Klute is one of the most influential films of all time, and one of the standout releases from the 1970s. The game-changing neo-noir crime thriller was released in 1971 and is one of celebrated auteur Alan J. Pakula’s most essential films. Starring Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Charles Cioffi and Roy Scheider, the narrative follows a high-end call girl who assists a detective in solving a complex missing persons case.
Hitting on all of the critical sentiments of the ’70s, including the widespread mistrust in the establishment and the proliferation of neoliberalism, it is the first instalment of Pakula’s ‘paranoia trilogy’, followed by 1974’s The Parallax View and 1976’s All the President’s Men.
One of the most critical aspects of the film is Jane Fonda’s performance as Bree. This was the film where Fonda confirmed herself as a brilliant actor in her own right, breaking free of her father’s illustrious shadow. She convincingly dealt with many of the film’s challenging and taboo themes with informed expertise and maturity, and this didn’t go unnoticed.
Her star turn culminated in her winning the Academy Award for Best Actress the following year. For the role of Bree, Fonda broke free from historical movie stereotypes, and her performance was so multi-faceted that it remains as astounding today as it was 51 years ago.
It’s not just the script or acting that has made Klute so influential, either. Much like with the other two films in the ‘paranoia trilogy’, the cinematography is iconic, and it has inspired countless other incredible films. The legendary Gordon Willis helmed the cinematography for the film as well as the Parallax View and All the President’s Men, utilising Panavision equipment to capture America’s urban paranoia. As a side note, Willis was also the mind behind The Godfather’s famous atmosphere.
During a seminar he delivered on filmmaking in 2003, Willis explained: “It’s hard to believe, but a lot of directors have no visual sense. They only have a storytelling sense. If a director is smart, he’ll give me the elbow room to paint”. He counted: “It’s the judgment they’re paying for.”
In another interview, Willis described his unique style; he said: “I wasn’t trying to be different; I just did what I liked”. When asked by the interviewer how he used his style in different genres and directors, he answered in his typically humble manner: “You’re looking for a formula; there is none. The formula is me.”
Duly, Willis’ work on Klute was a considerable influence on what is perhaps the most prominent title this year, Matt Reeves’ The Batman. A faithful adaptation of Batman, utilising some aspects of a Se7en-style police procedural, it too is a story that is steeped in paranoia, distrust of the elite, and conspiracy.
Utilising stark and moody lighting, The Batman‘s own celebrated cinematographer, Greig Fraser, cited Willis’ lighting work on Klute, All the President’s Men and The Godfather as his key inspiration.
Attempting to convey the film from Batman’s point of view, as in the graphic novels, Fraser succeeded in his mission. He described shooting the film as “one of the most challenging lighting jobs I’ve ever done”. He also noted that filming Robert Pattinson in the overpowering Batsuit was extremely difficult at points, as he did not want shadows to obscure the costume’s details, a trick he plucked straight out of Willis’ book. When watching The Batman, the use of lighting as a signifier of mood is particularly impressive, and when you compare it to Klute, the similarities are stark. This can be seen clearly in the way that Fraser uses light against dark.
If you haven’t already seen it, Klute is a must-watch, as are the other two entries in the ‘paranoia trilogy’. Interestingly, many of their themes are as pertinent as they were back then, and they tell us a lot about how we got to the present cultural juncture. As for The Batman, I’d wager it’s the best Batman film we’ve ever had.
Watch the trailer for Klute below.