Sunday, May 14, 2006


When I read on Style Bubble that William Klein's film Qui Etes-Vous Polly Magoo was being shown at the French Institute as part of the London Fashion in Film Festival I knew I had to see it.

I had seen a snippet of the film last year at the William Klein retrospective at the Pompidou Centre. The bit they showed then was the fashion show scene where the models are welded and bolted into outlandish creations made of sheet metal (with sharp edges!). The show is held in a strange brick beehive shaped building where the audience must perch on rickety wooden 'shelves'. The 'Dragon Lady' - the Diana Vreeland-esque fashion editor character sweeps in with her entourage and takes her place. When the show starts there is silence from the audience.

All eyes are on The Dragon Lady. Eventually she exclaims "Magnifique!" and the rest of the audience erupts into applause and cries of "Fabulous! Divine!"

I suspected that might be the funniest moment of the film but thankfully I was proved wrong.
I tootled over to the French Institute a bit early as I hadn't booked a ticket.
I was really thirsty so bought a little bottle of Evian water and went up to the Cine Lumiere entrance to wait. There were the usual suspects milling around - assorted hipster types.

But I found myself standing opposite an elderly gentleman who was flanked by two young women in heels. I absentmindedly regarded him. How nice of him to take his nieces(?) to the cinema. I carried on waiting. I took a sip of water. Then I became aware that said gentleman was loudly (though not unkindly) remarking that everyone is always drinking from little bottles of water these days.

My attention aroused it took me about one and a half seconds to twig from his laconic American/French tinged accent that he was in fact William Klein. I had no idea he was actually going to be there. It later transpired that the two young women with him were the organisers of the Fashion in Film festival.

There were so many little bits I enjoyed in Qui Etes-Vous Polly Magoo and I think I'm still processing it. So much going on visually, little references and jokes here and there, cameos, almost like flicking through a magazine and picking out the bits you like best. I don't have a fully formed opinion of the film as a whole except to say that as a document of the sixties - to quote WK,
'It stands up pretty well today.'

I think my favourite part is the scene/s in the magazine 'office' where the 'Dragon Lady' holds court in an opulent salon where all the editors lounge around smoking and getting pedicures. She is followed around by her lookey likey minions proclaiming things either horrendous or divine at whim. There is an editor who wafts in and out of the frame (wearing what looks like a nightgown) wondering aloud where her layouts have gone. That's all she does in the film.

This film is a deliciously sharp piss take of the fashion industry but is loved by the fashion industry. It's actually pretty sarcastic and WK did say that for him the fashion photography he did was just a means to an end to finance his other work.

The most interesting part of the afternoon was the Q & A at the end. I loved the way William Klein didn't particularly reply to any questions with an answer but what he said was so entertaining no one cared. It was charmingly shambolic - at one point he insisted that Paul Ryan who was (trying to) conduct the Q&A sing his rendition of 'I get a kick out of you'.

WK explained his relationship with Diana Vreeland by saying he didn't like her and she pissed him off! Apparently if she saw something she didn't like in a shoot he had done she would make him re-shoot the whole thing rather than re-touch it.
I love to hear about that era, where the models did their own make up and were nowhere near household names after their first Vogue cover. The way WK tells it he was asked by legendary art director Alexander Liberman who had seen an exhibition of his to shoot for Vogue and they would in turn finance his book project. Sounds so easy!

WK said that the film is full of little jokes such as the main male character's name being Gregoire Pecque (Gregory Peck - geddit) and is full of cameos from well known fashion and media faces of the 60's who this generation would be unlikely to recognise.

What I'd really like to do is have a private screening with WK where he'd talk me through the whole thing so I could get all the references. And we could sip little bottles of water.


Bombay Beauty said...

Yes, this is a delicate situation. Reminds me of the time that a film director tried to pick me up outside a test screening of his film. It's not that the idea of being kept a famous (well, truthfully not so...) film director didn't appeal to me, but his pickup line ("You hair is like a ski slope, may I touch it?) wasn't quite inspirational. But perhaps I was being given a little window into the world of Hollywood: drug-, alcohol-, and ego-addled individuals, so self-absorbed that almost any throwaway line gets results. Though this seems to be a negative assessment, there is a positive, and testable, implication. Just pretend to be sufficiently self-absorbed and any line you use at a party could be a brilliant pickup line. Now it's true, his line didn't work on me, but I was young then. Now I'm wiser.


Lola is Beauty said...

yes it's true, almost as if because you are the director you have carte blanche to say anything you like to anybody to amuse yourself. But now I am intrigued. Did you ever actually have ski slope hair? If so I would like to see photographic evidence. Was this in the 80's?

Bombay Beauty said...

It was short phase, not well documented... And if there are any pics out there, I would like to buy them... Indeed, WK may be a genius, but what's he got against Evian? Good for the skin, good for the planet. Cheers, BB