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

lark144

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I think you're giving Kael too much credit, but, I guess we just have a fundamental disagreement about her.
Anyone who wrote (& I'm somewhat paraphrasing from memory) "There is more artistry in a single shot of Brain de Palma's "The Fury" than in Alfred Hitchcock's entire body of work" is not a critic I can really agree with or admire, as there seem to be missing a basic understanding of what cinema is all about. Pauline Kael would overpraise directors and screenwriters she liked (such as de Palma and Herman Mankiewicz) in order to use them as battering rams to try and wreck the reputations of directors she didn't (such as Hitchcock and Wells) which is not exactly what I would call "bluntly honest".
 

Thomas T

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Anyone who wrote (& I'm somewhat paraphrasing from memory) "There is more artistry in a single shot of Brain de Palma's "The Fury" than in Alfred Hitchcock's entire body of work" is not a critic I can really agree with or admire, as there seem to be missing a basic understanding of what cinema is all about. Pauline Kael would overpraise directors and screenwriters she liked (such as de Palma and Herman Mankiewicz) in order to use them as battering rams to try and wreck the reputations of directors she didn't (such as Hitchcock and Wells) which is not exactly what I would call "bluntly honest".
Oh dear, I wouldn't paraphrase from memory anymore because that's not what Kael said, not even close. She said, "No Hitchcock thriller was ever as intense or went so far." You may disagree with her on that (actually I do) but there's no denying that Hitchcock ever entered The Fury territory (though I suppose one could make an argument for the shower scene in Psycho), why would he? It wasn't his "style". Kael didn't like Hitchcock and Welles? Where's your evidence? Granted, she wasn't an auteur worshiper like Andrew Sarris who would praise everything one of his "gods" did as if they were incapable of making a stinker. Kael even -gasp- gave De Palma a negative review or two. No, Kael didn't wet her panties over everything Welles and Hitchcock did but to say she didn't like them is absurd:

Citizen Kane: "The Orson Welles film is generally considered the greatest American film of the sound period and it may be more fun than any other great movie."

Dial M For Murder: "Those who like drawing room murder and cold, literate gentlemanly skullduggery will find this ingenious and almost entertaining. All this is related with Hitchcock's ghoulish chic."

Falstaff (aka Chimes At Midnight): "One of Orson Welles' best and least seen movies. The film is a near masterpiece."

The Lady Vanishes: "Hitchcock's mystery is directed with such skill and velocity that it has come to represent the quintessence of screen suspense."

The Magnificent Ambersons: "Welles' second film has greater depth than Citizen Kane. Welles achieved some great sequences of family life, intense and harrowing. Even in it's truncated form, it's amazing and memorable."

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934): "It has the director's ingenuity and flair and sneaky wit."

North By Northwest: "This is one of Hitchcock's most entertaining thrillers."

Notorious: "The suspense is terrific. Great fun."

The Pleasure Garden: "Hitchcock's first film has ingenious sequences and is good to look at."

Rebecca: "Magnificent romantic Gothic corn, full of Hitchcock's humor and inventiveness."

Sabotage: "This may bee just about the best of his English thrillers and if the public didn't respond, it wasn't his fault."

Secret Agent: "It has a bright, quick fresh touch."

Shadow Of A Doubt: "Hitchcock considered this fine thriller to be his best American film and he may be right."

The Stranger: "Welles said it was his worst picture but it's a smooth, proficient, somewhat languorous thriller."

Strangers On A Train: "Hitchcock's bizarre malicious comedy is intensely enjoyable, in some ways the best of Hitchcock's American films."

The 39 Steps: "Even now Hitchcock's little jolts are more surprising than most of the shocks engineered to stun modern audiences."

To Catch A Thief: "No more than a pleasant minor diversion but it does have a zingy air of sophistication."

Touch Of Evil: "What it really has to do with is love of the film medium. Welles turns it into stronger fare than most directors solemn meat and potatoes. It's a terrific entertainment."

Sure doesn't sound like she disliked them. You don't like Kael, that's cool! But don't make up things about her. ;)
 

lark144

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Oh dear, I wouldn't paraphrase from memory anymore because that's not what Kael said, not even close. She said, "No Hitchcock thriller was ever as intense or went so far." You may disagree with her on that (actually I do) but there's no denying that Hitchcock ever entered The Fury territory (though I suppose one could make an argument for the shower scene in Psycho), why would he? It wasn't his "style". Kael didn't like Hitchcock and Welles? Where's your evidence? Granted, she wasn't an auteur worshiper like Andrew Sarris who would praise everything one of his "gods" did as if they were incapable of making a stinker. Kael even -gasp- gave De Palma a negative review or two. No, Kael didn't wet her panties over everything Welles and Hitchcock did but to say she didn't like them is absurd:

Citizen Kane: "The Orson Welles film is generally considered the greatest American film of the sound period and it may be more fun than any other great movie."

