Arts & Leisure

Movie review: What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

PAULINE KAEL IN What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2018)

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael — Running Time: 1:38
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 12 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.
— Reviewed by Joan Ellis

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