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Top Bill: The Films of William Klein

September 11, 2009 - October 11, 2009

The Model Couple, October 10

William Klein is the American in Paris. Since 1948, he’s used his estranged status to his advantage, never affixing himself to any given art movement. As a result, Klein has endured obscurity and fame in equal measure. But his fifty years of films show no ambivalence. They are audacious, energetic, and witty, boldly staking out their own style, an expressionistic cinema characterized by quirky art direction and infused with the artist’s fascination with identity as a function of social performance and squandered accessorizing. This awareness resonates throughout his fanciful features, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, Mr. Freedom, and The Model Couple, and his lively documentaries flaunting such slippery subjects as Muhammad Ali, Little Richard, and the French Open.

Klein established his reputation in the mid-fifties as a photographer, first of the street, with rude images of everyday citizens, and then of the rarefied realm of haute couture. The heightened artifice of fashion informs much of Klein’s subsequent film work, for it is there that surface, the medium of performance, finds its apotheosis. Klein’s outsider status, meanwhile, sets loose a skepticism about allegiances, political and otherwise, that finds its idiosyncratic expression in seething spoofs like Mr. Freedom and The Model Couple, but also in less expected places like his verité portraits of Eldridge Cleaver, the “New Creators” of French couture, and Handel’s Messiah. Whatever benefits of displaced vision may accrue to the stranger, William Klein knows them from the inside out.

Steve Seid
Video Curator

Friday, September 11, 2009
6:30 p.m. Muhammad Ali, the Greatest
William Klein (France, 1974). Klein’s portrait of the legendary fighter, political provocateur, and self-made celebrity is “wonderfully revealing.”—N.Y. Times (111 mins)

Saturday, September 12, 2009
8:40 p.m. Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?
William Klein (France, 1966). As sharp as a sheet-metal dress, Klein’s first feature lampoons the fashion world with caustic wit and high Pop style. (102 mins)

Sunday, September 13, 2009
5:00 p.m. Pan-African Cultural Festival
William Klein (France/Algeria, 1969). Klein captures a moment of postcolonial jubilation at the massive cultural festival in Algiers, with appearances by luminaries from Miriam Makeba to Eldridge Cleaver. (120 mins)

Friday, September 18, 2009
8:30 p.m. Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther
William Klein (France/Algeria, 1970). The Black Panther leader delivers his revolutionary critique with guerrilla gusto in Klein’s doc, shot in Algeria where Cleaver was living in exile. (72 mins)

Saturday, September 19, 2009
6:30 p.m. Mr. Freedom
William Klein (France, 1969). It’s Red versus Red, White, and Blue in Klein’s cartoon-colored satire of American adventurism, a perfect care package of buffoonery, bombs, and bombast. With short Broadway by Light. (103 mins)

Saturday, September 19, 2009
6:30 p.m. Mr. Freedom

Thursday, September 24, 2009
8:15 p.m. The Little Richard Story
William Klein (France/U.S., 1980). There are many Little Richards—especially if you count the impersonators—in this portrait of the self-described “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” “A great, great film.”—Village Voice (92 mins)

Saturday, September 26, 2009
6:30 p.m. Mode in France
William Klein (France, 1984). In a series of brief and fanciful episodes, Klein’s quasi-documentary ribs the rarefied world of French couture. With short Contacts. (98 mins)

Saturday, September 26, 2009
6:30 p.m. Mode in France

Thursday, October 1, 2009
8:15 p.m. The French
William Klein (France, 1981). Klein’s tense record of the 1981 French Open—with Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, and others—is also a canny observation of the mechanics of performance. (135 mins)

Thursday, October 8, 2009
8:30 p.m. In & Out of Fashion
William Klein (France, 1998). The singularity of Klein’s vision is on full display in this autobiographical annal of photographs, film clips, commercials, and drawings. (85 mins)

Saturday, October 10, 2009
8:35 p.m. The Model Couple
William Klein (France, 1976). Vacuous French newlyweds volunteer for an experiment in perfect living in Klein’s arch appraisal of social engineering. (101 mins)

Sunday, October 11, 2009
3:00 p.m. Messiah
William Klein (France, 1999). Klein’s rendition of Handel’s oratorio marries the exalted music to images of quotidian America. (116 mins)

PFA wishes to thank William Klein and Dean Otto of the Walker Art Center for making this series possible.