Friday, July 31, 2009

DVD of the Week: "Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?" (William Klein, 1966)


by Chuck Williamson

Directed by ex-pat fashion photographer William Klein, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? is an anarchic confection of pop-art percolations, ribald comic set-pieces, and counter-cinematic abstraction.  Staged as mock-verite docudrama, the film follows the eponymous Polly Maggoo (Dorothy McGowan), a supermodel who doubles, for both diegetic and intra-diegetic spectators, as a blank slate, a sussied-up, two-dimensional tabula rasa on which lewd, fairy-tale fantasies are projected. For the French television crew that follows her, she represents little more than a facile variation of the Cinderella narrative: a rags-to-riches heroine in need of a prince.  But as the documentarians’ bungled, reductive response fails to answer the title’s central query, the film counters with a dazzling, deconstructive display that uses its fashion-industry trappings in the employ of an acerbic social satire of fame, gender, politics, mass media, and the so-called “society of the spectacle,” where the constant consumption of mass-produced images has corroded human relationships.

An absurdist farce, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? bristles with comic energy and explodes with an orgiastic, near-manic visual design.  Resembling the experimental cinema of Godard, the film combines baroque costumes and symmetrical set-design with spastic, unmoored cinematography and jagged, jump-cut-heavy editing.  But the film’s success cannot be boiled down to its radical aesthetic design.  Above all, Polly Maggoo can be described as a caustic, near-flippant middle finger of a film, lacing its multi-layered social critique with biting, laugh-out-loud comedy.

Or as Polly herself might say: “Beep-beep!”

4 comments:

Joe said...

Polly Maggoo was the only of William Klein's cinematic forays that I could tolerate. In the other instances, I'll take his still photography over those (silly) moving images.

Chuck Williamson said...

Thanks for the comment, Joe.

And to be honest, I can definitely see your point about the rest of Klein's filmography; I might have a slightly higher opinion of his films, but I will agree that his track record is pretty spotty. MR. FREEDOM might have worked as a short film, but its concept is stretched impossibly thin at feature length and it gets a little too silly for its own good near the end (but I love referencing it at Fourth of July parties, just for the odd looks). On the other hand, THE MODEL COUPLE is a turgid bore, easily the weakest link of the Eclipse box-set.

With that said, I will admit that I really, really liked POLLY MAGGOO--far more than any of his other films, to be honest. It clicked with me in a way that Klein's other films did not. I recommend it, far more than I would his other films. As the old cliche goes, the director's first film is definitely the best film.

(I have also heard that Klein's documentary about Muhammad Ali is pretty good, but I've never seen it.)

Jacob Shoaf said...

Chuck, was I supposed to prep my Netflix queue?

Just FEverybody'sI, Barnes and Noble's website is having a sale on Criterions and Eclipse box sets. Example: The Larisa Shepitko box set that contains THE ASCENT which Brandon wrote about last week is $13.49 for B&N members. And I was told they do free shipping for orders over $25. Use this information how you will.

Chuck Williamson said...

Hey, I'm just happy that I finally recommended a film that was actually available on Netflix.

Damn it, Jacob. You make me wish I had more money.