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film

William Klein

“I DREAMED I WAS PLAYING Handel's Messiah,” a temporarily overworked cellist told me one Christmas, “and then I woke up and it was true!” Handel's musical depiction of the passion and resurrection of Christ has provided seasonal employment for musicians since its premiere in 1742. Even in our impious times it remains well loved. But if it's not religious fervor that brings audiences to their feet for the Hallelujah chorus, what is it? Photographer William Klein's 1999 film Messiah—which only recently received its American debut, at New York's Florence Gould Hall—can be taken as a stab at this question, investigated by means of a direct confrontation between Handel's oratorio and images of late-modern life in such disparate places as New York, Las Vegas, Paris, and Jakarta.

These documentary images are cut into the backbone of the film, an excellent full-length performance by

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