“I’mm just arguing that having a bookm written about you doesn’t necessarily mean that you stand above all others in your field.”
Right. More than anything else, I think it’s the "what she chooses to extol or fails to see is very surprising” part (if we accept Allen’s assessment), along with a certain forcefulness of style, that people respond to . . . or don’t.
It’s her style, along with the forcefulness of her opinions. She’s a great read. Also, she had the ability to see through a lot of movies that had been overpraised. A great butcher of bloated reputations.
I like La Notte a lot. I guess I like the atmosphere of the film. I think it has great pacing. I believe Ingmar Bergman liked that film. It has all these interesting moments such as the young woman who approaches Marcello Mastroinni in the hospital hallway, Jeanne Moreau walking past a bunch of young boys who are glaring at her, fireworks being shot in the sky, a nightclub dancer moving a glass on her body and Marcello Mastroinni’s talk at a party with a man who wants to hire him, plus a bunch of people at a party spontaneously jumping into a swimming pool with their clothes on. It sort of reminds me of the Ice Storm, my comparison being that involves a party of adults acting wild like jumping in the pool as compared to the Ice Storm where they have that key party towards the end of the film. Speaking of film critics, I believe Roger Ebert is coming out with a memoir soon.
For example she believed Days of Heaven is a failure. Most people overrate it.
Pretty images and sunsets are not enough for me.
Thank God that’s not all there is in Days of Heaven.
“It’s her style”
She wouldn’t have been able to stay employed for so long if she hadn’t been able to write. I’m a little less impressed by her critical insights. While affirmation of a dissenting opinion here and there is emotionally comforting, looking back over her reviews, I don’t often find something that illuminates a film in new ways for me.
“Thank God that’s not all there is in Days of Heaven.”
Read a few reviews by Kael now, of The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver and The Engima of Kaspar Hauser. It confirmed what I thought about Kael. She is very negative to foreign films (except Godard and a few more), she writes quite entertaining, but she seems bitter and cruel. She can’t be compared to a genius like David Thomson. For me it’s a mystery that Kael is so popular.
I actually like her review of Battle of Chile. It seems like the oddest review of her career, but…
Mubiuser — Not sure of your meaning here, since two of the films you mention are American. I’ve read a lot of David Thomson, and I respect him highly, but I don’t see some vast difference in quality between the two critics. Do you find Thomson free of bitterness and cruelty? Whenever I read Thomson I find myself thinking that there is a thin line between a critic being harsh honesty and cruelty; he crosses it occasionally. In The Biographical Dictionary of Film, he has a merciless way of dismissing whole careers in a few lines. Also, he’s quite the butcher of cows both sacred and foreign, like Kurosawa.
That’s true, Thomson is ignoring important foreign directors in his book, and he can be very harsh. But he writes a lot better than Kael I think. I was thinking about the Kaspar Hauser review, I felt that Kael didn’t get the movie, and that she had a very simplistic view of what it was about. Same in the review of The Deer Hunter.
I don’t think Thomson is a better writer or more insightful than Kael or Stanley Kauffmann or (occasionally) John Simon — in fact, what I appreciate most about all these critics is that they avoid the bandwagon, no matter who’s driving it. They aren’t swayed by nationality or the curriculum vitae of the director. They aren’t afraid to say FAIL! in the face of a major artist.
That’s funny, people try to put my nuts in a vice whenever I do the same thing here at MUBI, even though I have far more humour than the humourless Kael could manage.
She wouldn’t have been able to stay employed for so long if she hadn’t been able to write.
Journalists who can’t write are a dime a dozen. It’s like saying you can’t be a popstar for a long time unless you can sing. I could list numerous “singers” who are frankly mediocre yet continue to hoodwink legions of undemanding types with their earsplitting wails and amateurish delivery.
The hilarious thing about Kael is she pretended to be anti-intellectual but ended up reading like a stuffy old librarian herself, a prudish pseudo-intellectual in desperate need of a really good stiff one.
