Blog Directory CineVerse: An acute case of Klute

An acute case of Klute

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The early 1970s were a fertile time for inventive and visionary filmmakers who wanted to capitalize on the loosening of censorship and the spirit of experimentation prevalent in cinema. One director who flourished in this period was Alan J. Pakula, who created a trilogy of paranoia--with Klute, The Parallax View, and All the President's Men--that helped reinvent the thriller and make it relevant for modern audiences who had experienced the defeat of 1960s counterculture radicalism and the rise of political cynicism and mistrust of the government. While Klute isn't focused on the latter, it serves as a fascinating sociocultural statement on gender politics. For proof, here's a recap of our CineVerse group discussion on the movie conducted last night:


  • It begins quite abruptly, with a prologue that eventually segues into the opening credits. 
  • For its time, it took a different slant on prostitutes and their vocation. 
    • According to Blogger Rachael Johnson: “Many Hollywood films have prettified and sanitized prostitution and the stereotype of the whore with a heart of gold is one of the oldest in the business. Klute has a relatively complex take on prostitution. What it shows is that the prostitute remained a scapegoat for society’s sexual hypocrisies in the 1970s- an era of progressive change regarding gender and sexuality. Bree herself is fully aware of the double standards but she does not see herself as a victim. When she claims that she is very much in charge when she tricks on her own terms, the viewer is confronted with the suggestion that there are women who are not victimized by the profession.” 
  • Additionally, the character of Bree is complex and well-rounded yet somewhat enigmatic and unpredictable. We see many layers to her personality, including beauty and ugliness, strength and vulnerability, intelligence and naïveté. 
  • It’s an early example of a “neo-noir”: a contemporary take on the classic film noir thriller/detective story that gained momentum in the early 1970s; it uses classic noir conventions like a femme fatale who leads men into danger, a gritty and dangerous urban environment, visual tricks like canted angles and high-contrast lighting, and more. 
  • The story is most concerned with Bree, yet the film is called “Klute,” after her detective lover. 
    • Per blogger Tim Brayton: “The film may be all about Bree, but it is not a character study, in the classic sense: only in the early going do we get a few quick, detailed sketches about the kind of woman she is at the start. The rest of the story is about what happens to change her; and while that involves a great many things above and beyond John Klute, he is the prime mover for everything that befalls after the first time they meet. So Klute is not the description of the film's content, but its conflict.” 
  • Interestingly, the film doesn’t excel as a mystery or a “who is the killer” kind of story; like Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Klute reveals a major identity to the audience ahead of time so we can focus on the characters and their motivations and anticipate their next moves. 
  • The killer here is a different kind of thriller movie villain; he’s not a psychotic loose cannon who chews the scenery. He’s a rich, respected businessman—the kind of guy who doesn’t need to hire a cheap prostitute and the one you’d least expect to be so obsessed with Bree. 
  • Voyeurism. Consider how people are spied upon, watched and objectified in the film, particularly women. Recall all the shots of Bree from a distance, as if she’s being watched, often with her standing behind a window or an over-the-shoulder POV shot of Bree. 
  • Surveillance and spying. From the running of tape recorders to viewing through binoculars, characters are watched and trailed, often without their knowledge. 
  • Gender roles, sexual politics, and misogyny. 
    • Blogger Rachael Johnson wrote: “The New York-set neo-noir is both a character-driven study of female identity and sexuality as well as an unsettling portrait of misogyny… It is also an allegory of the female condition in patriarchy. Klute explores the objectification and exploitation of women through the symbolic figure of the prostitute. We are encouraged to see Bree as an embodiment of female sexuality in a hypocritical, sexist society. In this sense, it is actually irrelevant whether she is believable as a call girl. Although drawn as a highly individualistic, complicated character, Bree is manifestly intended to represent universal femininity. It is apparent in an early scene when we see Bree apply for a modeling job. The female applicants are lined up in a row before being openly and cruelly objectified. The way the scene is framed seems to indicate that the aspiring models are treated in a fashion not too dissimilar from women in a brothel.” 
    • In her essay, Karli Lukas wrote: “Klute can be read as an updated exploration of ‘male’ paranoia about women…its championing the feminist cause via the Fonda-as-Bree star vehicle cannot help but simultaneously reveal the noir generic preoccupation with masculine paranoia. In other words, the film’s problematic, neurotic rendition of femininity cannot help but render an equally charged study of threatened masculinity.” 
  • Thrillers like The Parallax View and All the President’s Men, which were also directed by Alan J. Pakula, as well as The Conversation 
  • Neo noirs of the 1970s like Night Moves, The Long Goodbye, Farewell, My Lovely, Taxi Driver and Hardcore 
  • 1970s-era movies that depicted New York City as a cesspool of crime and corruption, including Midnight Cowboy, Mean Streets, The French Connection and Taxi Driver 
  • The Sterile Cuckoo 
  • The Parallax View 
  • All the President's Men 
  • Comes a Horseman 
  • Starting Over 
  • Sophie's Choice

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