Pauline Kael

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She's been mentioned in almost every film-related discussion we've had, so it's about time she had her own thread, isn't it?

Justyn Dillingham (Justyn Dillingham), Monday, 17 February 2003 10:06 (seventeen years ago) link

anyone know details about the forthcoming biography?

M Matos (M Matos), Monday, 17 February 2003 10:20 (seventeen years ago) link

She was a remarkable woman. A bit of a witch, but a remarkable woman.

the pinefox, Monday, 17 February 2003 12:12 (seventeen years ago) link

That's the kind of back-handed compliment that I am so sick of receiving. Who is this Kael woman?

Lara (Lara), Monday, 17 February 2003 12:16 (seventeen years ago) link

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Monday, 17 February 2003 12:21 (seventeen years ago) link

But Jerry, that's a WARLOCK.

the pinefox, Monday, 17 February 2003 12:34 (seventeen years ago) link

I disagree. It's a necessity.

Lara (Lara), Monday, 17 February 2003 13:38 (seventeen years ago) link

Posted to the wrong thread. Can we make it work?

Lara (Lara), Monday, 17 February 2003 13:39 (seventeen years ago) link

Lara - do people really often call you a remarkable woman?

the pinefox, Monday, 17 February 2003 13:41 (seventeen years ago) link

As often as they call you precious, my precious.

Lara (Lara), Monday, 17 February 2003 13:46 (seventeen years ago) link

I love her reviews. I don't think she's right as often as David Thompson, say, but I find her more fun to read. She's boring less often than almost any other critic ever in any form.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Monday, 17 February 2003 18:22 (seventeen years ago) link

David Thomson (no "p") is better than Kael, I think. Just got thru reading a slim collection called "Under Mulholland." Thomson zinged me on a piece about a fictional director named Perkins least I think he's fictional, unless any of you out there have ever heard of a movie w/Warren Oates called "My Sweet Dread."

Kael is to read...but she misses the point a lot. Style is repetitive, even more so than that of most writers. Her main contributions: prescient review of "Bonnie and Clyde"; review of "Nashville" before it was offically released. Liked Altman when it was cool to dismiss him (post-M*A*S*H). Also, in her piece on "Long Goodbye" (Altman's take on Raymond Chandler) she really demolishes Chandler as the high-class hack he really all to the good...

frank p. jones (frank p. jones), Monday, 17 February 2003 18:28 (seventeen years ago) link

Make that Thomson title "Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and Its Ghosts."

frank p. jones (frank p. jones), Monday, 17 February 2003 18:29 (seventeen years ago) link

I think both Kael and Thomson are/were "wrong" very often and that doesn't hinder me from loving either of them. What good is a critic who agrees with you all the time? And what good are you if that's the case?

Pete Scholtes, Monday, 17 February 2003 21:41 (seventeen years ago) link

Yeah, I love when I disagree with Kael, which is often. Doesn't make her a worse critic in any way.

slutsky (slutsky), Monday, 17 February 2003 21:45 (seventeen years ago) link

Every critic should be on a soapbox and Mrs Kael most certainly was.

Wintermute (Wintermute), Monday, 17 February 2003 21:57 (seventeen years ago) link

"I regard criticism as an art." I wish more critics thought that way (for better or worse).

Aaron W (Aaron W), Monday, 17 February 2003 22:01 (seventeen years ago) link

I regard criticism as fart.

Lara (Lara), Monday, 17 February 2003 23:13 (seventeen years ago) link

I think both Kael and Thomson are/were "wrong" very often and that doesn't hinder me from loving either of them. What good is a critic who agrees with you all the time? And what good are you if that's the case?
-- Pete Scholtes

Touchy, eh?

frank p. jones (frank p. jones), Monday, 17 February 2003 23:52 (seventeen years ago) link

not at all, frank

M Matos (M Matos), Tuesday, 18 February 2003 01:43 (seventeen years ago) link

one year passes...
does anyone know what Kael thought of "Vertigo"? i've read or at least skimmed all her books, but i've never seen her mention this film. i'm guessing she didn't like it - i don't think she ever liked a Hitchcock picture she couldn't describe as "fun."

