Socialist Worker

William Klein's vivid snaps of a US mesmerised by consumerism

by Nigel Davey
Published Tue 11 Dec 2012
Issue No. 2333

William Klein: Candy Store, New York, 1955 (Pic: © William Klein)

William Klein: Candy Store, New York, 1955 (Pic: © William Klein)


Photographer and filmmaker William Klein offers a guide to the pre-digital era, from the blinding fluorescent signs of Manhattan to the smoke swept streets of Paris ’68.

Klein was born in New York in 1928. After serving in the army in post-war Germany and France, he enrolled at the Sorbonne in Paris where he still lives.

Now the Tate Modern is exhibiting his work alongside that of Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama. The best photos are of New York in the Mad Men era of the early 1960s—in grainy black and white. They capture the magic of the place.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is an installation cutting between Klein’s most remarkable films. Mr Freedom is the anchor. It features a superhero in the style of Captain America who addresses brainwashed young patriots.

It satirises a US society mesmerised by consumerism and the ideology of the American Century.

Paris 68 captures the swirling excitement of those May days—the ad-libbed nature and the chaos of revolt. There is also footage of boxer Cassius Clay—not yet renamed Muhammad Ali—preparing to take on Sonny Liston while fooling around with The Beatles.

Movies like Klein’s can often seem unwatchable compared to Hollywood narrative cinema. But arthouse has considerable influence on the mainstream both artistically and technically.

You can see the similarity between the stylised violence of Mister Freedom and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange made two years later in 1971.

Most of Klein’s films can be seen on YouTube but if you are in London check out this exhibition—it’s marvellous.

William Klein + Daido Moriyama, Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG. Exhibition runs until 20 January, admission £12.70. Go to tate.org.uk for more details


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Tue 11 Dec 2012, 18:11 GMT
Issue No. 2333
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