Dial M For Murder: "Those who like drawing room murder and cold, literate gentlemanly skullduggery will find this ingenious and almost entertaining. All this is related with Hitchcock's ghoulish chic."

Falstaff (aka Chimes At Midnight): "One of Orson Welles' best and least seen movies. The film is a near masterpiece."

The Lady Vanishes: "Hitchcock's mystery is directed with such skill and velocity that it has come to represent the quintessence of screen suspense."

The Magnificent Ambersons: "Welles' second film has greater depth than Citizen Kane. Welles achieved some great sequences of family life, intense and harrowing. Even in it's truncated form, it's amazing and memorable."

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934): "It has the director's ingenuity and flair and sneaky wit."

North By Northwest: "This is one of Hitchcock's most entertaining thrillers."

Notorious: "The suspense is terrific. Great fun."

The Pleasure Garden: "Hitchcock's first film has ingenious sequences and is good to look at."

Rebecca: "Magnificent romantic Gothic corn, full of Hitchcock's humor and inventiveness."

Sabotage: "This may bee just about the best of his English thrillers and if the public didn't respond, it wasn't his fault."

Secret Agent: "It has a bright, quick fresh touch."

Shadow Of A Doubt: "Hitchcock considered this fine thriller to be his best American film and he may be right."

The Stranger: "Welles said it was his worst picture but it's a smooth, proficient, somewhat languorous thriller."

Strangers On A Train: "Hitchcock's bizarre malicious comedy is intensely enjoyable, in some ways the best of Hitchcock's American films."

The 39 Steps: "Even now Hitchcock's little jolts are more surprising than most of the shocks engineered to stun modern audiences."

To Catch A Thief: "No more than a pleasant minor diversion but it does have a zingy air of sophistication."

Touch Of Evil: "What it really has to do with is love of the film medium. Welles turns it into stronger fare than most directors solemn meat and potatoes. It's a terrific entertainment."

Sure doesn't sound like she disliked them. You don't like Kael, that's cool! But don't make up things about her. ;)
Thomas, I know you love Pauline Kael. So do many friends of mine. And that's perfectly ok.

However, this really isn't a matter of opinion. Those quotes are from those little paragraphs she wrote for the New Yorker in the "Talk of the Town" section and what one might qualify as "damning with faint praise." You notice she is continually using somewhat mild or even denigrating adjectives like "minor diversion", "little jolts", "languorous" "smooth, proficient entertainment" & " great fun". Nowhere does she say these films are great works of art or even worthy of one's attention beyond a rainy afternoon with nothing else to do.

While Pauline Kael "liked" some Hitchcock and Welles films, she didn't understand why film historians considered them great artists. She thought Hitchcock was an "entertainer". She thought his films were "fun" but certainly not to be considered "art." She wrote about this extensively, especially her long-running feud with Andrew Sarris. She accused Sarris of "playing favorites" such as Hitchcok, Welles and Ford, and was angered by his and the auterists' attempts to elevate what she considered "contract directors", "mere entertainers" to the level of artists. This is all a matter of history and is documented. And of course, no one played favorites like Pauline Kael. This is also well documented.

As for Welles, again, she thought his more commercial ventures, such as "Touch of Evil' & "The Stranger" were entertaining, and well-made, but she continually argued in her columns and also in a book "Raising Kane" that Welles was a "failed Hollywood director" & that the true author of "Citizen Kane" was Herman Mankiewicz, the screen writer. That book was specifically written by her to destroy Welles' reputation, and unfortunately, for a while it worked. She argued that "Citizen Kane" was in the "newspaper genre", and as such was a "failure." Except it isn't. Citizen Kane isn't a Hollywood film. It's an avant-garde, post-modern film. "Citizen Kane" references all kinds of movies. Not just the "newspaper film", as Ms. Kael wrongfully insists. "Citizen Kane" also references German expressionism, Soviet montage films (even though it's based on long takes in deep space, things are happening in different places in the frame that creates a kind of dialectical montage similar to Pudovkin and Eisenstein) newsreels, detective thrillers, horror films, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and all kinds of other stuff. In fact, "Citizen Kane" is so eclectic in both style and substance that it wouldn't have amounted to much if it wasn't for Welles' vision (which Ms. Kael continually denied. She may have thought it a great film, but she argued in the book it's greatness was more from the script than Welles' direction). Those images exist on multiple levels, and ultimately, all those references, all those genres are there to point out the lack of personality, the enigma of Kane himself, and by extension, the debilitating soullessness of modern media. If "Citizen Kane" is anything, it's an anti-Hollywood film, it's a deconstruction of all the myths Hollywood created by using those myths as expressed through Herman Mankiewicz' screenplay and Greg Toland's deep-space cinematography, and putting quotations marks around them in the way the film is shot and edited. It's both the ultimate Hollywood film and it's antithesis. But of course, Pauline Kael doesn't mention any of this in the book's 356 pages, because she was out to debunk the idea that movie directors in the studio system were "personal artists' and also change the definition of Welles' output from an avant-garde artist to that of a "failed Hollywood director."

