Wht happened with Altman is that compnaies like Fox wee willing to back his projects because they were made cheaply and important actors — like Paul Newman — wanted to work with him. The toruble was they discovered Altman made movies they couldn’t “sell.”
Consider Quintet for instance. Diod you know FOX publicity had plans for marketing a board game based on the game of “Quintet” played in the mo0vie? Well that plan didn’t go far.
Simultaneous with this was the rise of Lucas and Spielberg mega-hits and the studios decideding that marketing was more important than filmmaking.
Altman got his own back in The Player— whcih remains a pretty devestating swipe at the system as it was at thet time. Now it’s even worse. They don’t want stories at all — they want “Tentpoles” around which products can be marketed.
At the opening, Kael waxes rhapsodic:
“A good movie can take you out of your dull funk and the hopelessness that so often goes with slipping into a theatre; a good movie can make you feel alive again, in contact, not just lost in another city. Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again.
If somewhere in the Hollywood-entertainment world someone has managed to break through with something that speaks to you, then it isn’t all corruption. The movie doesn’t have to be great; it can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance, or the joy in just a good line.
An actor’s scowl, a small subversive gesture, a dirty remark that someone tosses off with a mock-innocent face, and the world makes a little bit of sense.
Sitting there alone or painfully alone because those with you do not react as you do, you know there must be others perhaps in this very theatre or in this city, surely in other theatres in other cities, now, in the past or future, who react as you do. "
She remains in that mode, to a large extent, and I think those who regard this very intriguing article as “great” are attracted to the combination of critique (her astute remarks about Frankenheimer, for example) and romantic riff, something Kael surprised readers with at the time. I prefer her definitive essay on Cary Grant, but I would advise any film fan to read this one at least twice.
Jazz—I think I came off like a defender of Kael’s and I just want to clear that up. I am not a defender of Kael’s. She can write well at times and some of her ideas are interesting but, as you pointed out, her approach is often off-putting, to put it gently. I read her essay again and have plenty to say, however, I came across this article by Jim Emerson and he says much of what I was thinking (only much better). Check it out.
Sorry I don’t know how to post links properly.
Sound and fury.
Matt, are you referring to Kael, Emerson, or me?
I think he’s referring to the Kael piece. I can understand that point of view.
Jason, thanks for the link. I’ll try to read it later.
Kael. Though a lot of the media discussion surrounding the release of the the new books probably qualifies as well.
The Emerson piece is a bit better in that it lays out what Kael was interested in and what she wasn’t.
“the premium she placed on writing from her own first impressions, her gut (or knee-jerk) responses, gave her (as her own daughter said in her eulogy) “supreme freedom to speak up, to speak her mind, to find her honest voice.” That’s one way to write about movies — and the only way Kael was interested in — but despite her pronouncements about what she thought was “important” or “a bad joke,” there are so many other approaches, from consumer guide blurbs to dissertations on Grand Theory, and all sorts of criticism and analysis in between"
Jazz—Not a problem. Thanks for creating a thread I actually find interesting.
Matt—Thanks for clarifying. I was worried there for a second. I think your right about a lot of the media discussion lately. However, Kael has had a huge influence on criticism, mostly negative, for the reasons highlighted in your quote and I think a lot of the people most influenced by her don’t even realize it as her method has been filtered through the years. I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with how she chooses to criticize, but her vitriolic methods do a disservice not just to films and film criticism/analysis, but to those good ideas which she is very capable of bringing to light.
Yeah, I have trouble just getting past the we’s that peppers “Trash.”
Kael I’m of two minds about. One the one hand I’m all for guarding one’s genuine emotional response from being co-opted by groupthink, Grand Theory, canonical authority, etc., but often I just don’t get anything personally useful from her writing beyond that.
The more I read her, the more I dislike her.
Anybody still interested in this essay should read Paul Schrader ( who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) replying to Kael in his essay “Canon Fodder”. It’s a great read and really addresses the changes since her essay.
According to this esay "after she’d retired, Kael confided to David Denby that she hadn’t realized that “everything would be trash” "