All this Sony madness surrounding The Interview made me think of a few films that either got some controversy upon their release in other countries, but I also thought of William Klein’s never released to the western public Mister Freedom, a masterpiece of absurdity that begs to be seen. Take the overall wackier bits from Dr. Strangelove, add in a jingoistic, xenophobic, sexist, quick to rile all-American superhero modeled after Superman and Captain America, add a ton of absurd visual elements and shake well.
For a film made in 1969, this one so far ahead of its time that some viewers may be shocked at what they see taking place. On the other hand, the film also shows that old adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same” is all too true in terms of politics and other targets ripe for satire. Klein, a famed fashion photographer and American expatriate living in France, made one of those films that will outrage some and make the rest laugh at as well as with it exactly as its director intended…
This in one of those offbeat films that’s hard to do a decent synopsis for because it works best when you just sit down and let it hit you over the head with its message and you laugh and cringe when required. Still, I’ll hit you with the opening few minutes. John Abbey chews up the scenery as the titular antihero, first seen in action busting into a ghetto apartment to berate a black family for stealing and other crimes before seemingly gunning most of them down (eek!). It turns out Mister Freedom is some sort of government super-agent and he’s direly needed to clean up some Communist action in France, where the bulk of the film takes place. Between the crazy inflatable costumes, the songs, cheerleaders and loads of intentionally mindless action scenes, there’s a definite sense of a film that shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
On the other hand, as the layers are being peeled away and Mister Freedom goes more and more off the rails, it’s clear that Klein was jabbing the country in places it needed to be poked. Foreign and domestic policy get a kick in the knee, as do patriotism and even self-sacrifice in the service of one’s country. Mister Freedom may think he’s all that and a bag of chips, but at the end of the day he’s simply a tool (in more ways than one) that can be easily disposed of because he’s a dumb as a bag of rusted hammers. Every problem he’s got he solves with a punch, a bad joke or by dropping his pants. If only it were that easy in real life, right? The film doesn’t let him off lightly, however. Toss in a hilarious turn by Donald Pleasence as Doctor Freedom and you’ll see that the “hero” has a keeper who gladly sends this star-spangled dope to his fate.
The reasons you’ve probably never heard of this one is that it’s never been commercially released in a theater. If you poke around on Wikipedia, you get this sole note about the film’s initial (and final, unless the page hasn’t been updated) public screening:
Fearing it may never be seen otherwise, Klein showed the film at the 1968 Avignon Festival. Marxist-Leninist groups criticized the political caricatures of Red China Man and other characters.
One has to imagine that most American film studios at that time (as well as the U.S. government) weren’t exactly interested in seeing this get a screening here as well. Of course, given that this was the Vietnam era and Nixon was rolling around the White House, the chances of this film even getting mentioned in conversation were probably slim to none. Still, it would have been interesting to see just what Tricky Dick and his cronies thought of this flick.
You can certainly try to view it with the Stars & Stripes blinders on for its “patriotic” appeal. But Freedom’s thuggish behavior makes it hard to defend his actions unless you think he’s always in the right (even with his terrible singing!). As for getting to see this today, the only way to get this outside of a bootleg DVD or torrent download is to buy a box set of Klein’s films from The Criterion Collection.
Hmmm. Perhaps, someone should show this to Sony along with The Chairman, 2008’s Rambo and a few other films that drew the ire of assorted ticked off groups, some of them a lot more actually dangerous than a bunch of pissed off hackers who happened to do more personal privacy wrecking than actual damage to a bunch of people who didn’t deserve such treatment. On the other hand, karma is indeed a bitch and one would hope anyone working at any other studio isn’t as nasty. Of course, human nature dictates that’s probably an impossibility. But I guess we’ll find out eventually whether we like it or not now that digital blackmail seems to be the next big thing…