Film

Jane Fonda Faced Down the Seventies and a Killer in Pakula’s Masterful ‘Klute’

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A movie resolutely of its moment that still surges with third-rail electricity, Alan J. Pakula’s 1971 neo-noir Klute, about a New York City prostitute being stalked by a sociopath, is heralded as the first installment of the director’s “paranoia trilogy,” followed by The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976); all three films were lensed by the great Gordon Willis, master of mood and shadow.

The true author of Klute, though, is its star: Jane Fonda, here as doxy Bree Daniels, a boho-chic, Hell’s Kitchen–dwelling aspiring actress who reads Sun Signs before going to bed and sorts through her irreconcilable instincts during weekly appointments with her matronly shrink. (The therapy scenes, with Fonda performing opposite Vivian Nathan, a founding member of the Actors Studio, were largely improvised and are emblematic of Klute‘s quicksilver sensibility.)

The dread and unease that suffuse the film — never has the peal of a rotary phone sounded more terrifying — seem rooted partly in anxiety over second-wave feminism, the cresting of which nearly coincided with the release of this movie, one that centers on its heroine’s profound ambivalence about growing emotionally attached to a man (the laconic private investigator of the title, played by Donald Sutherland).

The most fruitful tension, however, springs from Fonda’s offscreen activities: The NYPD mug shot of Bree taped to Klute’s basement-flat wall anticipates the real one that would be taken in Cleveland of Fonda, her fist upraised, shortly after the film wrapped and during the early stage of her nationwide speaking tour about the atrocities of the Vietnam War.

Klute

Directed by Alan J. Pakula

Playing November 26 and 28, Film Society of Lincoln Center