"I hate to look at my movies because I always want to do them over again. [...] Klute is different. I nailed that." Jane Fonda
Once upon a time, there was a twelve-year-old who got a book as a Christmas present, whose title was 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die. He decided to watch those films and started to watch these movies wherever could get them. He first caught a movie called Klute. Although he didn't know that much about acting or movies for that matter, he was just stunned by the performance of the lead actress, called Jane Fonda. He was especially amazed by a scene where she was breaking down listening to a tape. Something was happening: the beginning of a special, pure love for this woman he didn't know much about. That's when the future was sealed. It always remains a special moment...
There are Oscar nominees. There are Oscar winners, too. But there's another elite group which has a huge, loving fanbase and its members are called Best Actress winners. There are undeserved Best Actress wins. There are well-deserved Best Actress wins. And there are earth-shattering, obvious Best Actress wins that fit all the criteria of a Best Actress win because a) they come at the right time, b) for a stunning performance, c) at the peak of the actresses' career. For example Vivien Leigh, Meryl Streep, Liza Minnelli and (most recently) Natalie Portman belong to this elite group and when such a win doesn't happen (see Michelle Pfeiffer), it becomes one of the most hated and criticised decisions of the Academy. Thank God Jane Fonda belongs to the former category whose win is one of the most popular and obvious decisions of the Academy. Everybody loves her performance (OK, almost everybody but let me imagine that everybody adores her), she got it at the right time, right place, for the right movie. Katharine Hepburn used to say that always the right actors win the Oscars... for the wrong roles. Although I agree with that statement, Jane Fonda is such a delightful exception of it.
Jane's brilliant autobiography My Life So Far tells so much about how much hard work she put into this part and how hard it was for her to play Bree Daniels, a prostitute who's an aspiring actress and model who never seems to get out of her depressing circumstances. Bree is an actress in every possible way. She's an actress looking for part but she's also constantly putting on a facade as a defense mechanism against her horrible life. In a way she's similar to Ingrid Bergman's Charlotte Andergast from Autumn Sonata who's escaping the real problems by acting and pretending. However, I can see that Bree is trying to change but never gets the chance that everybody deserves. In a way, it's even more disturbing to see her than Precious, for example. Precious had a shining light in her life and had to chance to change and make her dreams come true but Bree Daniels (despite her better financial status) constantly gets the feedback of not being worthy of making it out of being a prosititue and having to struggle.
That being said, Jane has put an incredibly amount of work into this character and her dedication to this woman is just remarkable. It's a fair question if I would appreciate her this much if I wasn't such a crazy fan of Jane and haven't read about her preparations (I would, I actually always thought highly of this work). However, the lots of research is not something that's able to amaze me. Far from it. The actress should add some substance and depth to her character and then the hard work just shines through even more and that's what happened with Jane in Klute. Such a role cannot be played effortlessly and it can never seem easy and yet you never see her sweating and struggling with this character despite its real difficulties. It's very complicated to show more layers of a character but Jane was somehow able to reveal all the depth and the complete personality of Bree. There was a real character there who came to life and there's a sense of continuity about her with which you can feel that she had had a life before the movie and she would go on living a life. The story of the movie Klute is just one episode of her life and in fact I'm trying to understand why Klute is the title of the movie and not Bree. I suppose it might suggest that there's a chapter in the long book of Bree's life that's called Klute because just be completely honest, this movie is exclusively about Jane Fonda's character. It's nothing against Donald Sutherland, it's just that Jane gets such a fabulous part and makes such an impression (without being selfish in her acting) that it's impossible for anyone to top her.
Another thing I admire about this work is that Jane redefined the image of prostitutes on the big screen. She makes Bree neither a typical hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold character nor a totally depressing person. She's not a Lulu Baines-type glamour puss, either. Bree is just a real human being, with flesh and blood and one can almost hear her heartbeats (especially in that tape scene!). Bree has her ups and downs but I like those subtle moments of relief and occasional humor in this performance. Playing a prostitue believably is one of the most difficult challenges and Jane fulfilled her task it wonderfully.
As a music lover, what I appreciate about this performance is that it's just like a carefully composed but very inspired concerto and Jane gets to play all the instruments and uses them to highlight different layers and depth of this character. Each and every one of them sounds different and yet when they are together, it's so harmonic. Jane Fonda's greatness here can be compared to the genious classical composers. The technical part is naturally awesome but it's the emotionality and passion that puts it above all the others and by this, Jane brings about a cathartic experience. Each and every moment is just stunning as it is and no false note ruins the perfection of this performance. Jane herself has spoken many times about a human being's inability of being perfect with which I wholeheartedly agree so I may not be supposed to use the term perfect. However, for me Jane's performance in Klute is one of the few things that came closest to total, almost otherworldly perfection.