Some of her thoughts were ludicrous. Too many too ignore.
Missed the point of the following films from my list of Favourites. Not “just didn’t like them”, I mean missed their point entirely:
A Clockwork Orange
The Stepford Wives
She had no time for Badlands and Days of Heaven, either. Good to see that Terrence Malik’s legacy has far outlasted and outshined Kael’s senseless bile. She had no time for It’s a Wonderful Life. To her, Rocky was not a particularly well-made film (although I don’t think she dismissed its appeal entirely). Also, she gave a thumbs down to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In short, Kael was just a bitter little troll who kept herself in currency by tearing things down and positioning herself as a “champion of the people” and “voice for the silent majority”, an “anti-sentimental, anti-intellectual” type. She was just the film world’s answer to those idiot Radical Right Wing radio shock jocks, being obnoxious for the sake of it, with next-to-zero substance to back up what she was saying. The empress had no clothes.
Pauline Kael, uh…
A pseudo-intellectual that pretended to be anti-intellectual ?
Why does every message from this thread come to my email address now? Very annoying.
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However, I got a little more respect for her when reading her critique of Kubrick.
The world is full of pseudo intellectuals who pose as being against the “intellectual” set.
They don’t mean to sound like the intellectuals that they bash, but ironically they do. Witness Kael when she pastes “intellectual” Kubrik.
A lot of “intellectuals” aren’t really as profound as they like to think, hence they are pseudo intellectuals. Kael positioned herself as a champion of anti-intellectuals but ended up sounded just like the intellectuals she ridiculed, except in Kael’s case, she really wasn’t as smart as she thought.
Her conclusion that A Clockwork Orange desensitises audiences to violence remains one of the most ludicrous things I’ve ever read anywhere. The first time I saw A Clockwork Orange at the cinema, the infamous home invasion scene shook me to the core. If anything, the film resensitised me to violence on film. This, after a childhood spent watching Arnie and Sly. A Clockwork Orange showed exactly how violence ought to be filmed. Pauline Kael, nitwit that she was, thought Kubrick was somehow conditioning people to accept violence. Not so. Thank you, Mister Kubrick.
I saw Clockwork twice in the theater, and both times the rape scene had people howling with glee. It’s a very stylized, horrifying and funny scene. How can you not laugh when a woman is crushed with a giant phallus?
Kael was right about Clockwork, as I recall, particularly that one part about how Kubrick is type of pornographer who wants to rub your nose in the brutality of rape but can’t resist lingering boob shots in the process.
I love the way a critic who has been dead for 10 years can still stir things up. I think the reviewers of today couldn’t touch the hem of her burnous, in the words of Mrs. McGillicuddy (Lucy Ricardo’s mother).
I think her personae got in the way of her judgement – but she only had to be right enough times that people kept reading….
@Rodney:The CLOCKWORK ORANGE exampleexemplifies the problem some of us have been pointing out regarding Kael’s reviews. She tended to take things straight, so to speak, without always noticing the nuances, subtexts, and ironies that the grreatest films (and even some lesser movies) contain. She also seemed to have believed in the “monkey see, monkey do” theory of media inoculationn whereby the spectator is all but forced to be absorbed by the supposed ideology and values of a film — without much room for individual interpreation.
As a sidebar, I’ve heard people laugh (and react in other seemingly inappropriate ways) at MANY films. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the filmmaker intended the sudience to have those reactions. Two screenings is too small a sample, as we say in academic research, to base large conclusions on.
@Howard: The fact that someone’s “legacy” is still being debated after 10 years is not such an accomplishment or even such a rarity. Napoleon’s importance (was he a monster or a great leader or both?) is still being discussed. To get pretentious, I suppose that Stalin and Mao andf Mussolini also did some good but would the world be better off if they had gone into other lines of work? Likewise, would the wotrld of cinema have been better off if Pauline Kael had remained a cook, seamstress, or ad copywriter. Then we would have been spared her first film review, which referred to Chaplin’s Limelight. as “slimelight.” Cute phrasing but wildly inaccurate.
