Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? was William Klein’s feature debut, but he wasn’t an unknown. Rather, he was established as one of the great midcentury fashion photographers — he already had an established career with Vogue, and he won the Prix Nadar for a study of New York. His first venture into filmmaking is a satire of the world that made him — it belittles not the model herself, but the publications and audience that objectify her. This antiestablishment mode would carry on for him as his career took him to make documentaries about Black Panthers, Muhammad Ali, and his vicious satirical follow-up Mr. Freedom.
This is not simply to argue for Klein as an auteur, but to place this wonderful breath of fresh air for an audience amidst the French New Wave in context on. Yes, there are elements of Varda, Truffaut, and Buñuel, but also a connection to the commercial art of America that inspired so many of the New Wave’s aesthetic choices. The film plays out as a sort of Looney Tunes cartoon, a fantasy of a woman who wishes for a charming prince to take her away from the working world and the churlish reporters covering her life. There are elements at play of a more self-aware My Week With Marilyn, one that is more conscious of how it treats the star at its center.
This becomes such a deeply easy movie to recommend. You have the absurd high fashion of the Met Gala. You have a parody of the fashion world baked in by an author who worked directly with Diana Vreeland, so it’s easy to recommend to fans of films like Bill Cunningham, New York, and The Devil Wears Prada. But the film defies a “this-meets-that” description with its vérité structure combining with high comedy and gorgeous photography — it’s just as easy to recommend to fans of Belle de Jour and fans of Funny Face.
Available on The Criterion Channel for streaming, or for rent on Amazon.com