraordinary and incendiary documentary Muhammad Ali the Greatest; Messiah, Klein’s satirical construction of visual images set to the music of the George Frideric Handel; and a program featuring some of Klein’s rarely seen short films. A complete series schedule follows.
William Klein has spent six decades producing works that are raw, direct, and confrontational. As an artist, he has resisted categorization and worked within and across many mediums. His vision embraces a moral conscience and a passion for discord, and his films fall into two disparate but complementary categories: eviscerating social satires and illuminating documentaries. It is mostly through the latter that he betrays his fascination with outsiders—both heroes and outlaws.
Born in 1928 into a Jewish family living in an Irish neighborhood in New York, Klein grew up alienated from mainstream culture. After two years overseas in the U.S. army, he was discharged in France, where he has lived and worked since 1948. His varied career has included studying painting with Fernand Léger at the Sorbonne and shooting fashion spreads for U.S. Vogue. His book New York (Life Is Good & Good for You in New York: Trance Witness Revels) (1956) broke many photographic rules and changed the medium; street photography flourished in its wake. Klein’s directorial debut, the impressionistic Broadway by Light (1958), has been called the first pop film. His first feature-length documentary, Cassius le Grand (1965), received the Grand Prix du Festival International de Tours and was eventually recut with later footage from the fight with George Foreman in Zaire to make Muhammad Ali the Greatest (1974). His first feature film, the satirical Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966), was awarded the Prix Jean Vigo at the Cannes Film Festival and is the inspiration for a gallery in The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this spring.
Klein’s fierce independence is reflected in his work on numerous levels. He has been responsible for all that is displayed, printed, or screened, covering the graphic design and the photography of his books and also designing his films’ costumes, sets, and posters as well as writing their scripts and directing. A vitrine of his rare books will be on display in the Bazinet Garden Lobby during the retrospective. The Walker produced the first U.S. tour of Klein’s films in 1989—Cinema Outsider: The Films of William Klein. In the past year, his work has been the subject of several major retrospectives around the world. Such renewed interest in Klein’s filmography, along with the ever-increasing resonance of his critiques of America, from its consumerism to its foreign policy, prompts another look at his body of work. The Walker is pleased to welcome him back for the first time in 20 years.
All films are directed by William Klein and are screened in the Cinema. Unless otherwise noted, tickets to each screening are $8 ($6 Walker members).
Receive five tickets for the price of three: $24 ($18 Walker members)
IN & OUT OF FASHION: THE FILMS OF WILLIAM KLEIN
A REGIS DIALOGUE AND RETROSPECTIV
May 15–June 26
Friday, May 15, 7:30 pm
Banned by the French government, recut by the producer, and misunderstood by the critics upon its release, Mr. Freedom has renewed cultural resonance in post–9/11 America. A raucous, over-the-top satire of Yankee imperialism and self-righteousness, the film follows a ruggedly handsome superhero—an amalgam of James Bond, Buck Rogers, John Wayne, and George W. Bush—who is sent abroad to save France from the red menace. Once revered by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum as “the most anti-American movie ever made” that only an American could make, its dazzling, dizzying visuals and comic style were truly ahead of its time. 1969, 35mm, in English and French with English subtitles. 100 minutes.
Saturday, May 16, 7:30 pm
Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?)
After years of photographing the world of high fashion at Vogue, Klein created one of the most biting satires of the industry and the then-emerging genre of confessional television. Polly Maggoo is a neophyte Brooklynite model in Paris, the subject of a TV exposé called Qui êtes-vous?, who is slavishly pursued by all manner of men. The film took the European press by storm with its outrageous design and tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the 1960s pop explosion. 1966, 35mm, in French with English subtitles, 105 minutes.
Sunday, May 17, 2 pm
Messiah (Le Messie)
Klein’s emblematic satirical dissonance shines through in his take on George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, a gorgeous, layered vocal concert work that mixes the sacred with the profane. Performed in its entirety, the oratorio provides the narrative of Christ’s nativity, passion, and resurrection, against which Klein juxtaposes modern, international images of ritual, atrocity, and exultation. Exploring the music in relation to the lives of the people singing it, Klein shot the film in such far-flung locations as Dublin, Soweto, Jakarta, and Las Vegas, interspersing groups as disparate as the Lavender Light, the Dallas Police Choir, and Texas prison inmates with the dominant chorus, Les Musiciens du Louvre. This innovative work soars with jubilant music. 1999, 35mm, 117 minutes.
