, Research Paper
Voice and Movement
Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda
The film A Fish Called Wanda is on the AFI?s (American Film Institute) Greatest 100 Comedies list. Although this film features talented actors like John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline easily steals the show. Kline gives a brilliant performance as the pseudo-intellectual Otto. What makes Kline so remarkable is the way that he moves and makes his character dance across the screen.
Right from the outset, in one of the film?s first scene, we see that Kline?s Otto is no normal jewel thief. Even though Otto is supposed to be working under the guise that he is Wanda?s (Jamie Lee Curtis) sister, he quickly gives her breast a squeeze in full view of Ken, one of the other robbers. What makes this movement work comically is that Kline does it so lightening fast and that if you blinked you might miss it. He has such control over his arm that he is able to extend it, and withdraw it in a matter of maybe a second. This allows for the suspended disbelief that Ken does not see him do it.
Another movement that Kline makes also speaks volumes about his body control. Otto and Wanda are together in what I take to be Otto?s quarters. They are speaking excitedly about something and he leaps into the air, grabs a pipe that is suspended from the ceiling, lifts himself completely off the ground and sails on to the bed with the grace of a ballerina. This is so interesting because Kline?s Otto is supposed to a be a vulgar American bank robber. His graceful movement is evidenced again when Otto and Wanda go to the garage to claim the jewels the stole from a safe. Otto is angered by the fact that the jewels are not there. He goes over to kick a car out of anger. Rather then just kicking the tire, or burying his foot into the car door, Kline leaps into up and kicks the car twice while he is in the air. He takes what is just a simple movement and makes into something much more.
While Kevin Kline is not a big man in stature and he does not look physically intimidating, or especially strong, he shows us the contrary. In one scene, he grabs Wanda by the back of her head and tosses her onto a bed like she was a rag doll. In another scene, in a jealous rage, Otto breaks into the Cabin that Archie (John Cleese) and Wanda are in. He overhears the two of them making fun of him. Otto hates to be called stupid or insulted. When Archi refuses to apologize and take back his insults, Otto takes Archie, who is a much bigger man, and dangles him by the feet out the window until he says he is sorry. While we do not see how Otto gets Archie into the position of hanging out the window, we assume that he quickly and decisively over powered him.
Towards the middle of the film, we see Kline?s Otto in front of a mirror with a katana blade. It appears that he is practicing ninjitsu. This makes it plausible for us an audience to believe he has the cat-like quiet skills to be able to sneak into Archie?s house without being heard. Another example he shows of this type of body control is when angered Wanda, he grabs an 8×10 photo of her and punches through it without hurting his hand. We also see him practicing a Buddhist meditation technique that he says he uses for anger management.
Something I find personally fascinating about Kline as an actor is the way he seems to be so centered. There is such cleanliness and crispness to all his movements, he speaks very clearly with his body. This control allows him to slip into all sorts of different characters in the movie. He very plausibly becomes a CIA agent, a homosexual, and speaks jibberish Italian, all in his attempts to seem an intellectual.
Kline shows the control of an acrobat. When he goes try to Archie, he does a quick, clean backwards somersault and leap into a stride. Movement like this is so rare in film because subtly is needed in close-ups.
You can read all you would want to know about Otto by the way he moves. He is someone who wants very badly to be smart. He reads Nitzche, but as Wanda says he ?Doesn?t get it?. He can take control over almost any situation with his body because he is so centered. It?s this control that makes his performance so fun to watch.