Kael always seemed to have a tension between wanting to be “hip” but having a strong moralistic streak that would be applied selectively. Her reaction against Clockwork Orange appears to be about her reaction against what she believed Stanley Kubrick to represent. On the other hand, she always appeared to go out of her way to defend De Palma (especially films like Dressed to Kill and Body Double which were both heavily criticized for sexual violence).
To me, she was a teacher who had a unique and compelling point of view that you could agree with or not. Her vivid and seductive writing style perfectly expressed the excitement and stimulation one got from watching a film. She introduced me to many foreign filmmakers (S. Ray, Kurosawa, Rosi, Bellochio, etc.) as well as American ones. She started off as a West Coast intellectual, away from the East Coast and European inner circles, and could say things about movies that nobody else was saying. Early on, I still read Kauffmann and MacDonald and many others along with her but she was the spark plug as she seems to be for others.
“I’ve heard people laugh (and react in other seemingly inappropriate ways) at MANY films. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the filmmaker intended the audience to have those reactions.”
Which might, possibly, mean the filmmaker failed, although I’m sure we can all provide examples of great movies viewed by the wrong audience. My two screenings of “Clockwork” were both in academic settings, among Kubrick fans. The first was in 1976, at a small college in St. Petersburg, Florida during a seminar on violence in the media; the other was an early 1980s screening at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
The Florida screening was followed by a discussion with Kubrick experts who were quick to point out the dichotomy of the film, that horror and humor are intermingled. This is something we have seen in all his films; they have a very dark humor to them. The darker they get, the funnier they become. Who doesn’t both laugh and recoil at the “Here’s Johnny!” scene in The Shining, or Lee Ermey’s brilliantly profane and hilarious torment of Gomer Pyle in “Full Metal Jacket”? There’s always been a lot of the imp of the perverse about Kubrick.
Your last comment is ugly and stupid, and you know it. You’re so desperate to condemn Kael’s lasting relevance that you resort to comparing her to bloodthirsty dictators who slaughtered millions of helpless people. This is the kind of reaction she brings out in you, huh? That’s the best you can do?
“…the world of cinema have been better off if Pauline Kael had remained a cook, seamstress, or ad copywriter.”
Now who’s being a dictator, deciding who can speak and who can’t, whose voice should be heard and whose should not?
Comments like this say far more about your snobbery, your small-mindedness, and your overall lack of generosity of spirit than they do about Pauline Kael. For one thing, you are no one to speak of the world of cinema. Who do you speak for? Not me — either as a viewer or a reader or a patron of the arts. I’m offended by the idea of you positioning yourself as some kind of gatekeeper of what opinions you do or don’t want me to hear, or which opinions you wish I’d never heard.
Works of art NEED harsh frank upfront unhesitatingly negative or positive criticism far more than they need worshipful fawning hack academics easily bullied by artistic reputations. It thrives on rebellion and unbelief — someone standing outside The Church of Kubrick, which will never lack for mindless worshipful congregants, flicking her cigarettes in the direction of St. Stanley, and saying “I’m not buying it.”
She started off as a West Coast intellectual, away from the East Coast and European inner circles, and could say things about movies that nobody else was saying.
Not sure about her intellectual bona fides; she was an outsider and a bohemian.
One could perhaps see her personal approach as a wave that led to Gonzo journalism.
Rodney Welch (any relation to Raquel?):
You seem to be confused. The rape scene does not feature the gigantic plastic phallus. That comes later. Yes, the scene with the cat lady is hilarious. But that’s not the home invasion scene where the writer and his wife are assaulted—two completely different scenes, two totally different tones (as underscored by the respective music to each scene). One is horrific, the other is hilarious.
Well, great reviewers these days are rare. But just because Pauline may have been interesting by comparison (please note that “interesting” does not always equal “good”—exotic skin diseases may be “interesting”, get my drift?) that does not make her worthy of high praise.
