William Klein’s Mr. Freedom is relevant today not only because of its attitude towards United States foreign policy (to meddle or not to meddle in Middle East and Africa), but also because it’s a superhero movie. And superhero movies are all the rage with the kids these days.
Mr. Freedom is an over-the-top satire, completely absurd, and really hilarious. It’s message: [imperialist] freedom is actually freedom from freedom. The film sends up American involvement in Vietnam, in the Cold War, and in WWII (particularly it’s use of the atomic bomb). It reminds me of a more overt Peter Watkins – he of the faux-documentaries The War Game and Punishment Park which look at a dystopic and draconian US of the future.
Mr. Freedom’s color palette does not anticipate the dystopian sci-fi films of modern days, which favor muted earth tones and/or lots of blues. This is a saturated film filled with red, white and blue, but mostly red. Mr. Freedom (John Abbey), costumed in a nationalistically colored hockey uniform travels to France to avenge the death of Captain Formidable (pronounced For-mid-a-bla) and to take down those challenging the tenets of freedom.
The tenets of freedom aren’t really defined. But what is assumed by Mr. Freedom and his cronies – I mean followers – is that everyone wants freedom, whether they know it or not. And that violence is a great way to obtain freedom. And that Mr. Freedom is the most masculine of men. In Klein’s film the good guys are actually the bad and the bad actually the good. What’s the best way to grant freedom? Well, kill the indigenous people. In fact, drop “the big one” and destroy Paris. While doing so, force the natives to buy your products, charm their women and indoctrinate anyone you cross paths with with your motto and anthem. Sound familiar? Over-the-top it is, but Mr. Freedom is a re-imagining of countless acts of aggression and imperialism. Luckily, Klein has a sense of humor about it:
Some of the comedic highlights: Mr. Freedom constantly breaking through windows to get where he needs to go. Even to jump into bed with a woman. A quick news flash announcing happily, “We just destroyed half the world!” The ridiculously stereotypical representations of foreign villains – the mustachioed and muscular Russian, the beret-wearing French henchmen, the giant puffy dragon as “Red Chinaman.” Donald Pleasance in an awesomely sardonic cameo as Mr. Freedom’s boss and his singing of the national anthem over a video communication as Mr. Freedom dies amidst the rubble he created. Mr. Freedom’s constant flexing and pandering to camera.
In its anarchic and cartoonish portrayal of violence, comically dressed goons, and general chaos the film actually precedes Tim Burton’s Batman. Both envision similar city-scapes as well. Major difference (aside from the color scheme): Batman is “good(ish)” and Mr. Freedom is pretty darn bad and brainwashed.
Here is a superhero ripped from the Sunday comics. He’s everything an early Superman should be – handsome, strong, million-dollar smile, hair that won’t quit (what does that mean? What would happen if the hair quit? Is he bald at that point?), promoting good ol’ American values, protecting the weak (women, obviously).
In the general trend of today’s big-screen superheroes, Mr. Freedom fits squarely amidst Nolan’s Batman, Favreau’s Iron Man and Vaughn’s Red Mist. He’s the head-case, the arrogance, and the misguided ideals all wrapped into one hilarious package.