Someone please put Pauline Kael out of her misery

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Michael
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#26 Post by Michael » Thu Mar 10, 2005 5:40 pm

Annie Mall being a woman
I thought she was this forum's official tranny. #-o

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tartarlamb
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#27 Post by tartarlamb » Thu Mar 10, 2005 6:27 pm

To Annie Mall -- so is attacking Ebert misanthropy?
I think the opposite of misogyny is actually misandry. But how patronizing to women critics everywhere that they aren't allowed to have detractors. I've read some pretty harsh things said about Ebert on this forum (particularly after Cannes), but no one was accused of being a chauvinist.

Like Ebert, I can go either way on her work. But her reactions to Gimme Shelter bordered on bizarre and libellous.

Albert Maysles wasn't too happy about it:
... more than anything she wanted to appear to be clever, so that she would invent things to make a better story. ...Then there's the implication that we were guilty of murder, or at least complicit, because we'd staged Gimme Shelter. And that really, you know, that really struck a blow more so than any other negative comment about what we do. That really... That was particularly hurtful. Especially because THE NEW YORKER wouldn't repudiate any of it. I went to the editor whom I happened to know and we went through every line of Kael's piece and told him where it was just bald fabrication. And he said, "Well, if what you say is true than Kael should answer to it, let's call her in"--but she wouldn't come. With all that evidence, he should have fired her on the spot.

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Jun-Dai
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#28 Post by Jun-Dai » Thu Mar 10, 2005 6:34 pm

Without getting too deeply involved in this (terrible) discussion, I'd like to point out that the issue of sexism can come into play in two ways: overt sexism that is clear within a statement itself, and sexism that is part of a larger, often institutional, context. The latter is not easily seperable from a whole host of other considerations. If every female director were consistently trashed by all film critics, it would be clear that there were some kind of systemic problem. In a particular instance of a trashing, it mightn't be clear that it was pure sexism, and yet it could be part of a terrible, larger, contextual sort of sexism. The crux of the problem, then, is that bashing Pauline Kael can very much be an act that plays into a sort of institutional sexism that makes being taken seriously as a female film critic very difficult. On the other hand, the avoidance or condemnation of the act itself would seem to make her unbashable, which would also be extremely problematic.

While there is no "solution," there exist better approaches. No one has really defined here what it is that makes Pauline Kael a bad critic, though several have pointed out significant impact that she has had. One thing to examine is what role she has played as a film critic. How much serious criticism has she written, and how seriously has that criticism been taken? If we take it as a given that we are all, in some way, and to some degree, sexist, it would be worthwhile to examine how this affects our opinion of Pauline Kael. If we can point to clear reasons for objecting to her writing, and it is apparent that there is a clear gap between whatever sexist biases we might have and the rationale that we are using, then we have done our due diligence to mitigate the potential for institutional sexism in our line of reasoning. It might seem that the burden of proof lies on the person who is pointing out the sexism inherent within a stance, but this is only half true; if it is apparent that there is something wrong on a systemic level (e.g., a general bias in public opinion against female film critics), then there is an extent to which the burden of proof lies on the writer to vindicate their writing, since they are the only one capable of proving beyond doubt, one way or the other, that their writing is not simply part of some larger sexist context.

All of that said, I've never really cared that much for Kael, but I've never cared for Sarris or Ebert either. I don't think there is a reviewer that I do care for, and I have yet to read a serious critique by any of them (though I know that they each have done some). I've heard that Kael did a pretty serious piece on Chinatown, but I've never gotten my hands on it. I'd like to.

Anonymous

#29 Post by Anonymous » Thu Mar 10, 2005 6:54 pm

Annie Mall wrote:I've always known that misogyny ran amock on this forum and it's always a sad day when I see it happen in such a way...
Let's add another dimension to the problem. Not only is Kael a woman and dead, but she's also short -- 4' 9"! =D>

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Pinback
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#30 Post by Pinback » Thu Mar 10, 2005 7:34 pm

Beef Jerky wrote:
Annie Mall wrote:I've always known that misogyny ran amock on this forum and it's always a sad day when I see it happen in such a way...
Let's add another dimension to the problem. Not only is Kael a woman and dead, but she's also short -- 4' 9"! =D>
My God, you're so anti-American...

