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Watch the insane 1970 satire ‘Mister Freedom,’ featuring Serge Gainsbourg
07.31.2015
09:41 am
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Mister Freedom on the cover of Evergreen Review #77
 
Meet Mr. Freedom, a shit-kicking superhero employed by America’s largest corporation, Freedom, Inc. He hates blacks, Jews, Communists, foreigners, women, JFK, and everyone else who has been compromised by the dangerous ideology of antifreedomism. Carried through the world on a tide of blood, the hero of William Klein’s French satire beats the snot out of anyone who would thwart his right to take pleasure in indiscriminate violence. Does that sound like American foreign policy to you? Plus ça change…

You’ll recognize Donald Pleasance as Dr. Freedom, Delphine Seyrig as Marie-Madeleine, and Yves Montand as Mr. Freedom’s opposite number in France, Capitaine Formidable. Of course, my favorite member of the cast is Serge Gainsbourg, who appears in several scenes—most of them in the movie’s last third—as Mr. Drugstore, a French partisan of the cause of freedom. Gainsbourg also composed the soundtrack with the help of his arranger Michel Colombier.
 

Serge Gainsbourg, Delphine Seyrig and John Abbey in a still from Mister Freedom
 
Grove Press—the legendary American publisher of Samuel Beckett, William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller and Jean Genet—released the movie in the U.S., hoping to break into the movie business thereby. Richard Seaver, Grove’s editor in chief, devoted a page of his memoir The Tender Hour of Twilight to Mister Freedom:

The April 1970 issue of Evergreen Review had on its cover a fully clothed, futuristic male, looking for all the world like an astronaut-hockey player, complete with shoulder pads, a helmet, a Rangers jersey, gloves, and a hip-holster pistol. In his arms—one hockey glove grasping the midriff, the other the wrist—Mr. Freedom (for that’s who our hero was) held a scantily clad, sequin-spangled red-white-and-blue redhead, whose open mouth could just as easily be construed as a cry for help as a moan of ecstasy. Let the beholder decide.

The magazine cover, intriguing in itself to most, was also a prime example of Grove’s new internal synergy (a word we actually used in our discussions of Grove’s future, God help us all!). Not only did it supply grist for the Evergreen Review mill, it also served as the poster for the U.S. release of the Grove film, Mr. Freedom, a not-too-subtle satire on America as it moved out of the turbulent 1960s. A scathing attack on American foreign policy, especially its “vulgar and grotesque” involvement in Vietnam and the Strangelove notion that democracy had to be brought to the rest of the world, even at the cost of destroying it, the French-made film was written and directed by the ex-patriot (sic) William Klein. It starred John Abbey as Mr. Freedom; Delphine Seyrig (who had been propelled to cinematic stardom as the Garboesque lead in Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad) as Marie-Madeleine, organizer of the Whores-for-Freedom network; Donald Pleasence (whose voice and accent bore an uncanny resemblance to Lyndon Johnson’s) as Dr. Freedom, the mad mastermind behind the movement to save the world from anti-freedom infiltration; and Philippe Noiret as Moujik Man, Russia’s answer to Mr. Freedom.

On the surface it was a perfect vehicle for the Grove Movie Machine: irreverent, sexy, outrageous, politically pointed, a no-holds-barred attack on the establishment. Unfortunately, its script, dialogue, and direction, alas, were sufficiently amateurish to give film critics a golden opportunity to lambaste it.

I’m not sure “amateurish” is the right word. As befits a playful, cartoonish satire, the movie’s politics are a bit crude here and there, and maybe the dubbing is shit in places, but Mister Freedom is expertly made, by my lights. It’s a feast for the eyes and a gas to watch.
 

Thanks to Sam McPheeters and Tara Tavi for jumping me into the freedom gang.

Posted by Oliver Hall
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07.31.2015
09:41 am
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William Klein’s gorgeous ‘Broadway by Night’: Pop art meets Nouvelle Vague, 1958
12.05.2013
06:41 pm
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Broadway by Night
 
The blog Include Me Out informs us that the Barbican in London is showing William Klein’s 1958 short “Broadway at Night” as part of its current Pop Art Design exhibition, which runs through early February.

