Saturday, December 21, 2019

A Christmas gift for cinephiles: Rob Garver's WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL opens at New York City's Film Forum

News Update -- 
What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael 
will be coming to DVD and digital 
on June 16, 2020, from Juno Films
via MVD Entertainment

You have to feel a little sad for the younger generations who never had the chance to experience the writing of the woman -- Pauline Kael -- who was arguably the most prominent and important movie critic of them all. Sure, if interested, the younger set could find that writing in one of her many published books that collect her reviews. But nothing quite equaled reading her at the time of her writing when the movies she covered were new and on the minds of so many because these were smack in the middle of our current culture. Back then, we really did eagerly await each new issue of The New Yorker to learn what film Kael was covering and what she had to say.

TrustMovies must admit that it was the writing of Ms Kael (the critic is shown above) that brought him, just as it seems to have done so many other current critics, to writing about film. (I sent her a letter, along with some of my early work, to which she responded with a note of encouragement, after which I met her at a luncheon in Los Angeles honoring the work of the late Los Angeles Times movie critic, Charles Champlin.)  For me it was Kael's ability to put the reader in touch with a film intellectually, emotionally, even sometimes sexually -- and do this with a conversational style that was at once hugely immediate and engaging. Even when I disagreed with her opinion, I was always happy to have read it.

The new documentary, WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL, brings back the 1960s and 70s, along with some of the seminal movies that defined those decades, while giving us a beautifully structured look at the life and work of this particular critic. As written and directed by Rob Garver (shown at right; this is his first full-length film), the documentary has taken five years to create and then reach theatrical release. Yet the time spent certainly proves worth it, for the finished produced is a major treat for older film buffs like me, and should be as well for even those uninitiated to the work of Ms Kael. (My spouse knew little about her yet enjoyed every minute of the engrossing journey into her life and her criticism.)

We see and hear Ms Kael in action and quickly understand how her voice and ideas could so easily engage (and enrage) folk. A number of filmmakers and movie critics get their say on what made Kael so special, along with what were some of her weak points (filmmaker/critic Paul Schrader, shown above, is particularly effective on both counts), and the inclusion of this pro-and-con assessment helps makes the documentary much more than mere hagiography.

All the high points are included here -- that negative Sound of Music review that lost Kael the job of movie critic at McCall's magazine, the sparring between Kael and Andrew Sarris over the auteur theory, Renata Adler's take-down of Kael in the New York Review of Books, and Kael's rather fast, furious and unproductive sojourn into screenwriting and production in Hollywood via Warren Beatty -- along with lots of more minor-seeming information that, together, made up quite a life and career. (That's filmmaker David O. Russell, below, whom we hear from along the way.)

We meet her daughter Gina as a youngster, young adult and now a senior citizen, and what she tells of her mother is loving, fascinating and just maybe a little creepy around the edges -- in the manner that someone pursuing a career while raising a child as single parent can often seem. All told, the compilation of information and opinion provided by these filmmakers, critics and personalities close to Kael adds up to a marvelous recreation of a mind, a life and a specific time gone but hardly forgotten. If only for the little section devoted to Kael's reaction to David Lean at a luncheon supposedly in honor of the filmmaker, the movie is a must-see. Most important, What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael honors not just this individual critic but the very idea of why criticism and opinion matter.

From Juno Films and running 95 minutes, the documentary opens Christmas Day in New York City at Film Forum. Elsewhere? Yes, and if you want to take a look at the other dozen or so playdates scheduled as of now, simply click here and scroll down.

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