J.D. (Justyn Dillingham), Monday, 13 September 2004 08:07 (sixteen years ago) link

it's entirely possible she forgot about it or even never saw it. that would account for her weakness for brian depalma, of course. it was out of circulation in the 60s and 70s, as was 'rear window'.

Dead Man, Monday, 13 September 2004 08:13 (sixteen years ago) link

It is queer than Greil Marcus dedicated Invisible Republic to her, save that, as JtN points out, it is not.

the bellefox, Monday, 13 September 2004 10:40 (sixteen years ago) link

i've got a feeling that PK said vertigo was a sick, necrophiliac fantasty

Jay G (jaybob79), Monday, 13 September 2004 10:42 (sixteen years ago) link

nice line of thought, Pauline: 'bonnie and clyde were REALLY horrible violent criminals!!!'

Dead Man, Monday, 13 September 2004 10:45 (sixteen years ago) link

I don't think she was a fan, but I'm gonna check. I think she referenced it at least once (it's GOTTA be in 5001 Nights At The Movies somewhere). I cannot WAIT until that biography comes out (whenever that might be).

manthony m1cc1o (Anthony Miccio), Monday, 13 September 2004 14:24 (sixteen years ago) link

eleven months pass...
Kael's marginalia are very much in the classic Pauline mode. Penciled in a quick, tight cursive, her comments favor the expressively expostulatory: ''gawd," ''oh my," ''huh?," ''poo," ''bull," ''good," ''Jesus!," ''he's right," ''ugh," ''yup," ''oh come on," ''??," and ''!"

don't be jerk, this is china (FE7), Thursday, 8 September 2005 23:46 (fifteen years ago) link

LOL. I was just reading her two nights ago. It always makes me wish I were alive in NYC in the '70s.

Eric H. (Eric H.), Friday, 9 September 2005 00:38 (fifteen years ago) link

A few capsules from 5001 Nights:

"Only the title of this extraordinary poetic satire is casual and innocent. The writer-director Jean-Luc Godard has a gift for making the contemporary satiric and fantastic. He begins with just a slight stylization of civilized living now—the people are more adulterous, more nakedly mercenary, touchier. They have weapons, and use them at the slightest provocation, and it seems perfectly logical that they should get into their cars and bang into one another and start piling up on the roads. The traffic jam is a prelude to highways littered with burning cars and corpses. As long as Godard stays with cars as the symbol of bourgeois materialism, the barbarity of these bourgeois—their greed and the self-love they project onto their possessions—is exact and funny. The picture goes much further—sometimes majestically, sometimes with surreal details that suggest an affinity between Godard and Buñuel, sometimes with methods and ideas that miss, badly. There are extraordinary passages, such as a bourgeois wife's erotic confession and a long virtuoso sequence of tracking shots of cars stalled on the highway, with the motorists pressing down with all their might on their car horns, which sound triumphant, like trumpets in Purcell. Though deeply flawed, this film has more depth than any of Godard's earlier work. It's his vision of Hell and it ranks with the greatest. As a mystical movie WEEKEND is comparable to Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL and SHAME and Ichikawa's FIRES ON THE PLAIN and passages of Kurosawa, yet we're hardly aware of the magnitude of the writer-director's conception until after we are caught up in the comedy of horror, which keeps going further and further and becoming more nearly inescapable, like Journey to the End of the Night."

Exorcist II: The Heretic
"Directed by John Boorman, this picture has a visionary crazy grandeur (like that of Fritz Lang's loony METROPOLIS). Some of its telepathic sequences are golden-toned and lyrical, and the film has a swirling, hallucinogenic, apocalyptic quality; it might have been a horror classic if it had had a simpler, less ritzy script. But, along with flying demons and theology inspired by Teilhard de Chardin, the movie has Richard Burton, with his precise diction, helplessly and inevitably turning his lines into camp, just as the cultivated, stage-trained actors in early-30s horror films did. Like them, Burton has no conviction in what he's doing, so he can't get beyond staginess and artificial phrasing. The film is too cadenced and exotic and too deliriously complicated to succeed with most audiences (and when it opened, there were accounts of people in theatres who threw things at the screen). But it's winged camp—a horror fairy tale gone wild, another in the long history of moviemakers' king-size follies. There's enough visual magic in it for a dozen good movies; what it lacks is judgment—the first casualty of the moviemaking obsession. With Linda Blair, four year older than in the first film and going into therapy because of her nightmares, Louise Fletcher as the therapist, and Max von Sydow, Kitty Winn, Ned Beatty, Paul Henreid, and James Earl Jones as Pazuzu."

