Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pauline Kael: The (Wo)man Behind the Myth

Pauline Kael was a woman of many words. They were often very harsh words. However, this is what made her the loved (and often hated) critic that she was. During her many years of film critique, it was her sense of independence and style that made her into the legend that she has become.

In her interviews with Francis Davis for the book Afterglow, Kael revealed that she was often accused of writing about “everything but the movie itself.” Even though she included many personal anecdotes and tangents in her reviews, she did so with conviction. It was her lack of apologies for doing so that made her works into art as a critic.

In Oscar Wild’s The Critic as Artist, he frames the critic as interpreter; he believes that “the highest criticism […] is more creative than creation, and the primary aim of the critic is to see the object as in itself it really is not.” Here is where Kael shines. While her opinions of film were sometimes in complete contrast to popular opinion, it is her creative drive that keeps the reader coming.

From Disney’s The Little Mermaid to Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade, Kael reviewed it all. She did not shy away from any film genre, and she made it clear that she loved every minute of it. By the tone of her review, she even made it clear that she preferred Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything starring John Cusack to the aforementioned films, hailing and praising the work of the actors and screenwriting, while she only enjoyed the chemistry between Sean Connery and Harrison Ford in the traditional classic, The Last Crusade.

It is in this sometimes scathing pan that Kael finds her greatest weakness. Although she was a bastion of independent thought, it does beg the question on who the critique serves. While her sense of style, wit, and descriptions provide a pleasant and entertaining read, it is hard to judge whether or not her reviews mesh with the average moviegoer.

It is indeed laudable that Kael is able to demonstrate her idiosyncratic critique abilities, but her extreme love and passion for film creates a void between her and the reader. It may goad the reader into viewing the film, if only from her masterful use of language and storytelling, but her opinions on the films are extreme in almost all cases, and this drives a barrier between in taste. Kael is a domineering writer to be sure, but her prose may be just that: prose, instead of a critique for the everyman. 

1 comment:

  1. John. Good evening.

    You have a strong voice that is clean and focused. You are the master of your writing, with precise vocabulary and resources. I especially like the parallel you made with Oscar WILDE's (check your spelling!) words and Kael's work. It worked--well.

    No doubt you believe she is a great critic, although you may not agree with her. The only recommendation I have is to take away the parenthesis in your title: "The (wo)man behind the myth." Even if this is some pun, I find it offensive, especially attributing it to such a fierce female if being "woman" wasn't enough.

    :) Thanks for sharing.