"What she said: The Art of Pauline Kael"
A portrait of the work of controversial film critic Pauline Kael and her influence on the male-dominated worlds of cinema and film criticism.
Loved or hated her influence was undeniable.
Viewed at the 69th Berlin Film Festival 2019.
"What She Said --The Art of Pauline Kael", solemnly, compiled and fully packed with testimonials from a steady stream of prominent film personalities, directors, writers, publishers, other film critics, etcetera, by an obvious admirer, New York based Rob Garver, his first feature length film.
Among those seen in the film besides Kael herself at various points in her life are: directors Quentin Tarantino, Paul Schrader, Woody Allen, John Boorman, Peter Bogdanovich, and David Lean (Who was so crushed by her panning of his films that he retired from directing for several years!) actor Alec Baldwin, and half a dozen female film critics all commenting on how Kael influenced them one way or another. At one point Allen says that even though Pauline trashed some of his movies he valued her comments and insights and considered her to be the best critic around.
Comedian director Jerry Lewis chimes in with: "She's never said a good thing about me yet. That dirty old broad. But she's probably the most qualified critic in the world"
We see flashes of innumerable clips from films she commented on, both positively and negatively, included Citizen Kane, Last Tango in Paris, Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider, films of Joan Crawford, and many others. Throughout excerpts from her articles published in the New Yorker and elsewhere are read aloud over shots of the original articles while, most enlightening of all are numerous scenes of Kael herself discussing her views on film criticism and the reactions to her writing. As her notoriety mounted she was released from several other upscale magazines before settling in as the long term resident film critic of the staidly liberal New Yorker where she spent the bulk of her late career. Having become a celebrity in her own right she was a frequent guest on the top TV talk shows, Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. The Cavett clips are particularly interesting but are cut off just a wee bit too short. We wanna see more of that!
Her staunch opinionation earned her at least as much venomous hate mail as ecstatic fan mail, maybe more. But she was so sure of the correctness of her calls that the hate mail to her was like water off a duck's back. (i respect your right to disagree but I'm right and you're wrong). There is so much information, visual and verbal, in the relatively short 98 minutes running time that what we get is virtually a mini history of cinema as seen through the sharpest of eyes with the liveliest of words. Crucially, many people say that even if you had seen a film under discussion Kael's review forced you see it again as if you were seeing it for the first time.
This critical study of America's most famous film critic goes back to her earliest days writing program notes for the art films shown at the hole in the wall movie house known as the Cinema Guild on the edge of the Berkeley campus in the late nineteen fifties. As a UCB student back then I began to see old Hollywood movies in a new light and developed a strong taste for foreign films from the insights expressed in her compact summaries. Above all It was Pauline's wit that hooked us all.
Like it or not, Pauline Kael with her often acid laden but undeniably well argued views grounded in an encyclopedic knowledge of film history and an astounding memory for details of films seen years earlier, was the most influential film critic of the latter half of the XX. Century. She published 13 books of reviews some of which like "I Lost it at the Movies" became best sellers and conditioned the film views of an entire generation at a time when movies had suddenly become intellectual property, not mere weekend entertainment.
This is the kind of film one wishes would have run twice as long because so much interesting material must have been trimmed in the final cut, and the personality of the woman on which it focuses is so utterly fascinating. I myself often disagreed 180° with Kael's opinions regarding certain films, for example, Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris", which she praised to High Heaven while I thought it was pure unadulterated garbage -- but I used to read her reviews regularly anyhow, for their verbal agility and pure unadulterated obstreperousness.
This film was possibly the hottest ticket of the entire Berlin festival week and I had to purchase a general admission ticket to to make sure I woukdn't miss it. Tickets i had for two other screenings on the final day of the fest were not used because this was the perfect capston to the festival, and the rich taste it leaves behind was not to be further diluted! I personally had numerous differences of opinion with Ms. Kael but always enjoyed her wit and wisdom even when I disagreed. Overall, an Xlnt biodoc.