Klein’s mini-masterpiece, which clocks in a tidy 10 minutes, represents the cross-pollination of two admittedly related movements that took manufactured Americana as the starting point for a rethinking of aesthetic categories: Pop Art and La Nouvelle Vague. It’s difficult to imagine a major art movement today embracing corporate insignias in such a guileless manner. From today’s perspective it’s fascinating to see such artistic firepower elevating the likes of Sgt. Bilko, Little Lulu, and Mr. Peanut, all of whom can be glimpsed in “Broadway at Night.”

The movie has scant documentary value—girded by a moody, rambunctious, and percussive bebop score by Maurice Le Roux, it’s a formalist work first and foremost, finding beauty in the off-kilter patterns created by the pulsating light bulbs and other visual elements of the Great White Way. Naturally, this isn’t the Broadway of 2013, which isn’t half as charming.

The French opening scroll says something akin to the following:

Americans invented jazz to console death, the star to console woman.

To console the night, they invented Broadway.

Every evening, in the center of New York, an artificial sun rises.

Its purpose is to announce shows, to advertise products, and the inventors of these advertisements would be astounded to learn of the most fascinating spectacle, the most precious object is the street transformed by their signs.

This day has its inhabitants, its shadows, its mirages, its ceremonies.

It also has its sun…

 

“Console woman,” huh? Only a bunch of men could have written that, and a glance at the credits confirms—likewise revealing the participation of two future greats of the nouvelle vague movement, Alain Resnais and Chris Marker. This movie must have had quite an impact in its day. Orson Welles said, rather grandly, that it was “the first film I’ve seen in which color was absolutely necessary.”

This is a movie that cries out for its individual frames to be converted into stills, so I offer a few of those below.
 
Broadway by Night
 
Broadway by Night
 
Broadway by Night
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
And You Are There: Damon & Naomi’s collaboration with Chris Marker
William Klein’s Mister Freedom

Posted by Martin Schneider
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12.05.2013
06:41 pm
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Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?
06.28.2010
12:10 am
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Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? is expat American in Paris, William Klein’s satirical look at the mid-60s world of fashion. In my opinion, it’s one of the best shot movies of all time. Notice in these clips from the film, just how much Klein is cramming into each meticulously arranged wide-angle shot. His composition is nothing short of breath-taking, up there with the very best cinematographers of world cinema. Who Are You Polly Magoo” will be dissected frame by frame by film aficionados (and music video directors), probably forever. This film was incredibly difficult to see until Criterion put if out as part of the excellent DVD box The Delirious Fictions of William Klein in 2008.

Original movie posters for WIlliam Klein’s films are scarce and can cost a pretty penny (say $1000). I searched for a reasonably priced 60s vintage Polly Maggoo poster for some time before opting for a Japanese reissue poster with the top image here printed on mirror-like mylar. It looks amazing and only cost $20!
 

 

 
C’est magnifique!

Posted by Richard Metzger
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06.28.2010
12:10 am
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William Klein’s Mister Freedom
10.29.2009
01:04 am
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Mister Freedom is a 1969 satire directed by expat American fashion photographer William Klein. It stars French actress Delphne Seyrig (who was also in Day of the Jackal). Donald Pleasence and Serge Gainsbourg have supporting roles and May 1968 student rebel-rouser Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Simone Signoret and Yves Montand have uncredited cameos.
 
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Mister Freedom concerns a loutish, jingoistic American superhero, a self-righteous idiot run amok, who’s willing to destroy France in order to save it from the Ruskies and Chinamen. Obviously this is a parody of American foreign policy of the Vietnam era, but what’s so utterly uncanny about the film is how well it predicts the Bush era. It’s incredible! Watch a clip and see if you agree:
 

 

 
Beck made a “tribute” to Mister Freedom with his Sexx Laws video and the Japanese pop duo Pizzicato 5 made an homage to the film with their Sister Freedom Tapes EP.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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10.29.2009
01:04 am
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