What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

The new documentary about film critic Pauline Kael is a pile of contradictions that paint an intriguing portrait of the world’s most famous movie critic. What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is a beautifully crafted look at the smart woman who wrote twelve books along with columns for The New Yorker. Did a given movie work? Movie lovers heard her answers to that one as she scorched or loved the plots, filming, and acting of movies during the 1960s and 70s.

The word “controversial” is nearly always part of any description of this writer who sped to the heart of her praise or anger in her writing. Writer/director Rob Garver’s portrait of her takes audiences to a state of delight. His film becomes a story of the strengths and difficulties of a critic who explored her field with a bunch of verbal arrows. If you love movies, she said get rid of the cheap stuff.

The cast includes shots of her interaction with the strongest actors, writers and filmmakers of her time. Sarah Jessica Parker brings Kael to us through the writing and letters that made her famous. She had no patience for bad quality in anything. Though many were angered by her outspoken views, Kael was immersed in a lifelong search for what made the good movies that she loved. She often savaged the weak ones.

As her reputation grew Kael offered this: “The main thing is fighting off the successes that trap you.” She embraced popular cinema by writing as part of the audience. She loved many kinds of beauty in art, music, theater, and movies but was a demanding viewer of everything.

By 1967, she was known by moviegoers in Japan, India, Sweden, Italy, and France. As a lover of the excitement of anything both new and good, she was stunned by Bonnie and Clyde and her review changed everything in movie criticism. For her, the violence of that movie put the sting back into death. Her review became more important than the film. “Seeing trash liberates the spectator” with the proviso that the trash must be well done. She made heroes of some bad people, loved the violence and blood of the Godfather films. Don’t soften terror or cruelty. This was a woman who loved movies that scorched her. She wanted to go to a theater to sink into “hypnotic excitement.”

The movie tells us all about her intelligence, her love of film and her impatience, but as good as that portrait is, it doesn’t tell us enough about who she was as a woman. How did she become the driving force she was? That question drove me immediately to a list of those who made this movie, and yes, of course, they were men. Perhaps a woman will see it and decide to explore the qualities that powered this brave woman to shake the world of movie lovers and makers for two decades.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael
Word Count : 495
Running Time : 1:38
Date : December 15, 2019


Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


Consider the studio’s promotion sentence about Scandalous: The True Story of the National Enquirer: “Scandalous is the true story of the National Enquirer, the infamous tabloid with a prescient grasp of its readers’ darkest curiosities.” If that sentence repels you, go no farther but for me it was an interesting look at a newspaper I never read because I thought gossip was ugly. This documentary tells us about the newspaper and the many subjects of their published scandals.

At sixteen, Gene Pope wanted to take over his father’s paper that back then concentrated on gore and sold to 1,000,000 people. As the suburbs sprawled in the ‘60s, Pope put his paper in supermarkets and changed its emphasis from violence to gossip on his theory that real world news is boring or harsh.

The now rich boss sent his reporters around the world – first class all the way, but they were competitive and often cruel to each other. Competition ruled in the form of Friday night parties where Pope fired people who had failed in any way. Employees were sent to talk to families, lawyers, hair dressers, or anyone who might give them gossip leads. They paid for information with cash and betrayed each other in the process of getting scoops.

Some of the hot scandals that enabled the explosive growth: Bob Hope having affairs with stars and “everyone else.” When Elvis died, the paper went to Memphis and turned a whole hotel into a newspaper office. Ordered from on high to get a picture of Elvis in his coffin, they connived and bribed and got the picture that sold 6.9 million copies of the paper. Their sales eclipsed Time and Newsweek.

Bill Cosby, “America’s dad”, was another. After politics became celebrity, Gary Hart lost his shot at the presidency because of the paper’s $87,000 picture of him and his girlfriend. Back then, a young Donald Trump was photographed with his girlfriend, Marla Maples. The film says Trump repeatedly called in gossip about himself while pretending he was someone else.

O.J. Simpson, former football star, was a big catch. His ex-wife was murdered. Did he do it? The coverage was deep, including the discovery and use of his shoe sole patterns to prove he had been on the murder scene. After Princess Di’s death in an auto crash, a dignified George Clooney savaged the newspaper in a TV speech – “What are they doing to these people?”

The widespread gut reaction may be disgust with the paper but after their stories began to spread to the mainstream press, the scandals became regular news that people weren’t ashamed to read. The lingering feeling for me after watching all this was, yes, disgust, but also a deep wondering of why people who have won public acclaim with their talents can’t begin to realize they have something to live up to. They have realized their gifts. Imagine an entertainment world where celebrities respect their public and the public respects their privacy. It won’t happen.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Scandalous
Word Count: 499
Running Time: 1:37
Rating: R
Date: November 17, 2019

This entry was posted on November 17, 2019, in Documentary.