SIFF 2019: What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

Ever since I was once described as writing in a similar style to Pauline Kael, I’ve been very curious about the longtime New Yorker film critic who quit the game long before I started investigating the scene.  I’ve read a few of her reviews and where well written, specific, and often biting, they gave me little insight to her decades of work and influence.

Pauline Kael struggled to support herself in a time when female film critics were an anomaly, a niche people pleaser hocking studio mediocrity.  A woman who eviscerated The Sound of Music and helped influence and interpret the American New Wave, launching controversial classics like Bonnie & Clyde and The Last Tango in Paris, she launched her career in The New Yorker but was never widely appreciated like Roger Ebert and other contemporaries.  She could rip a film apart fairly, to the humbled faces of giants like Scorsese and De Palma, but it still rubs some people the wrong way. Kael took a subjective approach to her criticism and refused to subjugate for the Hollywood system. She was there to experience the film with the audience, rather than in opposition to them.  She read those films like a novel dripping with potential, sometimes left arid by their juiceless rinds, and the American cinema can be grateful for her insight. What She Said is an apt tribute to her legend and a great learning point for how much I owe to her influence.

As far as the comparison, I hope it doesn’t mean I’m just mean sometimes.  But I’ve been called jaded, too blunt, little bitch boy (but in very different circumstances).  Producers have hashtagged at me on Twitter denouncing my viewpoint because I haven’t made a film myself.  Maybe I’m a bitch, and maybe so was Pauline Kael. But I hope the comparison was along the lines of someone expressing their and the audience’s experience to help the great art of cinema continue growing through discerning, thoughtful review of the 90 plus minutes they want you to sink into another buddy comedy or action franchise sequel.  At least now I have much better context on her legend, controversy, and comic and critical brilliance. There’s always so much to catch up on, but I think her seven books might be the film education I never had.


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