The Fury
"Brian De Palma's visionary, science-fiction thriller is the reverse side of the coin of Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. With Spielberg, what happens is so much better than you dared hope that you have to laugh; with De Palma, it's so much worse than you feared that you have to laugh. The script (John Farris's adaptation of his novel) is cheap gothic espionage occultism involving two superior beings—spiritual twins (Andrew Stevens and Amy Irving) who have met only telepathically. But the film is so visually compelling that a viewer seems to have entered a mythic night world; no Hitchcock thriller was ever so intense, went so far, or had so many "classic" sequences."

A Clockwork Orange
"This Stanley Kubrick film might be the work of a strict and exacting German professor who set out to make a porno-violent sci-fi comedy. The movie is adapted from Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel, which is set in a vaguely socialist future of the late 70s or early 80s—a dreary, routinized England that roving gangs of teenage thugs terrorize at night. In this dehumanizing society, there seems to be no way for the boys to release their energies except in vandalism and crime. The protagonist, Alex (Malcolm McDowell), is the leader of one of these gangs; he's a conscienceless schoolboy sadist who enjoys stealing, stomping, raping, and destroying, until he kills a woman and is sent to prison. There he is conditioned into a moral robot who becomes nauseated by thoughts of sex and violence. Burgess wrote an ironic fable about a future in which men lose their capacity for moral choice. Kubrick, however, gives us an Alex who is more alive than anybody else in the movie, and younger and more attractive, and McDowell plays him exuberantly, with power and slyness. So at the end, when Alex's bold, aggressive, punk's nature is restored to him, it seems not a joke on all of us (as it does in the book) but, rather, a victory in which we share, and Kubrick takes an exultant tone. Along the way, Alex has been set apart as the hero by making his victims less human than he; the picture plays with violence in an intellectually seductive way—Alex's victims are twisted and incapable of suffering. Kubrick carefully estranges us from these victims so that we can enjoy the rapes and beatings. Alex alone suffers. And how he suffers! He's a male Little Nell—screaming in a strait jacket during the brainwashing; sweet and helpless when rejected by his parents; alone, weeping, on a bridge; beaten, bleeding, lost in a rainstorm; pounding his head on a floor and crying for death. Kubrick pours on the hearts and flowers; what is done to Alex is far worse than what Alex has done, so society itself can be felt to justify Alex's hoodlumism."

"Sometimes mawkish pictures (like DAVID AND LISA and TO SIR WITH LOVE & 1967 and this one) catch on with the public and are taken seriously; characteristically naïve, "sincere," and pitifully clumsy in execution, they are usually based on material that experienced directors are too knowing to attempt. CHARLY, which had already been a heavily anthologized short story ("Flowers for Algernon," by Daniel Keyes), a TV play, and a novel, has the kind of terrible idea that makes what is often called "a classic"—really a stunted perennial. In the movie, directed by Ralph Nelson and adapted by Stirling Silliphant, Charly (Cliff Robertson), the mentally retarded adult whose teacher (Claire Bloom) helps him get brain surgery, tries to rape her as soon as he gets some book learning. Rejected, he becomes a hippie and a Hell's Angel, but he soon goes back to his books and becomes a fantastic, computer-sharp supergenius, and he and the teacher have an affair. The scheming scientists didn't tell him, though: his genius is only temporary—he must go back to being a dummy. This cheap fantasy with its built-in sobs also takes the booby prize for the worst use (yet) of the split screen; it's a slovenly piece of moviemaking and it's full of howlers. CHARLY may represent the unity of schlock form and schlock content—true schlock art."