Anyway, Thomas, I know you're going to respond to this, but this is all I have to say. I've restricted myself to "Raising Kane" on purpose, as I have much to recount, from my personal experience, about Ms. Kael's use of her power as a critic for "The New Yorker" for both good and ill--I especially remember the ill, which really rankled as once she did everything in her power to stop a film I loved and was showing at the theater I was managing from being a success, and I'm not just talking about "brutally honest" reviews, but working behind the scenes to deny the film awards which it deserved and to stop other critics' positive reviews as best she could. But this is in the realm of the personal, which really isn't the purview of this forum.

Basically, the cinema I love and has been my life and Pauline Kael's idea of cinema are diametrically opposed. That's my point of view, of course. Rest assured I absolutely respect yours and your admiration for Ms. Kael, though I find it a little puzzling. But we will have to agree to disagree.
 
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Thomas T

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Anyway, Thomas, I know you're going to respond to this, but this is all I have to say.
And all I have to say! Clearly, we have diametrically opposed viewpoints on the lady and all the bantering back and forth won't change either of our minds. I'll continue to worship at her altar and you can continue to throw darts. It's all good. :D
 

Dick

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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).
Pauline Kael is a mystery to me. I owned all of her books, most in hard cover, and love most of her reviews for their detail and passion. She clearly knew her stuff, which was not true for many of her contemporaries.
 
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Thomas T

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Yeah, but we're not talking about "Pride and Prejudice", but some dead film critics from yesteryear.

And as my young nephews would say, "Why are you watching that old B&W movie with some dead actors from yesteryear?" :) The answer to both is the same really. Because I love good movies (Pride And Prejudice) and I love good writing (Kael).

And Kael's legacy is still very much with us. The recent documentary on Kael (and how many film critics get documentaries made about them?) What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael makes its blu ray debut on August 7th.
 

Robert Crawford

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And as my young nephews would say, "Why are you watching that old B&W movie with some dead actors from yesteryear?" :) The answer to both is the same really. Because I love good movies and I love good writing.

And Kael's legacy is still very much with us. The recent documentary on Kael (and how many film critics get documentaries made about them?) What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael makes its blu ray debut on August 7th.
Her legacy is with some of us while others like myself have long moved on from her.
 
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Thomas T

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Her legacy is with some of us while others like myself have long moved on from her.

Ah, Robert. Let's be honest. You were never with her in the first place. How could you have moved on when you were never with her in the first place. It's like saying I've moved on from Teresa Wright when I could never stand the whiny mouse in the first place. :D

But enough about The Goddess, I'm sure we haven't heard the last of her ;) and back to Pride And Prejudice.
 

Trancas

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From Wikipedia:
"Derek Malcolm, who worked for several decades as a film critic for The Guardian, claimed that, "If a director was praised by Kael, he or she was generally allowed to work, since the money-men knew there would be similar approbation across a wide field of publications".[10] Alternately, Kael was said to have had the power to prevent filmmakers from working; David Lean claimed that her criticism of his work "kept him from making a movie for 14 years"[80] (referring to the 14-year break between Ryan's Daughter in 1970 and A Passage to India in 1984)."

I don't think a critic should have the power to get filmmakers employment or unemployment. She was too careless with her words to be placed in that position.
 

Dick

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I don't think a critic should have the power to get filmmakers employment or unemployment. She was too careless with her words to be placed in that position.
Sound like someone else we know? <_<
 

pebro

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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.
Bosley actually came to admire and respect Doris Day in the latter 50's and early 60's. He gave very good reviews to such titles as "Pillow Talk", "Midnight Lace", "Lover Come Back", "That Touch of Mink" and "Send Me No Flowers". In fact "Pet", "Pillow" and "Lover" all ended up on his list of the 10 best films of their respective years. He attended the book launch party for Miss Day's autobiography, written in conjunction with A.E. Hotchner, in New York City in early 1976 and was visibly in awe of Miss Day, even asking for a signed copy of the book and posing for a picture with her.
 

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