June 22, 2004
Tonight I will be watching Klute

Tonight one of my favourite movies, Klute, is on BBC1 and I will be watching.

I realise that quite a high proportion of the readership of this blog, consisting as I'm guessing it does of anti-lefty Americans, is unable to appreciate anything involving Jane Fonda. But all that Hanoi Jane stuff rather passed me by at first, and by the time I acquainted myself with it, I had reached one of the conclusions about Jane Fonda which I am still at, namely that she was a fine, fine movie star.

Being a movie star is a hard job. The phrase often used of our Royal Family – "They earn their money!" – springs to mind.

Just giving a really good performance in the movies you end up doing is only half the battle. The other half is choosing to do really good movies. And what I admired about Jane Fonda was that she talked her way into being offered, and then did, some truly interesting movies.

A lot of them were, you might say, reprises of what I imagine she herself thinks of as her life story. In the typical Jane Fonda movie, if there is such a thing, she goes from decorative bimbo at the beginning to much better educated and much more knowing and thoughtful - but still decorative, and if anything rather more so – Superwoman by the end.

The tendency for women in the movies is to be a judge, and a prize, and a sidekick, but not a central protagonist. She decides that the hero is indeed a hero, despite what he may himself feel. She rewards the hero with … herself, and having helped out in the action in a strictly junior capacity.

One of my favourite classic bimbo performances is by Erica Eleniak in Under Siege, which I quite often mention here as a favourite of mine. What's clever about that character is how completely she is introduced to us as bimbo diversion, being literally that in the fake show that the rock musician/terrorists fake up at the start. Eleniak literally jumps out of a cake! So the fact that she has to shoot people makes for genuinely interesting action. But, definitely a bimbo.

Fonda, at a time when bimbo was often all there was, made a point of doing something rather more than this. She whipped up publicity to that effect, and then, having contrived to be offered the kind of more interesting parts she wanted, she then did them very well. Yes, it generally involved left wing politics, but that doesn't guarantee a bad movie or uninteresting action. I particularly liked The Electric Horseman, which she did with Robert Redford.

klute.jpgWhat is clever about Klute is the twist it gives to the pure-as-the-driven-slush, deeply sentimental, romantic movie.

The best romances have to have dreary and spirit-sapping realities for the two lovers to overcome. Both their external circumstances and their own un-attractions to each other have to be real, otherwise all you get is sentiment and contrivance and nothing else. You have to feel that they deserve their romantic finale, or, try as you may, you cannot suspend disbelief. Rather in the stupid way that men like me feel that if we eat lots of tremendously healthy food we are then allowed to eat an equivalent amount of junk food without harming ourselves, romantic movie fans feel that the more obstacles the lovers overcome, the more they are entitled to end up happy ever after.

And Klute really piles on the misery. Bree Daniel, the Fonda character, starts out as a money grubbing, emotion dodging, drug abusing, orgasm faking whore with a heart of ice. And Donald Sutherland, the eventual object of her affections, is just far too ugly and boring to be a regular leading man. But he brings other virtues to the romantic table - the main one being, well, virtue - and, after quite a bit of further sexual complication, the ice is eventually melted. And what is more, he (the Klute of the title) does this not by livening up and becoming more of a swinger, but by infecting Bree, as it were, with his old fashioned romantic values.

One of my favourite Klute moments actually comes in a different movie. Night Shift is about another boring guy who hooks up with another whore, although this is altogether lighter fare (nobody gets murdered) and the whore's heart is golden from the start. The leads are played, very well I think, by the guy who used to be the Fonz (Henry Winkler) and the actress who got her big break in Cheers (Shelley Long). Eventually they go to bed, although actually they get the ball rolling first in a bath. We see them lying there, decorously covered by a fur coat, as I recall, having obviously … got the ball rolling already. Silence. Then Winkler says: "Did you ever see the movie Klute?" No, says Shelley Long. The Winkler character then recounts how, in Klute, Jane Fonda has the most tremendous orgasm, in the middle of which she snatches a look at her watch, and "you just knew she was faking it". Hey, says Shelley Long, "I don't wear a watch."

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:58 PM
Category: Movies