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

roxy1927

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Why would you say she was not very astute about musicals? She loved some and hated others. Like most of us who enjoy musicals enormously. I think she loved seeing great performers singing and dancing on screen. She also loved movie musicals that were more dramatically driven like Oliver! and Fiddler.
 

Thomas T

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Why would you say she was not very astute about musicals? She loved some and hated others. Like most of us who enjoy musicals enormously. I think she loved seeing great performers singing and dancing on screen. She also loved movie musicals that were more dramatically driven like Oliver! and Fiddler
And Cabaret! She also liked Yentl.
 

Thomas T

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Perhaps, kindred spirits?;)
You flatterer, you! :) I'm not fit to be mentioned in the same sentence with her. I will confess the first time I ever read her (her book I Lost It At The Movies), it was a revelation. Someone who had no respect for sacred cows and called it as she saw it. Her writings encouraged me to speak my mind rather than be intimidated by those swooning over pretentious junk like Last Year At Marienbad.

I did get a chance to meet her briefly when she lectured at UC Berkeley in the mid 1970s.
 
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Robert Crawford

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You flatterer, you! :) I'm not fit to mentioned in the same sentence with her. I will confess the first time I ever read her (her book I Lost It At The Movies), it was a revelation. Someone who had no respect for sacred cows and called it as she saw it. Her writings encouraged me to speak my mind rather than be intimidated by those swooning over pretentious junk like Last Year At Marienbad.

I did get a chance to meet her briefly when she lectured at UC Berkeley in the mid 1970s.
That's the reason why I don't like her and refuse to go out of my way to read her reviews. I don't care if she or even you don't like a particular picture like "The Grapes of Wrath" or "It's a Wonderful Life". Each person is welcome to their opinion as that is the very nature of film appreciation and its associated subjectivity. However, her lack of respect towards others is something I do hold against her. Speaking your mind against a "sacred cow" isn't difficult, it's doing so in a manner that other people can appreciate and respect lies the difficulty.
 

Thomas T

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That's the reason why I don't like her and refuse to go out of my way to read her reviews. I don't care if she or even you don't like a particular picture like "The Grapes of Wrath" or "It's a Wonderful Life". Each person is welcome to their opinion as that is the very nature of film appreciation and its associated subjectivity. However,her lack of respect towards others is something I do hold against her. However,her lack of respect towards others is something I do hold against her. Speaking your mind against a "sacred cow" isn't difficult, it's doing so in a manner that other people can appreciate and respect lies the difficulty.
Since when is a critic (by the very nature of the "job") supposed to bend over backward to be nice and not hurt anyone's feelings? Without you giving me any specifics about her "lack of respect for others", I'm genuinely mystified about that remark. If she says (as she did) about an Ellen Burstyn performance: "She doesn't really act in this movie, she apes movie emotions" is she showing a lack of respect for Burstyn or is she being honest? If she says of Diana Ross, "Each time she starts glowing for a number, it's like a nightmare version of Sesame Street", is she showing a lack of respect for Ross? If she says of director Ken Russell, "There is no artistry left in Russell's work. His sensationalist reputation is based merely on his going further than anybody else. His films have become schoolboy Black Masses, a mixture of offensiveness and crude dumbness", is she showing a lack of respect for Russell? I call it accuracy. If you've seen Burstyn in Same Time Next Year, you cringe in embarrassment at Burstyn's "acting". If you've seen the horror that is The Wiz, it IS a nightmare. If you've seen The Music Lovers, it IS offensive and crudely dumb.
 
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Robert Crawford

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Since when is a critic (by the very nature of the "job") supposed to bend over backward to be nice and not hurt anyone's feelings? Without you giving me any specifics about her "lack of respect for others", I'm genuinely mystified about that remark. If she says (as she did) about an Ellen Burstyn performance: "She doesn't really act in this movie, she apes movie emotions" is she showing a lack of respect for Burstyn or is she being honest? If she says of Diana Ross, "Each time she starts glowing for a number, it's like a nightmare version of Sesame Street", is she showing a lack of respect for Ross? If she says of director Ken Russell, "There is no artistry left in Russell's work. His sensationalist reputation is based merely on his going further than anybody else. His films have become schoolboy Black Masses, a mixture of offensiveness and crude dumbness", is she showing a lack of respect for Russell? I call it accuracy. If you've seen Burstyn in Same Time Next Year, you cringe in embarrassment at Burstyn's "acting". If you've seen the horror that is The Wiz, it IS a nightmare. If you've seen The Music Lovers, it IS offensive and crudely dumb.
You can spin her meanness any way you like, but I’m not a fan of her nor her reviews. By the way, you’re the one that noted her lack of respect towards “sacred cow” films. That’s my final comments as there is little point in continuing this discussion with you as neither of us are going to change our mind regarding her.
 
