What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2019)

Reggie W

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Title: What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

Genre: Documentary

Director: Rob Garver

Cast: Pauline Kael, Sarah Jessica Parker, Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, Alec Baldwin, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Schrader, John Boorman, Robert Towne, Joe Morgenstern, James Wolcott, Gina James, William Whitworth, Marcia Nasatir, Christopher Durang, John Guare, Carol Baum, Tom Pollock, Molly Haskell, David V. Picker, David M. Edelstien, George Malko, Stephanie Zacharek, Greil Marcus, Craig Seligman, Michael Sragow, Brian Kellow, Carrie Rickey, Daryl Chin, Philip Lopate, Lili Anolik, Daniel Menaker, Jaime Manrique, Camille Paglia, Laurence McGilvery, Ortun Neisar, Chester Villalba, Dirk van Nouhays

Release: 2019-03-22

Runtime: 100

Plot: Pauline Kael (1919–2001) was undoubtedly one of the greatest names in film criticism. A Californian native, she wrote her first review in 1953 and joined ‘The New Yorker’ in 1968. Praised for her highly opinionated and feisty writing style and criticised for her subjective and sometimes ruthless reviews, Kael’s writing was refreshingly and intensely rooted in her experience of watching a film as a member of the audience. Loved and hated in equal measure – loved by other critics for whom she was immensely influential, and hated by filmmakers whose films she trashed - Kael destroyed films that have since become classics such as The Sound of Music and raved about others such as Bonnie and Clyde. She was also aware of the perennial difficulties for women working in the movies and in film criticism, and fiercely fought sexism, both in her reviews and in her media appearances.
 

Matt Hough

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I frequently disagreed with her opinions (she was not very astute about musicals), but I bought every one of her books which compiled her reviews because the writing was always interesting. That biography A Life in the Dark was very revealing about influences in her life that led to her sometimes controversial views on things. She was also a guest lecturer in a film course I took at the University of South Carolina and was feisty and overly (I felt) abrasive in answering questions or defending her positions.
 

Chelsearicky

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I frequently disagreed with her opinions (she was not very astute about musicals), but I bought every one of her books which compiled her reviews because the writing was always interesting. That biography A Life in the Dark was very revealing about influences in her life that led to her sometimes controversial views on things. She was also a guest lecturer in a film course I took at the University of South Carolina and was feisty and overly (I felt) abrasive in answering questions or defending her positions.
I grew up reading her reviews in the New Yorker, and always found her vile and venomous. She wasn't just content to attack an artist's work, she went out of her way to humiliate and demean.
 
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roxy1927

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I always looked forward to her reviews even after I threw up my hands at the mess American films became first with the disaster of the American new wave(which she championed. Ugh.) and then with the double punch KO of Spielberg and Lucas(the after effects of which even she found deeply regrettable.)She always had interesting opinions and expressed them in an intriguing way. We mostly diverged in what we felt but when we had shared loves like Griffith, Le Million, Gene Kelly and Harry Baur I found it amazing.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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Yeah, I don't care for her or those critics like Bosley Crowther that took themselves a little too seriously with their mean reviews.
The flip side of that is that when she wrote a positive review, it had real impact because they were so few and far between. She also never made any pretense of rendering an objective verdict on a film; she judged movies on her personal experience watching them, without any pretense of filtering out personal bias or the mindset that she walked into the screening room with.

When she really loved a movie, she could write with such eloquence that she would capture the magic of moviegoing. A few years back, I came across as snippet from her review of an Italian neorealist film that stuck with me. I later tracked it down, and it was from when she reviewed Vittorio De Sica's 1946 film Shoeshine over the airwaves for Berkeley radio station KPFA back in the sixties:

"When Shoeshine opened in 1947, I went to see it alone after one of those terrible lovers’ quarrels that leave one in a state of incomprehensible despair. I came out of the theater, tears streaming, and overheard the petulant voice of a college girl complaining to her boyfriend, 'Well I don’t see what was so special about that movie.' I walked up the street, crying blindly, no longer certain whether my tears were for the tragedy on the screen, the hopelessness I felt for myself, or the alienation I felt from those who could not experience the radiance of Shoeshine. For if people cannot feel Shoeshine, what can they feel? My identification with those two lost boys had become so strong that I did not feel simply a mixture of pity and disgust toward this dissatisfied customer but an intensified hopelessness about everything . . . Later I learned that the man with whom I had quarreled had gone the same night and had also emerged in tears. Yet our tears for each other, and for Shoeshine did not bring us together. Life, as Shoeshine demonstrates, is too complex for facile endings."
God, to be able to write like that!
 