The Sound of Music
"Set in Austria in 1938, this is a tribute to freshness that is so mechanically engineered and so shrewdly calculated that the background music rises, the already soft focus blurs and melts, and, upon the instant, you can hear all those noses blowing in the theatre. Whom could this operetta offend? Only those of us who, despite the fact that we may respond, loathe being manipulated in this way and are aware of how cheap and ready-made are the responses we are made to feel. We may become even more aware of the way we have been turned into emotional and aesthetic imbeciles when we hear ourselves humming the sickly, goody-goody songs. The dauntless, scrubbed-face heroine (Julie Andrews), in training to become a nun, is sent from the convent to serve as governess to the motherless Von Trapp children, and turns them into a happy little troupe of singers before marrying their father (Christopher Plummer). She says goodbye to the nuns and leaves them outside at the fence, as she enters the cathedral to be married. Squeezed again, and the moisture comes out of thousands—millions—of eyes and noses. Wasn't there perhaps one little Von Trapp who didn't want to sing his head off, or who screamed that he wouldn't act out little glockenspiel routines for Papa's party guests, or who got nervous and threw up if he had to get on a stage? The only thing the director, Robert Wise, couldn't smooth out was the sinister, archly decadent performance by Christopher Plummer—he of the thin, twisted smile; he seems to be in a different movie altogether."

West Side Story
"The film begins with a blast of stereophonic music, and everything about it is supposed to stun you with its newness, its size. The impressive, widely admired opening shots of New York from the air overload the story with values and importance—technological and sociological. And the dance movements are so sudden and huge, so portentously "alive" they're always near the explosion point. Consider the feat: first you take Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and remove all that cumbersome poetry; then you make the Montagues and Capulets modern by turning them into rival street gangs of native-born and Puerto Ricans. (You get rid of the parents, of course; America is a young country—and who wants to be bothered by the squabbles of older people?) There is the choreographer Jerome Robbins (who conceived the stage musical) to convert the street rumbles into modern ballet—though he turns out to be too painstaking for high-powered moviemaking and the co-director Robert Wise takes over. The writers include Ernest Lehman, who did the script, Arthur Laurents, who wrote the Broadway show, and, for the lyrics, Stephen Sondheim. The music is by Leonard Bernstein. The irony of this hyped-up, slam-bang production is that those involved apparently don't really believe that beauty and romance can be expressed in modern rhythms, because whenever their Romeo and Juliet enter the scene, the dialogue becomes painfully old-fashioned and mawkish, the dancing turns to simpering, sickly romantic ballet, and sugary old stars hover in the sky. When true love enters the film, Bernstein abandons Gershwin and begins to echo Richard Rodgers, Rudolf Friml, and Victor Herbert. There's even a heavenly choir. When Romeo-Tony meets his Juliet-Maria, everything becomes gauzy and dreamy and he murmurs, "Have we met before?" When Tony, floating on the clouds of romance, is asked, "What have you been taking tonight?" he answers, "A trip to the moon." Match that for lyric eloquence! (You'd have to go back to Odets.)"

Eric H. (Eric H.), Friday, 9 September 2005 18:02 (fifteen years ago) link

five years pass...

tthere's a new URL for that dead Geocities page of 2800+ Kael reviews; I saw it this week but didn't save the addy. Anyone?

kind of shrill and very self-righteous (Dr Morbius), Friday, 17 December 2010 16:27 (nine years ago) link

that's an invaluable resource. I was very sad when it went down.

Gus Van Sotosyn (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 17 December 2010 16:30 (nine years ago) link

thx, but there's a new non-Wayback site.

kind of shrill and very self-righteous (Dr Morbius), Friday, 17 December 2010 16:41 (nine years ago) link

cant find it, but i turned this up

my reaction to rushmore was similar to hers when i first saw it

Pussy v. Sperguson (Princess TamTam), Friday, 17 December 2010 16:59 (nine years ago) link

It was included as the intro to the published Rushmore script eight or nine years ago.

Gus Van Sotosyn (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 17 December 2010 17:03 (nine years ago) link

Yeah, but Edelstein mentions that she was mortified when it appeared in the New York Times too.

Pussy v. Sperguson (Princess TamTam), Friday, 17 December 2010 17:04 (nine years ago) link

OOH. I didn't know about this squabble.

