MOVIES | William Klein’s “Polly Maggoo” faces the tough questions: Who would you rather bed, LBJ or Fidel Castro?


Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966) provides a harsh and hilarious critique of many trends of the 1960s: the fashion industry, the boom of pop culture, confessional television shows, modernism, the popularity of psychology, and the changing tide of politics. The film was William Klein’s first feature-length film and won him the Prix Jean Vigo at the Cannes Film Festival. Following model Polly Maggoo (Dorothy McGowan), the movie traces her career as a Brooklyn-born model who’s living and modeling in Paris.

The film begins with a fashion show featuring models wearing sheet metal designs; one model’s arm gets cut by this dangerous material, but the makeup artists cover the wound quickly. A woman, who we discover is the top fashion editor and critic, declares that the designer has “recreated woman!” and another woman enthusiastically labels this new woman “the Atomic Woman.” This theme pops up throughout the movie, weaving Cold War themes into this critique of the fashion world. At one point, Polly even does a photo shoot in which she is supposed to be a rocket.

who are you, polly maggoo?, a film written and directed by william klein. playing may 16 at the walker art center, 1750 hennepin ave., minneapolis. for tickets ($8) and information, see

The main event in the film is the shooting of an episode of the television show Who Are You?, featuring Polly Maggoo. In an attempt to discover who she really is behind all her makeup and fancy clothes, the director of the show runs a series of psychological tests on Polly, asking her questions like “What plant would you be?” and “Who would you rather sleep with, President Johnson or Fidel Castro?”

Coupled with scenes of characters discussing the body image of models, the fashion photo shoots in the film reflect the ridiculous nature of modern-day fashion and television shows like America’s Next Top Model. In one scene, the models do a photo shoot in a cemetery, with Polly lying in a coffin, her face done up to the extent that it looks like a mask. Another scene depicts Polly modeling on top of a building, with people in the streets wondering if she might fall or jump.

In a strange subplot, the prince of Borodine, a small country in the Soviet bloc, falls desperately in love with Polly and goes seeking her hand in marriage. This plotline adds a fantastical element to the film; the action often jumps suddenly into the prince’s head as he daydreams about Polly.

There’s a lot going on in Who Are You. Social commentary will jump out at you everywhere you look, and all of the characters seem to be slightly out of their minds. Parts of the movie derail into deranged daydreams and over-the-top fashion modeling sessions that may make you chuckle or raise your eyebrows. It’s a fun ride, and it will definitely make you think.

Ellen Frazel ( is a student at Macalester College.

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