Robert Crawford

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The flip side of that is that when she wrote a positive review, it had real impact because they were so few and far between. She also never made any pretense of rendering an objective verdict on a film; she judged movies on her personal experience watching them, without any pretense of filtering out personal bias or the mindset that she walked into the screening room with.

When she really loved a movie, she could write with such eloquence that she would capture the magic of moviegoing. A few years back, I came across as snippet from her review of an Italian neorealist film that stuck with me. I later tracked it down, and it was from when she reviewed Vittorio De Sica's 1946 film Shoeshine over the airwaves for Berkeley radio station KPFA back in the sixties:

"When Shoeshine opened in 1947, I went to see it alone after one of those terrible lovers’ quarrels that leave one in a state of incomprehensible despair. I came out of the theater, tears streaming, and overheard the petulant voice of a college girl complaining to her boyfriend, 'Well I don’t see what was so special about that movie.' I walked up the street, crying blindly, no longer certain whether my tears were for the tragedy on the screen, the hopelessness I felt for myself, or the alienation I felt from those who could not experience the radiance of Shoeshine. For if people cannot feel Shoeshine, what can they feel? My identification with those two lost boys had become so strong that I did not feel simply a mixture of pity and disgust toward this dissatisfied customer but an intensified hopelessness about everything . . . Later I learned that the man with whom I had quarreled had gone the same night and had also emerged in tears. Yet our tears for each other, and for Shoeshine did not bring us together. Life, as Shoeshine demonstrates, is too complex for facile endings."
God, to be able to write like that!
There are always flip sides of a person. However, both sides of a person aren't always equal. Matter of fact, rarely equality happens in that regard and I found the negativism of Kael's reviews just too much for me to overcome in regard to watching any documentary about her. To me, she seem like an unhappy person and her unhappiness permeated in her reviews. I'm sorry, she just wasn't my cup of tea.
 

Reggie W

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Yes, I don't think anybody is supposed to agree with everything any one critic says nor is any one critic always right. Kael obviously and openly held grudges against certain people and also supported certain people so she was quite biased but I like that she was open in expressing it. I certainly found some of what she said nonsense but generally nonsense well expressed which always kept it interesting to read.

Also Kael did exist in a time where what critics said mattered particularly if you were a critic of note. Now you can wade through thousands upon thousands of reviews and some clown with a youtube channel and a lot of subscribers becomes a taste maker even if the person is barely expressing anything beyond just "loving" or "hating" a picture...as long as they express that love or hate in a crazed manner.

I would just see a documentary like this as being about a movie industry and moment in time that no longer exists.
 
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usrunnr

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"When Shoeshine opened in 1947, I went to see it alone after one of those terrible lovers’ quarrels that leave one in a state of incomprehensible despair. I came out of the theater, tears streaming, and overheard the petulant voice of a college girl complaining to her boyfriend, 'Well I don’t see what was so special about that movie.' I walked up the street, crying blindly, no longer certain whether my tears were for the tragedy on the screen, the hopelessness I felt for myself, or the alienation I felt from those who could not experience the radiance of Shoeshine. For if people cannot feel Shoeshine, what can they feel? My identification with those two lost boys had become so strong that I did not feel simply a mixture of pity and disgust toward this dissatisfied customer but an intensified hopelessness about everything . . . Later I learned that the man with whom I had quarreled had gone the same night and had also emerged in tears. Yet our tears for each other, and for Shoeshine did not bring us together. Life, as Shoeshine demonstrates, is too complex for facile endings."