Gus Van Sotosyn (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 17 December 2010 17:07 (nine years ago) link

I'm sure I've made it more than clear how much I love Kael, but I think she was completely wrong about Rushmore (to the extent that I can piece together her reaction from interviews, which seemed to be one of puzzlement). Just in general, I found I agreed with her less and less often towards the end. The quality of her writing was still great, but I found in terms of what she liked, she veered way in the direction of junk; it was almost like she discounted films that had any pretense towards seriousness. Her critics would probably say that that was always a problem with her, but at her best during the '70s, I think gave everything a fair look. I didn't feel that was true her last couple of years and in the interviews she gave after retiring. Obviously, there are exceptions--just a general observation.

clemenza, Friday, 17 December 2010 18:04 (nine years ago) link

I disagree. While it's true she reviewed more junk, the eighties and early nineties also produced more and more of it. Also, those 1500-word essays on forgotten junk like Club Paradise and About Last Night feature some of her best writing ever; it's as if she accepted the terms of the debate and relaxed.

Gus Van Sotosyn (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 17 December 2010 18:06 (nine years ago) link

'70s >>> '80 for movies, but State of the Art and Hooked are my favorites of her collections.

Gus Van Sotosyn (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 17 December 2010 18:07 (nine years ago) link

A bunch of junk from the '80s has aged a little bit better than many of the serious movies from the same decade.

benanas foster (Eric H.), Friday, 17 December 2010 18:08 (nine years ago) link

Fat keeps.

benanas foster (Eric H.), Friday, 17 December 2010 18:08 (nine years ago) link

I dont think you can say someone's 'wrong' to be puzzled by a movie - i sure as shit didn't know what to make of it (rushmore) at the time.

Pussy v. Sperguson (Princess TamTam), Friday, 17 December 2010 18:08 (nine years ago) link

wasn't she famously a champion of de sica (as opposed to sariss' "male weepies") and rosellini? i didn't get the impression she eschewed seriousness

zvookster, Friday, 17 December 2010 18:09 (nine years ago) link

She had her blind spots (Bresson, Ozu, Mizoguchi), but so does every critic.

Gus Van Sotosyn (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 17 December 2010 18:11 (nine years ago) link

De Sica is sort of trash compared to Rossellini.

benanas foster (Eric H.), Friday, 17 December 2010 18:12 (nine years ago) link

Oh wait, she liked Rossellini too? Color me surprised.

benanas foster (Eric H.), Friday, 17 December 2010 18:13 (nine years ago) link

i thought i recalled several admiring bresson reviews...l'argent & ... joan of arc maybe?

i love all those guys

zvookster, Friday, 17 December 2010 18:13 (nine years ago) link

i didn't get the impression she eschewed seriousness

Early on, no--that was the point I was making. Being puzzled by Rushmore is fine; I think she's wrong not to think "Wow, that's an amazing film," but puzzlement is totally valid. I'm not a big fan of the '80s, so our thoughts on Kael are undoubtedly tied in to how we feel about the decade to begin with. At times, I thought she was amazing; her Casualties of War review ranks with anything she ever wrote.

clemenza, Friday, 17 December 2010 18:14 (nine years ago) link

Oh no way. The only one with which she (barely) connected was ...Country Priest. She despised Mouchette, Lancelot, etc.

Gus Van Sotosyn (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 17 December 2010 18:15 (nine years ago) link

It's a pretty good, offbeat 'junk' genre film. The Driver is much more my cuppa tea.

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 02:03 (one year ago) link

(did she review it?)

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 02:03 (one year ago) link

yes, a capsule review at least, I don't know if there was more. alfred posted it above

Dan S, Wednesday, 15 May 2019 02:21 (one year ago) link

The Driver is something I want to see

Dan S, Wednesday, 15 May 2019 02:23 (one year ago) link

I was surprised to see that Kael liked Loving (the George Segal/Eva Marie Saint film) so much, as it seemed like exactly the kind of upper-middle-class angsty thing that she routinely dismissed (I'm thinking of her pan of Ordinary People), I just watched it this morning and found it meandering and occasionally interesting: the scene with the divorced older couple was great, but I haven't decided how I feel about the gimmicky conclusion. Kael's point that the film doesn't judge any of the characters is curious: Segal is so repulsive that I found it hard not to see it as taking a stance against him, but I suppose the early 70s might have been more sympathetic towards embodiments of white, male, upper-middle-class privilege.