“Kael was right about Clockwork, as I recall, particularly that one part about how Kubrick is type of pornographer who wants to rub your nose in the brutality of rape but can’t resist lingering boob shots in the process.”
Lingering boob shots during the rape scenes? You must have been watching a different film. Stanley does not focus gratuitously on any part of the female anatomy during the film’s three rape scenes (one attempted, two actual). Sure, you see women denuded, that’s unavoidable, but Kubrick does not zoom his camera up close to better viddy the horrorshow groodies of his devotchkas in a leering, fetishistic manner. Compare Kubrick’s work here to a Russ Meyer film, then you’ll see the difference.
I hear it’s not uncommon for women to lose their clothing when they are sexually assaulted. Shame on Kubrick for not sugar-coating violence.
Speaking of nude and nearly-nude women, I love the scene where the “reformed” Alex is confronted by the female stage performer (played by Virginia Wetherell), and you get the stunned expressions from the prudes (especially the Hitlerish prison guard) in the audience inside the film—clearly Kubrick was taking a swipe at how fuddy-duddy people get over unabashed displays of the female anatomy.
Pauline Kael and people like her were being lampooned but because she takes things “straight”, this delicious piece of parody evaded her…OR she DID get it but took offence. Either way, she was a wet blanket.
Ari — You make an interesting point. There was that kind of inconsistency in her, in the way she was cool with whatever DePalma was up to but repulsed by Kubrick and Oliver Stone. Consider this, too: she was a huge fan of “Re-Animator.” When it came out, everyone else was calling it overkill and too violent and so forth, but she saw it for the crazily cartoony, over-the-top, silly sort of trashy blood-and-guts bath that it was. (Come to think of it, that would be a great Criterion choice. Remastered, Blu-Ray, that crazy attacking intestine in living color…)
I recall two rapes. The one where they barge in on the rival gang, and the home invasion scene.
You wrote “The first time I saw A Clockwork Orange at the cinema, the infamous home invasion scene shook me to the core.”
Isn’t this the scene with the giant phallus, which you are now calling hilarious?
“Lingering boob shots during the rape scenes? You must have been watching a different film.”
No, I just checked on Netflix. First rape. 4 and a half minutes into the film. Kubrick gives us a minute long rape, where a “weepy young devochka” with big boobs gets her clothes torn off and is dragged around by gang members. Kubrick lingers on it a little too long, as if he didn’t want to deny anyone the pleasure of getting a good long look at the girl’s body. It’s like a lot of rape scenes in that regard, where it’s hard to tell which is more repellent, the act itself or the director’s evident pleasure in filming it.
You’re absolutely right about Kael missing the point of some classic films. Her take on Walsh’s “High Sierra” is beguilingly stupid. She once dismissed it as a “bad film” in her famous rebuttal to Sarris’ auteur essay, but later seems to have modified her view (despite her insistence on only seeing a film once…hmm). In her book, 5001 Nights at the Movies, she writes “About half the movie is definitive; the other half is sunk in a maudlin subplot about the outlaw’s love for a lame girl”.
5001 Nights of The Movies is little more than a gathering of short-takes on classic films, so you wouldn’t expect an esteemed critic to say something this revealingly incompetent in such a short space, but Kael does it.
As most who have seen “High Sierra” know, Roy Earle’s (Bogart) love for the simple, clubfooted country girl is not only essential to the film’s theme, but is a large part of what elevates the film beyond boilerplate gangster picture. Bogie’s pursuit of the girl (and having her foot fixed) mirrors his drive to be an outlaw in the first place, and illuminates the film’s tragic theme: Man’s insistence on perfecting his circumstance will lead to his inevitable downfall (an evocation of the biblical concept of original sin). In transforming a gangster story into tragedy, Huston and Walsh importantly make the audience sympathize with a cold blooded killer. You take away Bogie’s dog, his night terrors, and his love for the country girl and much of Earle’s humanity is gone.