I feel the same way about "Roma".
 
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Gosh, no one wrote like Pauline Kael - - not with the euphoric passion, razor-sharp observations and great slangy prose that were the hallmarks of her reviews in The New Yorker. I can still remember racing to the mailbox every Friday to reach for the magazine to see what films she'd be reviewing that week. Her championing of Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" and Robert Altman's "Nashville" were legendary at the time. This was when accolades from an esteemed film critic really meant something in the movie-going community, especially in the 1970s. Even if you disagreed with her, attention was paid and rightly so. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing this documentary.
 
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Matt Hough

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The Nashville review was particularly prickly because Kael was shown a rough cut of the film and filed her rave review during Penelope Gilliatt's six-month review period (she and Gilliatt split the year at The New Yorker during her first years there, an arrangement that Kael despised).
 

Filmgazer

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The Nashville review was particularly prickly because Kael was shown a rough cut of the film and filed her rave review during Penelope Gilliatt's six-month review period (she and Gilliatt split the year at The New Yorker during her first years there, an arrangement that Kael despised).
You're exactly right, Matt, that Pauline Kael filed her review of "Nashville" as a rough cut before her annual six-month tenure at the New Yorker expired because she felt so fiercely about Robert Altman's epic vision of America and wanted to make sure people knew about it before it opened. Her renegade action proved correct, however, as fellow New Yorker critic Penelope Gilliatt's review a few months later in the magazine hardly did the film justice. Other reviewers, however, recognized the film's greatness and Newsweek even put it on its cover.
 

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I'm a Kael fan as I stated above. I would read her with great anticipation but never would even consider going to the films she raved about. Who has the time when my idea of a great film maker is a Wyler or a David Lean?

However anybody read Renata Adler's(The Times should have kept her longer, not that I disliked Canby) entertaining take down of Kael? Very worthwhile if you've read a lot of Pauline.
 

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I'm a Kael fan as I stated above. I would read her with great anticipation but never would even consider going to the films she raved about. Who has the time when my idea of a great film maker is a Wyler or a David Lean?

However anybody read Renata Adler's(The Times should have kept her longer, not that I disliked Canby) entertaining take down of Kael? Very worthwhile if you've read a lot of Pauline.
I’d love to read that....is it available anywhere?
 

roxy1927

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I read it when it was first published in I believe the NY Review of Books. I haven't seen it since then but it must be available somewhere.
 

Thomas T

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The greatest film critic this country has ever produced. When she retired, she left a gap still unfilled to this day. I am amused that some refer to her as "mean spirited" and "vicious". I call it brutally honest. I didn't agree with her many times but her writing was so thrilling that I would often go to see a movie she panned just to see if it was as bad as she said it was! Of course, many of her opinions are unpopular (I sympathize. Many times on the internet if I say Grapes Of Wrath is crap or It's A Wonderful Life is sh*t, the haters come out in force) and she's said some ultra harsh things on many of my favorites but there was no one like her. I've already pre-ordered the DVD.

Full confession: I have two friends who actually knew her well and one of them is mentioned several times in Pauline Kael: A Life In The Dark, a biography on her. These friends personal insights into Kael make me adore her even more.
 
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Robert Crawford

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The greatest film critic this country has ever produced. When she retired, she left a gap still unfilled to this day. I amused that some refer to her as "mean spirited" and "vicious". I call it brutally honest. I didn't agree with her many times but her writing was so thrilling that I would often go to see a movie she panned just to see if it was as bad as she said it was! Of course, many of her opinions are unpopular (I sympathize. Many times on the internet if I say Grapes Of Wrath is crap or It's A Wonderful Life is sh*t, the haters come out in force) and she's said some ultra harsh things on many of my favorites but there was no one like her. I've already pre-ordered the DVD.

Full confession: I have two friends who actually knew her well and one of them is mentioned several times in Pauline Kael: A Life In The Dark, a biography on her. These friends personal insights into Kael make me adore her even more.
Perhaps, kindred spirits?;)
 
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