Timothée Charalambides (cryptosicko), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 18:59 (one year ago) link

(did she review it?)

yup, c.1500 words, march 5 1979, collected in when the lights go down

mark s, Wednesday, 15 May 2019 19:07 (one year ago) link

(or did you mean the driver, sorry)

mark s, Wednesday, 15 May 2019 19:23 (one year ago) link

Loving is a bit more atmospheric and offbeat than Ordinary People (tho I agree it has its problems). Plus OP was part of her Redford vendetta; also they were suburban WASPs, and George Segal isn't.

yeah i meant The Driver, mark

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 19:24 (one year ago) link


This gangster picture, which failed commercially here and is also an aesthetic failure, was Walter Hill's second film as a writer-director. (It was made after HARD TIMES and before THE WARRIORS.) Hill attempted to stylize gangster characters and conventions, and although he succeeded in the action sequences, which have a near-abstract visual power, the stylized characters, with their uninflected personalities, flatten the movie out. In trying to purify the gangster film, he lost the very element that has made gangster movies so enjoyable: the colorful lowlifes and braggarts, with their own slang. (Instead, the characters stare at each other in silence.) And in exalting "professionalism"-in setting forth a neo-Hemingway elitist attitude for judging people on the basis of their grace and courage-Hill shows such a limited perspective that the film is comic-book cops-and-robbers existentialism. Ryan O'Neal, with his soft voice, gives the central role a strange, callow quality that's very effective, but as his adversary in the police department, Bruce Dern is at his mannered worst. As a woman of mystery, Isabelle Adjani drops her voice down to a Dietrich level and never varies it-or her expression: she's as blank-faced as a figure at Mme. Tussaud's. With Ronee Blakley, who looks more vividly alive than anyone else but gets killed off fast, and Joseph Walsh.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 19:31 (one year ago) link


Yeah, I'd forgotten about her Redford thing; just meant that in general she seemed to have an aversion to "whiny white guy" movies (which may have been a more accurate way to put it).

Timothée Charalambides (cryptosicko), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 19:32 (one year ago) link

she also recoiled from genre films that aspired to art

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 19:35 (one year ago) link

ie Goodfellas

but yet loved Mean Streets

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 19:40 (one year ago) link

Hill shows such a limited perspective that the film is comic-book cops-and-robbers existentialism.

this is what he was after, PK

she pulled the same "Where is Cagney?" thing with Goodfellas.

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 19:41 (one year ago) link

She's not wrong for disliking Goodfellas but ...

she pulled the same "Where is Cagney?" thing with Goodfellas.

The movie had Joe Pesci.

zama roma ding dong (Eric H.), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 19:42 (one year ago) link

she loved The Grifters, disliked The Silence of the Lambs.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 19:45 (one year ago) link

That Geocities archive is such a nice relic from the old internet.

jmm, Wednesday, 15 May 2019 21:06 (one year ago) link

except i have freq gotten virus warnings from it.

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 15 May 2019 21:12 (one year ago) link

three weeks pass...

I read and probably linked to this piece at the time (republished yesterday). I think it's excellent--although I continue to be perplexed by the idea that the Brian Kellow book was unsympathetic (and anyway, it's a biography--is it supposed to be sympathetic?).

clemenza, Saturday, 8 June 2019 21:52 (one year ago) link

there's a nice appreciation of Kael by Farran Smith Nehme in the current Sight and Sound followed by an edited Q&A she gave at the NFT in London in 82. If anyone is very keen I do have a pdf of it I could share.

she says this about Lynch:

Eraserhead [1977] has been one of the
most extraordinary films of the last few
years. Can you say something about
American avant-garde film and is it
coming into the major studios?
Eraserhead is an amazing film, because as clearly as you can figure at what you’re seeing – even though the pacing is monstrous and it takes too long – it has a quality I don’t think I’ve ever seen in another film, which was about men’s anxiety states on dating,
and their terrors of their wives, and their children and parents-in-law. I mean, that man is every adolescent boy’s image of himself
on a date. It is a really hair-raisingly scary movie. I quite love it, and I do think David Lynch is a remarkable talent as he showed again with The Elephant Man [1980], because that script was absolutely zilch, and he turned it into something quite marvellous.
There are images in Eraserhead that stay with you the way images from The Blood of the Poet [1932] or Un chien andalou [1929] do. The image of that man and the hooker from across the hall; when they’re on the bed making love, and they deliquesce into the bed itself, and finally you see they disappear except for the woman’s long hair floating on the bed. That is a pretty scary, powerful erotic image. The whole film has a strange erotic feeling to it; you can’t quite put your finger on what’s going on at any given moment that’s holding you there, but you’re being held. Considering that he’s using pasteboard sets, it’s a wonderful piece of work. He’s
a phenomenally gifted filmmaker.