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Sam Favate

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Whatever one thinks of her film criticism, she was a gifted writer. She's also the only film critic I can think of to be quoted in a rock song (Bruce Springsteen quoted her in a song called Over The Rise, from his Tracks collection; the line "Is a promise that love couldn't keep the same as a promise broken?" is attributed to Pauline Kael's I Lost It At the Movies).
 

Reggie W

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Last summer I had her 5001 Nights at the Movies book out on my deck and was just reading through it cover to cover occasionally skipping around to look up films that I may have been thinking about. It was quite interesting as the reviews cover several decades of film and so it was easy to spot where she had a fondness for something or someone but also how she thought about the movie industry as it changed. To me she seemed not very thrilled with the generation of filmmakers that were turning out stuff in the 1970s, one of my favorite decades for film but as brutal as she could be, and sometimes I thought sort of nonsensically, I still found her fun to read and felt she was thinking about these pictures in a deep sense even if possibly being a bit vindictive at times.

I can only imagine if she were still writing about films today she would be even more nasty toward these pictures that are clearly more product than "art."

She said of 1970s filmmaking more than once that she thought it was "juvenile" which pretty much describes the general focus of the industry today. I have a feeling she would have altered her thoughts on that decade after seeing where things went.
 

Thomas T

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To me she seemed not very thrilled with the generation of filmmakers that were turning out stuff in the 1970s,one of my favorite decades for film
I disagree. She loved Cabaret, Carrie, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, The Conformist, Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, The Emigrants, Fiddler On The Roof, The Fury, Garden Of The Finzi Continis, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II,The Heartbreak Kid, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, King Kong, Last Picture Show, Last Tango In Paris, Late Show, Long Goodbye, Loving, Magic Flute, Man Who Would Be King, Mash, McCabe And Mrs. Miller, Murder On The Orient Express, Murmur Of The Heart, Padre Padrone, Pizza Triangle, Nashville, Next Stop Greenwich Village, Saturday Night Fever, Shampoo, Story Of Adele H, Sounder, Sugarland Express, Taxi Driver,The Warriors, Young Frankenstein. All from the 1970s.



 

Reggie W

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I disagree. She loved Cabaret, Carrie, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, The Conformist, Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, The Emigrants, Fiddler On The Roof, The Fury, Garden Of The Finzi Continis, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II,The Heartbreak Kid, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, King Kong, Last Picture Show, Last Tango In Paris, Late Show, Long Goodbye, Loving, Magic Flute, Man Who Would Be King, Mash, McCabe And Mrs. Miller, Murder On The Orient Express, Murmur Of The Heart, Padre Padrone, Pizza Triangle, Nashville, Next Stop Greenwich Village, Saturday Night Fever, Shampoo, Story Of Adele H, Sounder, Sugarland Express, Taxi Driver,The Warriors, Young Frankenstein. All from the 1970s.
Yes, you can see clearly in that list where she played favorites (she adored Altman) and yes, she, of course, enjoyed some of what she watched during the decade. Reading that book though in one shot though really helped me understand how her feelings changed over the decades and she did seem to have some issues with 1970s filmmaking.
 

Nick*Z

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What I never much appreciated about Pauline Kael was the fact that once you went on her sh#$ list, you were likely never to get off - even if you made an impeccable movie or gave an immaculate performance, if she didn't like you, she'd find a way to smack you down. And I also didn't much care for the fact that she would often attack an actor's physical traits as part of her review. I recall her referring to Norma Shearer as a lazy eyed actress with no real talent - a frankly absurd claim. I mean, really? Shearer never gave a good performance...ever?!?!? And labeling The Sound of Music as "the single most repressive influence on artistic freedom in movies" is more than a bit much. It's marginally obtuse and fairly academic!