Friday, May 22, 7:30 pm
In & Out of Fashion
A documentary retrospective of Klein’s oeuvre, In & Out of Fashion combines his abstract paintings, revolutionary photography, books, and excerpts from his films in an autobiographical look at five decades of a multifaceted life and career. 1998, 35mm, in English and French with English subtitles, 88 minutes.
Friday, May 29, 7:30 pm
The Model Couple (Le Couple Témoin)
This pioneering sci-fi farce was startlingly prophetic regarding today’s reality television as well as issues of government encroachment on privacy. In an attempt to anticipate the desires of tomorrow’s consumer society, an average young couple is chosen by the French “Ministry of the Future” for a six-month scientific study. Filmed and recorded 24/7 in a high-tech apartment, they are besieged by behaviorists and psychologists who measure and test them, all in the guise of public service. 1975, 35mm, in French with English subtitles, 100 minutes.
Thursday, June 4, 7:30 pm, Free
SHORT FILM PROGRAM
Broadway by Light
An experimental meditation on Times Square marquees and iconic advertising, Klein’s first film captures the concurrently seedy and dazzling aspects of New York’s Great White Way. Illustrative of Klein’s transition from photographer to filmmaker, Broadway by Light was declared by Orson Welles to be “the first film I’ve seen in which color was absolutely necessary.” 1958, 35mm, 12 minutes.
Far from Vietnam (Loin du Vietnam)
Seven directors (Klein, Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, Claude Lelouch, Joris Ivens, and Chris Marker) present a searing indictment of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In his segment, Klein featured Norman Morrison, the Quaker activist who, inspired by Vietnamese Buddhist monks, set himself ablaze to protest the war. 1967, 35mm, 20-minute excerpt.
Klein dissects the contact sheet from one recent roll of film, deconstructing his editing technique and injecting a brutally honest assessment of his art. As the New York Times put it, “Half a century of work can add up to two blinks of an eye.” 1983, 35mm, 15 minutes.
Friday, June 5, 7:30 pm
Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther
While in Algiers to cover the 1969 Pan African Cultural festival, Klein met Eldridge Cleaver, charismatic leader of the Black Panthers and a fugitive from the United States. For this documentary, made at the request of Cleaver and the Algerian government, Klein filmed Cleaver nonstop for three days, capturing a fascinating sketch of the controversial figure as he reflects on racism in America, the attempts on his life, the Vietnam War, and the relationship between the American Black Power movement and African liberation groups. “A wrenching piece of direct cinema” (Harvard Film Archive). 1970, 35mm, 75 minutes.
Saturday, June 6, 7:30 pm
Muhammad Ali the Greatest
Klein’s extraordinary, incendiary film provides a probing look at the legendary and polarizing Muhammad Ali, following his career from his breakthrough 1964 bout with Sonny Liston to the epic “Rumble in the Jungle” with George Foreman in Zaire a decade later. With unprecedented access, the film traces the boxer’s transformation from the clean-cut, loud-mouthed Cassius Clay to the outspoken antiwar revolutionary/Black Muslim Muhammad Ali to a seasoned, wily pugilist and international idol. 1974, 35mm, 120 minutes.
Friday, June 26, 8 pm
Director William Klein with Paulina del Paso
$15 ($12 Walker members)
Meet the legendary William Klein in conversation at the Walker with Paulina del Paso, filmmaker and associate programmer for FICCO 2009 (Festival Internacional de Cine Contemporáneo de la Ciudad de México). The Regis Dialogues and Retrospectives program, now in its 20th year, brings to the Walker the most innovative and influential filmmakers of our time for in-depth conversations about their creative process, illuminated by film clips, anecdotes, and personal insights.
May 31–June 30
The Little Richard Story
Free with gallery admission
Tuesdays–Sundays, 1 and 3 pm; additional screenings Thursdays, 5 and
William Klein captures flamboyant entertainer Little Richard, “America’s black superman,” as he attempts to resolve the conflict between his divine calling and profane success. Acting on advice from his Bible-peddling managers, Little Richard walks off the film set, yet is barely missed as Klein quickly shifts focus from the man himself to the deconstruction of his status as cultural icon by way of a limitless array of impersonators and fans. As Little Richard says, “Elvis may have been the King, but I am the Queen.”
1980, 16mm transferred to video, 92 minutes.