Polly Maggoo (Dorothy MacGowan) is a bucktoothed, freckle-faced American girl working as a model in Paris. She is everyone’s fantasy and the obsession of television reporter Gregoire (Jean Rochefort), who is filming the gamine for his journalistic personality show Who Are You?. In between this fantasy figure and this supposedly grounded intellectual is a whole culture obsessed with Polly, fashion, and the new. The film begins with a fashion show where an avant-garde designer (Jacques Seiler) displays his new line of dresses made from bent sheets of aluminum, and the influential magazine editor Miss Maxwell (Grayson Hall, zinging Diana Vreeland) declares that he is magnificent and that he has reinvented the concept of woman. Apparently, the entire female gender was out of date.
Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (directed by William Klein) casts a wide satirical net, but since its biggest target is a staple of popular culture, it’s rather prescient of Klein to see how far his net needs to go. Though the eye of his storm is the over-inflated importance of the fashion world, his Polly is really a mirror to the society that worships her. When we gaze at her gazing at us from a magazine cover, we’re really looking at ourselves. Gregoire claims to want to get to know the real Polly, but he really wants to see her conform to his preconceived theory than truly uncover the girl behind the beautiful face. So, too, is Prince Igor imagining her for the role she plays in his own Cinderella story. His wild daydreams show her in a pretty standard fairy tale, but the longer these fantasies go on, the more an independent Polly asserts herself and the less he likes it.
Cinderella as a metaphor comes up time and again in Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? How it pertains to Polly changes with each telling, each person having their own idea of what the glass slipper would be, allowing Klein to emphasize the cruel fetish of male possession. This also ties into fashion, which abstracts the female form and jails it in absurd concoctions. More than once, Polly is accused as a con artist that is part of some great duping of the feminine mind. Playing Polly, MacGowan stays fabulously above the fray. Though she may be a cypher in many eyes, Klein lets her be a real girl, herself, never hemmed in by the camera lens.
Of course, Klein never lets anything be hemmed in by the lens. His camera is always moving, if not literally, then by never lingering too long on one shot, cutting from one elaborate staged composition to another. There is no technique he isn’t willing to employ, including using stills and freeze frame images, jump cuts that drop frames out of a sequence, musical numbers, and even animation. His sets are like art installations, populated with fads and objects of ’60s modernism; overpopulated, you might say, to the point that they look futuristic. (One would suspect Roman Coppola watched Polly Maggoo when putting together CQ.) Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? is a film that is never at rest, alive with Klein’s anarchic sense of humor, reminiscent of the cinematic practical jokes Richard Lester played with the Beatles. It’s glorious to watch it all happen.
Arguably, Klein’s inability to sit still predicts the attention deficit disorder we find in current pop culture. As much as Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? parodies the 1960s, it also seems like Klein had a crystal ball where he saw MTV, the paparazzi, and other aspects of our celebrity-obsessed media. He even beats Andy Warhol to the “fifteen minutes of fame” punch by a couple of years, shining a light on the fickleness of public taste. By the end of the movie, Polly Maggoo is out of style, and people are moving on to find new faces to love.
—excerpt by Jaime S. Rich (check out his great film blog HERE