Quite often, if the performance was so good it was garnering near unanimous praise from the rest of the critics, Kael would seek out the minute flaw in it and then take dead aim at the flaw, building her critique of the performance outward from the flaw, thus diminishing the virtues in it.

There is nothing inherently wrong in pointing out a flaw in something. Nothing is perfect. But if the flaw is negligible then it ought not be the tent pole around which the entire rest of the criticism circulates. In her later years, Kael seemed to rail against anything in pop culture that became otherwise popular, further diminishing her status in the industry. She was being critical for critical's sake - and not a 'critic' who could see both sides of the equation.

It wasn't that she was a voice of descent among a flock of sycophants. It was just like she was writing to put the praise exuded elsewhere to shame. Personally, I consider that rather petty. Clever, perhaps. But still very childish at its core. Barbed wit with a poisoned tongue often gets confused for articulate free speech from a noteworthy intellectual. But Kael fell into that trap from her generation of critics, eager to throw a brick at someone famous, simply because they could. So, the barbs became more biting. It made for good copy. And I even have issues with believing Kael actually believed everything she wrote, rather than writing something wicked just because she knew the cynics among us would get a good nasty chuckle out of it, and thus sell even more copy to keep her in business.

Not saying Kael did not write well - even, brilliantly, at times. But her modus operandi, at least for me, derived from a very skewed perspective. She went into the theater ready to hate whatever was up there on the screen and in later years, even when chagrined - because what she was seeing was just so damn good - couldn't set aside her biases to deliver an honest - or even a balanced critique, worth considering on its own merits.
 
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Josh Steinberg

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Kael also famously refused to watch a film more than once and spoke of that as if it was a special virtue, and I think there’s something willfully obtuse about that. More than one of her reviews was loaded with criticisms based on a misunderstanding of or flat-out missing of a plot point or story beat that would have addressed her issue. There’s no virtue in ignorance.
 
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atcolomb

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I do have her controversial book on Citizen Kane "Raising Kane" where she says Herman J. Mankiewicz should get most of the credit for the film and denigrated the contributions of Orson Welles which damaged his reputation when her New Yorker article came out.
 

Reggie W

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I believe George Roy Hill once began a letter to her with...

"Listen you miserable bitch..."

which I think he was firing off to her over her review of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or The Sting. Anyway, he went on in the letter to detail how it was fine for her to criticize what she did not like but that it was obvious to him she knew nothing about filmmaking.

She loved the letter and showed it to many people.
 

lark144

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Added. Thank you!
btw, Ms. Hunt seems to be the only cast member who didn't impress Bosley Crowther, as he strongly disapproved her comic performance. Then again, this is the same critic who thought putting Doris Day before the cameras (in "Romance on the High Seas") was a terrible waste of celluloid.
 

Robert Harris

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btw, Ms. Hunt seems to be the only cast member who didn't impress Bosley Crowther, as he strongly disapproved her comic performance. Then again, this is the same critic who thought putting Doris Day before the cameras (in "Romance on the High Seas") was a terrible waste of celluloid.
His track record was not among the best.
 

Thomas T

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That's an understatement. :D I never cared for reviewers that liked to be "mean" in their reviews. He had his good moments, but, damn he could be harsh.
Crowther was a crappy out of touch film critic! One of the best things Bonnie And Clyde (1967) did was to get him kicked off the New York Times. His "review" of that film showed how out of touch he was with contemporary cinema. As for reviewers that "like to be mean" in their reviews, there's a difference between being intentionally bitchy (Rex Reed) and bluntly honest in their opinion (Pauline Kael).
 
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Robert Crawford

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Crowther was a crappy out of touch film critic! One of the best things Bonnie And Clyde (1967) did was to get him kicked off the New York Times. His "review" of that film showed how out of touch he was with contemporary cinema. As for reviewers that "like to be mean" in their reviews, there's a difference between being intentionally bitchy (Rex Reed) and bluntly honest in their opinion (Pauline Kael).
I think you're giving Kael too much credit, but, I guess we just have a fundamental disagreement about her.
 

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