William Klein uses his experience in the haute couture fashion world to send it up, and what better way to start than with a ludicrous carnivalesque fashion show which puts models in rigid aluminum shapes that cut into the skin. A parodic Diana Vreeland stand-in approves, exclaiming that designer Isidore Ducasse’s work “redefines woman”. Yes, of course it does! Everyone agrees whole-heartedly, applause erupts. This is only the beginning of Klein’s satirization of the fashion world. The majority is an anarchic blast, but it tends to lose its way every so often, dipping into a shapeless kind of boredom that it always regains itself from.
People project their fantasies and assumptions onto the bucktoothed freckle-faced world-famous Polly (Dorothy MacGowan, looking like a young Julianne Moore). Prince Igor (Sami Frey of Band of Outsiders), like everyone else without knowing her, casts Polly in his delusional fractured fairy tale which takes place in his smorgasbord installation piece of a room. The idea of the trend being merely projected onto the model, thus taking the person out of the equation, is still relevant today, if not quite as starkly. What I mean is that the mid-to-late sixties had such an identifiable modish style that doesn’t quite make any specific equivalent today. But most of the ideals Klein deconstructs are still highly relevant and thus really amusing to see.
I wish I could cut the fat off of Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? because Klein has a tendency to spin his wheels, making a good portion of this a scattershot byproduct of his central ideas. It’s best when you consider various cohesive but still loyally loop-de-loo segments. It’s got lots of French New Wavy flash, but is on the whole more collectively experimental. You don’t really know what you’ll see next; it doesn’t have any forward motion and that’s part of the fun and part of the problem. He likes to exaggerate, cramming lots of people into his frames or using shots that make their indelible mark. One that sticks out is the line of women all in the Twiggyesque makeup with a black-and-white striped mod dress with exact accompanying décor in the background. They simply are the trend and nothing else. Polly is among them, but you have to concentrate to pick even her out.
What struck me most was the faux-investigative TV show “Who Are You?” and that Grégoire’s (Jean Rochefort) dissenting opinions on fashion and models are just as much denigrated as anything else. Because as Polly shows herself to have some insightful thoughts about fashion and what it means, what could’ve been turned into a personality-revealing conversation (exactly what he purports to want) is immediately dismissed by his assumptions. He wants her to have an identity, to get at what’s underneath. He could if he actually listened to her for a minute, but he and “Who Are You?” are just as guilty as the fashion world of the way they use her to project what they want, to commodify and construct their own identity for someone who remains a voiceless cipher.
Here’s the thing. Fashion is an art. Anyone who says otherwise is an idiot. A business? Yes. But also an art. A lot like film. It uses pattern, fabric, shapes and endless technique to play, flaunt, subvert and experiment with shapes and silhouettes on the body. But with fashion, comes the inevitable fact that the female body becomes an abstracted object whose very job is to be a cipher. And with fashion comes the endlessly problematic industry, its inflated importance, elitism, gospel-like nature and instantaneous turnover. Once Polly is concreted by myth, pinned down with words, in this case the Cinderella fairy tale, her days of fame are numbered. It doesn’t have the gut-punch of a satire the likes of Smile, and I’m not sure how much it succeeds as a cohesive whole, but it has a lived-in WTF-punch all its own.