Shite New Answers (jed_), Monday, 17 June 2019 21:32 (one year ago) link

I couldn't be bothered fixing the formatting, sorry.

Shite New Answers (jed_), Monday, 17 June 2019 21:32 (one year ago) link

someone posted her entire pan of Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet here

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Tuesday, 18 June 2019 15:35 (one year ago) link

100 today. Wherever she is, complaining about the state of movies.

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2019 13:07 (one year ago) link

happy 100th pauline! even though i'm not sure i'd want to read your pan of a hard day's night.

here's charles taylor's tribute:

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 18:43 (one year ago) link

Don't think I ever knew that about A Hard Day's Night--where was that published, J.D.?

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2019 18:54 (one year ago) link

She didn't like Head either...

frustration and wonky passion (C. Grisso/McCain), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 18:58 (one year ago) link


recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 18:58 (one year ago) link


omar little, Wednesday, 19 June 2019 19:00 (one year ago) link

it's mentioned in the sight and sound article as one of the reviews she did for mccall's, and i've seen it referenced a few other places. i always had the sense that a lot of her early work was never reprinted -- i don't think i ever saw her pan of lawrence of arabia either. but i'm sure i would've remembered reading a pan of AHDN.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 19:00 (one year ago) link

XP Knew that would happen...get yr mind outta the gutter Soto

frustration and wonky passion (C. Grisso/McCain), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 19:02 (one year ago) link

she folded remarks about those films into others. I've read her assessments of what O'Toole accomplished and got a sense that she both jeered at and was relieved by Omar Sharif.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 19:03 (one year ago) link

From Taylor's piece:

I remain convinced that the reason for this view of Pauline is misogyny. There’s never a problem when a group of men share a sensibility, no automatic assumption that they speak with one voice.

Thankfully, I think we're finally reaching the point where the second sentence here is actually not true, and it's a very good thing.

Pauline Male (Eric H.), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 19:29 (one year ago) link

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang contains only a passing reference to A Hard Day's Night which reads as somewhat favorable. She did not like Help!, which she compared to TV commercials. It seems as if she preferred the Dave Clark Five film Having a Wild Weekend aka Catch Us If You Can to both.

Josefa, Wednesday, 19 June 2019 21:17 (one year ago) link

The only bit of the Taylor piece that lost me was the feminism paragraph.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 21:25 (one year ago) link

Sorry to mention this on her centennial, but I just happened to be reading the 2nd edition (2016) of Movie Journal: the Rise of the New American Cinema 1959-1971, which is a collection of Jonas Mekas's film columns for the Village Voice, and it contains an unusually harsh takedown of Kael that goes on for several pages in the introduction, written by the book's editor, Gregory Smulewicz-Zucker. Sample:

Kael was no cultural conservative, but her criticism lacked substance. She dismissed the debate over culture under the guise of irreverence and wit. Kael mocked the kinds of concerns that could unite two so different critics as Mekas and Dwight MacDonald about the enrichment of culture. Film was purely about entertainment. By embracing this position, Kael could dismiss the entire discussion about the relation between film and culture as elitist.

There's much more like that.

Josefa, Wednesday, 19 June 2019 21:55 (one year ago) link

Film was purely about entertainment.

She never avowed anything like this. It's not just a lie, it's an insult to liars.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 21:59 (one year ago) link

I thought the Adler critique quoted in the S&S piece was also kind of hilariously reductive: “She has, in principle, four things she likes: frissons of horror; physical violence depicted in explicit detail; sex scenes, so long as they have an ingredient of cruelty and involve partners who know each other either casually or under perverse circumstances; and fantasies of invasion by, or subjugation of or by, apes, pods, teens, bodysnatchers, and extraterrestrials. Whether or not one shares these predilections – and whether they are in fact more than four, or only one – they do not really lend themselves to critical discussion.”

Dan S, Wednesday, 19 June 2019 22:05 (one year ago) link

You can level the charge of "criticism lacking substance" just as much at Mekas, whose responses to films were among the most completely subjective that I can think of, and that's often what I loved about his writing ("a syllogism: Barbara Rubin has no shame. Angels have no shame. Therefore Barbara Rubin is an angel.").

