With her Oscar-winning turn in Klute, Jane Fonda arrived full-fledged as a new kind of movie star. Bringing nervy audacity and counterculture style to the role of Bree Daniels—a call girl and aspiring actor who becomes the focal point of a missing-person investigation when detective John Klute (Donald Sutherland) turns up at her door—Fonda made the film her own, putting an independent woman and escort on-screen with a frankness that had not yet been attempted in Hollywood. Suffused with paranoia by the conspiracy-thriller specialist Alan J. Pakula, and lensed by master cinematographer Gordon Willis, Klute is a character study thick with dread, capturing the mood of early-1970s New York and the predicament of a woman trying to find her own way on the fringes of society.
Alan J. Pakula’s Klute comes to Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection, presented on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a brand new 4K restoration, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
A dark and gritty looking film Klute would not be an easy film to cleanly present on home video but this edition manages to pull it off. A lot of the film takes place in dark locations with minimal lighting, which can lead to a muddier looking image with grayer blacks. Yet despite limitations (which are obviously a byproduct of the photography) you can still easily make out what is going on in these darker shots, with details still showing through, and the image still has a wonderful photographic look to it. Grain is heavy but rendered cleanly, even during those darker, murkier shots, and it further enhances that look.
The film’s style can make the image look a little softer at times but on the whole it’s sharp and clean, and the details are clear and distinct (Fonda’s mermaid dress sticks out in particular). Likewise, the film’s style also limits the colour scheme of the film, which sticks to a drearier looking palette, but I thought saturation was excellent and there are some bright pops of red and such scattered about that look really sharp. The restoration work has also given the film a very thorough once over, removing all damage and debris. In the end the film’s look limits things a bit, but I was still beyond thrilled with what has ended up there on screen.
The film’s audio is presented in linear PCM 1.0 mono. Despite everything being focused to one single channel the track is unexpectedly dynamic. Dialogue sounds robust with excellent fidelity, and the unnerving “score/soundtrack” delivers superb range, sounding clean and free of distortion. It’s a rich audio presentation and a nice surprise.
I never bought this on DVD, principally because I felt it would have to receive some sort of special edition release at some point. And finally, many, many years later here it is, from Criterion no less. And they pack on the material pretty good starting with excerpts from interviews recorded by filmmaker Matthew Miele for his upcoming documentary Pakula, featuring actor Charles Cioffi, scholar Annette Insdorf, development executive for Pakula, Holly Frederick, and director Steven Soderbergh. The 18-minute feature is heavily dominated by Insdorf, who admits to ignoring filmmakers like Pakula in her classes when they don’t easily fit the definition of an “auteur” (in that they have a clear distinct style, where Pakula adapts his style to the material), and she has since worked to correct that, explaining what is so extraordinary about his work. Soderbergh chimes in as well with his admiration, and then things focus pretty exclusively on Klute and what made the film so unique at the time (Soderbergh even gushes over the film’s opening and its rather jarring cut). Archival interviews featuring Pakula talking about the film are cut into here as well, explaining how the film was developed and the impact the film had in helping him develop as a filmmaker. I’m intrigued by what else was captured and am looking forward to the finished film. As it is here it offers a terrific examination of the film, what Pakula brought to it, and what impact it ended up having.
Criterion has also recorded a new interview with Jane Fonda conducted by Illeana Douglas. Fonda explains where she was at the point in terms of her career and life and how she came about taking the role (which she then tried to get out of when she feared she really wasn’t right for the role, even trying to talk Pakula into giving it to Faye Dunaway), and how she ended up developing the character, even to the point of decorating the apartment for the character and even living there. She even explains how the haircut came about (which I foolishly always assumed she got for the film and just kept, but that was just her hair at the time). While the two talk about the complex nature of the character and how unique this woman character was for the time, the interview is most fascinating when Fonda recalls the research she put into it, meeting a number of call girls and escorts. Douglas and Fonda have great chemistry, making for a very engaging end energetic discussion, which helps the 36-minutes fly by.
Writer Amy Fine Collins (who also appeared in one of the strongest supplements on Criterion’s Valley of the Dolls release) next provides a 25-minute examination on the look of Klute. She explains how the film is perfect snapshot of early 70s New York, from how it managed to capture the economic problems occurring at the time, the rundown look of the city, the fashion, and all the way through to the hair styles, all of which differed severely from the New York presented 4 years earlier in the film Barefoot in the Park, which also starred Fonda. She also offers a really strong look into how Fonda developed her look and persona leading up to Klute, and even admires the incredible attention to detail, especially in how the film presented the differing types of escorts and madams. Her attention to detail is remarkable and I enjoyed looking at the film from a bit of a different perspective.
Criterion then digs up some archival material, starting with a couple of television interviews, the first featuring Pakula with Dick Cavett from 1978 and the other featuring Fonda and Midge Mackenzie from 1972. Pakula is appearing on Cavett’s show to talk about his latest film at that moment, Comes a Horseman, but it turns into a conversation about his work up to that point, how his films all differ stylistically, with a surprising focus on Klute and All the President’s Men barely getting mentioned, rather surprisingly. Fonda’s is a lengthier one (38-minutes compared to the former’s 27-minutes) and it focuses mostly on Fonda’s activist work and what motivated her to become more involved and outspoken, which of course led to a number of states and municipalities looking to make her life a bit hard (the segment opens with her dealing with one of these). Fonda talks about her naivete to how the business worked early on (where she was judged entirely on her physical appearance) and how her outlook would change, while also addressing concerns she is having about where the country is going. Both are terrific additions to the release.
”Klute” in New York is an 8-minute archival featurette from 1971 covering the making of Klute, which is also the only supplement that appears to have been on Warner’s original DVD. It offers a bit of a snapshot of the city but then moves on to gathering some behind-the-scenes footage around the film and getting quick interviews with Fonda, Sutherland, and Pakula. It’s obviously a promotional piece but Pakula talks a bit about working with director of photography Gordon Willis.
Criterion then includes a booklet, first featuring an essay about the film and its characters, followed by a reprint of an interview conducted with Pakula by Tom Milne for a 1972 issue of Sight & Sound, where the director talks about the psychology of its characters (primarily Fonda’s) and capturing this appropriately.
Looking over the supplements as listed it doesn’t look like there is a lot here but there is quite a bit of content and it all ends up being very dense and entertaining providing a satisfying look at the unique and influential elements that came out of this film.
For people holding off on picking Klute up on DVD figuring a better edition would come along (like me) the wait was worth it. Criterion delivers a satisfying edition for the film, offering an exceptional A/V presentation and a number of engaging supplements. Highly recommended.