MOVIES | William Klein’s “Messiah”: Koyanis-God-si


William Klein’s Messiah (1999) pairs the entirety of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah with footage of modern religious rites, city life, and human suffering. With no dialogue—only images and music—the film can get a bit exhausting. By the end, you have been flooded with so many images that it feels as if you just took an epic journey around the world, and Klein did shoot the film in many different locations from Dublin, Ireland to Jakarta, Indonesia.

Klein wields his satirical powers in this film, highlighting the discrepancies between religious messages and values and the baser actions of humanity as reflected by our modern world. Klein does this very effectively by juxtaposing phrases from the music, written in white typeface on a black screen, with images that connect or contrast ironically.

messiah, a film written and directed by william klein. playing may 17 at the walker art center, 1750 hennepin ave., minneapolis. for tickets ($8) and information, see

The words “every valley shall be exalted” flash on the screen and the camera pans through images of Las Vegas. The words “Behold your God!” precede scenes of computerized hands dealing cards and masses of people in front of slot machines. Shots of homeless people collecting cans for recycling come after a quote about Jesus being “despised and rejected among men.” War footage follows the question “why do the nations so furiously rage together,” which is then followed, amusingly, by shots of the choir singing paired with the words, flashing many times on the screen, “thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

One of the other amazing things about the documentary is that Klein got footage of many different choirs singing the piece’s various parts, though the main choir throughout the film is Les Musiciens du Louvre. The Dallas Police Choir, ironically, sings a part that contains the lyrics “Behold the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” There are also scenes of Texas prison inmates singing, and the lesbian and gay gospel choir Lavender Light. On top of that, Klein captured shots of Bodybuilders for Christ smashing giant concrete blocks, walls of ice, and flaming pillars of bricks.

The documentary definitely covers a wide breadth of people, issues, and religious messages. It is beautifully made and set to an amazing piece of music.

Ellen Frazel ( is a student at Macalester College.

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