As for Adler, puh-leeze. Probably one of the worst critics to ever write for a major outlet. My favorite is when her review of some B-movie just consisted of a couple of lines of kvetching about having to review such trash a few days after the RFK assassination. Greil Marcus takedown of her is priceless: "Throughout, [Adler's book] Pitch Dark made me think of a useful cultural test: upon acquaintance, how long can one who has gone to Harvard or Radcliffe refrain from mentioning the fact. I have met people who have lasted several years, though several hours is generally considered laudatory. Adler (Harvard, MA, 1960) does not make it past her third page."

gjoon1, Wednesday, 19 June 2019 22:45 (one year ago) link

I actually like many of Adler's political journalism, including essays on William and Rehnquist and Robert Bork that represent two of the best dissections of loathsome careers I've read, but she was NOT a film critic.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 22:58 (one year ago) link


recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 22:58 (one year ago) link

yeah, Kael liked Bresson and Shoeshine

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 19 June 2019 23:41 (one year ago) link

six months pass...

A propos of nothing, that documentary What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2018), which has been kicking around FOREVER, is a pile of shit, full of talking heads mouthing flagrant untruths, all offering shockingly little insight as to what defined Pauline Kael as a writer.

— 𝕮𝖔𝖒𝖊 𝖆𝖓𝖉 𝕲𝖊𝖙 𝕸𝖊, 𝕮𝖔𝖕𝖕𝖊𝖗𝖘 (@NickPinkerton) January 21, 2020

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Tuesday, 21 January 2020 16:57 (eight months ago) link

No, it's not great.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 21 January 2020 16:59 (eight months ago) link

three weeks pass...

I've stopped looking at Toronto film listings, so I missed three screenings of the documentary in January. Got another chance tonight--the last for a while I figured--so I made the four-hour return trip into the city to see it.

Thought it was just fine. There was enough autobiography, it touched on all the big controversies, you heard Kael's voice a lot, and it wasn't out-and-out hagiography--you did hear from Adler and George Roy Hill and Molly Haskell, among others. (Of course it was mostly laudatory--what else would you expect?) I'm not sure what the flagrant untruths referred to above were.

Some of the clips were misplaced, suggesting she liked films she didn't, and I'm not sure why they used The Exorcist to frame talk of her house in Massachusetts. The quotes from negative reviews didn't hold up that well out of context--especially with The Sound of Music, which in 2020 feels like fish in barrel. Could have done without Tarantino. But I really liked Edelstein and Marcus, and--having literally just read Allen Barra's piece in Talking About Pauline Kael--I found the audio from her last interview, with Barra's 10-year-old daughter, quite moving. In the same book, which I'm only about 50 pages into, I loved Ray Sawhill's piece, so I wish he'd been in the documentary somewhere.

clemenza, Thursday, 13 February 2020 05:40 (seven months ago) link

I still believe--maybe even more so than when I suggested it somewhere in one of the Kael threads--that there's a great narrative film to be made with Meryl Streep as Kael. Just a series of key moments from her life--"Circles and Squares," Bonnie and Clyde, Paramount, Shoah, etc.--with some kind of linking frame maybe. Can You Ever Forgive Me? from a couple of years ago was pretty good, and Kael's story is surely a better one that what that film started with. Enough time has passed that there's a generation (or two) that doesn't know her, and Streep's involvement would guarantee it'd be seen. Whether she'd ever do it, who knows--she could have a field day, though.

clemenza, Thursday, 13 February 2020 16:32 (seven months ago) link

Finally got around to seeing Shoah, which I found amazing. Then went back to read Kael's review and oh boy, that seems genuinely unhinged.

Josefa, Thursday, 13 February 2020 20:33 (seven months ago) link

William Shawn didn't want to publish it--I don't know if she had to rewrite a lot, or just lobby hard. But I give her credit for going forward. I assume she didn't choose a holocaust film as a platform to just push other people's buttons; she reacted, and she put it out there.

clemenza, Friday, 14 February 2020 01:00 (seven months ago) link

six months pass...

An interview from 2000 has appeared on Youtube. I haven't heard this one.

jmm, Friday, 4 September 2020 17:46 (three weeks ago) link

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