We first see Bree when she's at a casting and people just walk by her and say that she has funny hands. The song Mr. Celofane came to my mind about that scene. It was a flawless beginning which suggests that we're about to witness some great acting. It's a beautiful shot in the picture (and brilliantly played by Jane) when the girl next to her is being praised and she's trying to grab the attention of the people but she remains on the side of the picture, ignored. But not by the viewer. In this scene only, she makes Bree so terribly human that it becomes impossible not to sympathize with her. There's another audiotion scene where Bree's acting in a very strange way, using a funny accent. To me, Bree is not a mediocre actress (some might interpret that scene as the justification of just that), she's just incapable of giving her best self and as a result, none of her full potential is shown. It's very tricky because when she's telling a story to the old client of hers, Bree's incredible, too, not only Jane. Right there, Bree gets the boost and the love she would deserve and despite the obvious lie, it's the only place where Bree can give her best self (apart from the meetings with the psychiatrist). At other places, there's a very erotic and sexy atmosphere in the scenes with Bree's men. The first act is so seductive: Jane seduces not only her john, but also the viewer. There's a really unusual sexual vibration around her that really drove me crazy. It was a bit voyeuristic feeling, I just couldn't take my eyes off her because of her sexuality.
Jane's chemistry with Donald Sutherland is just unbelievable. They make up a fabulous, very real couple as Bree and John, despite the fact that they have different personalities (and they have different acting styles as performers). Next to John, Bree becomes very different, like a scared little girl and the way she approaches him is so carefully and fantastically played by Jane without looking too calculating. Jane plays wonderfully in the scene where Bree asks to sleep at John's apartment.
The (improvised) scenes with the pyschiatrist are just unbelievable and Jane gives a masterclass of acting. Those are the few moments when Bree lets her own emotions come to the surface and she really tells what she feels. Jane's great instincts as an actress really pay off here. It's incredible how well she was able to communicate Bree's feelings. She opens up to another woman (actually Jane asked Alan J. Pakula to make her a female psychiatrist) and I felt there was some kind of a universal understanding between them.
However, let's not forget that Klute is an exciting, fierce thirller (as well as a fascinating character study) and Jane nails the feeling of being terrified (as well). It's not the usual screaming and wide-eyed faces but she shows true fear, which comes through most brilliantly in the scene where she's facing the man who's responsible for the deaths of her friends. That's a sequence I've cherished since I first saw her. Having seen and being older, now I feel the true weight of that scene. Jane said that while doing that scene, she was thinking about the ladies whose dead bodies she saw at a morgue she visited during her preparation for this movie. Jane communicated that feeling thrillingly. It's unbelievable and I actually experienced the same feelings that she did. I started to cry the way she did in the movie. I saw so much misery and suffering on the screen and it was completely unbearable and harrowing to see Bree break down. It was all so human and believable. I was just completely taken by the pure emotions. She's just working with her face - and the result: just unforgettable.
You know, I've already written twice as much as usual and still wasn't able to mention the iconic cat food scene or her wonderful line "Don't feel bad about losing your virtue!". It tells so many things about her character and it deepens her personality even more. I could actually write a novel with the title "Jane Fonda in Klute". I have so much to say and tell about her. The amazement that I feel when I'm watching her. I can only show bits and pieces and highlight some parts, which feels rather awkward because I was previously praising how whole this performance is.
First, I wanted to write a review only with the sentence "Best performance ever. Period." BUT then I thought that it wouldn't say enough about this stirring work of Jane and wouldn't be able to communicate what I felt as a viewer. I was moved, I cried, I even laughed at the small hints of humour that make her work even more amazing. Honestly, I just want to keep praising her and say as many superlatives about her as I can. Yes, I'm overly enthusiastic and this is certainly a love letter to the wonderful Jane but when you get to see such an amazing performance it would be a crime not to keep on praising her. I couldn't have found a better work to mark this significant point of my reviews. I'm just grateful for having been able to watch her, see her, feel her and experience Jane's brilliance.
It's pathetic to grade a performance if it goes beyond a certain point of greatness but Jane went even beyond that. She deserves as much praise as possible.
What do you think?