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David
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#31 Post by David » Thu Mar 10, 2005 7:41 pm

Jun-Dai wrote:Without getting too deeply involved in this (terrible) discussion, I'd like to point out that the issue of sexism can come into play in two ways: overt sexism that is clear within a statement itself, and sexism that is part of a larger, often institutional, context.
This is the way I wish I'd have put it in the first place and the biggest problem in this thread is the following (also stated by Jun'Dai's exellent post):
Jun-Dai wrote:No one has really defined here what it is that makes Pauline Kael a bad critic, though several have pointed out significant impact that she has had.
And I want to clearly state that by intentions was not to accuse anyone for being sexist (if so, excuse me...), but to make an attempt to imply that maybe some "institutional sexism" was "in the works", and to especially have a discussion about why the author of this thread stated:
Donald Brown wrote:Pauline Kael was an idiot and should be read with great skepticism.
Here's some reading about her any way: http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/46/kael.htm

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devlinnn
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#32 Post by devlinnn » Thu Mar 10, 2005 8:02 pm

I'm still hoping to see Meryl Streep and Warren Beatty play Kael and Sarris late in life, still debating and fighting, in a future movie exploring that wonderful time in New York when, for a brief moment in time, film criticism was just as thrilling as the movies. Hate her all you like, but without Kael and her original ways of thought, many of the directors we admire would have less credits to their name.

"The critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising." - P. Kael

"Where there is a will, there is a way. If there is a chance in a million that you can do something, anything, to keep what you want from ending, do it. Pry the door open or, if need be, wedge your foot in that door and keep it open." - P.Kael

"This movie is a toupee made up to look like honest baldness." - P.Kael

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Harold Gervais
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#33 Post by Harold Gervais » Thu Mar 10, 2005 8:52 pm

When, as a teenager, I started to discover cinema, as opposed to movies, Kael was one of the people who guided me by the hand. I clearly remember devouring her review collections and then making every attempt to see what she was writing about....no easy job in the late 1970's/early 1980's in a smaller city such as New Orleans. I grew to disagree with her more and more as I'd find those movies and reread her reviews but I almost always understood where she was coming from. Still, it was her passion for film that captured my imagination and sent me on my way. For that I will always thank her.

cbernard

#34 Post by cbernard » Thu Mar 10, 2005 10:28 pm

Am I the only poster here who can claim these two things?

1) I value Kael as a key to understanding films - her writing was a big enough force in my life that I can probably say I had a "Pauline Kael phase," lasting from around 1995 to her death in 2001.

2) I all but hate her writing now. It's embarassing and she mocked not only a number of films that I love, but also the ideas of auteurism (as she thinks she understood them, and she didn't), and she said some unforgivable things about Orson Welles.

But still, she understood being what it was like to be drunk on movies, she casts a shadow over a dozen or more pathetically inadequate current critics, and she's worthy of being fought over - you don't see any "Someone please put Anthony Lane out of his misery" threads, do you?

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Kudzu
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#35 Post by Kudzu » Thu Mar 10, 2005 10:31 pm

There is a catty but hilarious examination of Kael's life and works here at Bright Lights Film Journal.

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Donald Brown
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#36 Post by Donald Brown » Thu Mar 10, 2005 10:49 pm

It should be noted that the first three posts in this thread originally appeard in the Gimme Shelter thread, and as Matt pointed out earlier, the title is his. They were rightly moved here so as to not derail the discussion about the film.

My initial statement was in response to some people unquestioningly accepting Kael's absurd contention that the Altamont concert was staged strictly for the Maysles to film. I respect that Kael's admired for her passion, but passion without intellect is worthless. She was a whirling dervish of irrationalism that contributed little to understanding cinema, as opposed to maniacally, sometimes entertainingly, misinterpreting it with unfocused zest.

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#37 Post by javelin » Thu Mar 10, 2005 10:59 pm

cbernard wrote:Am I the only poster here who can claim these two things?
you don't see any "Someone please put Anthony Lane out of his misery" threads, do you?
Oh, but you fucking should. That guy's an asshole AND a moron - he finished with top honors at Cambridge in the field of Classics. With that highest of educations, the man decides to immerse himself in the culture of popular film. Why? To condescend it, of course. Thanks, but no thanks.

Not sexist, mind, just vitriolic.

kekid
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#38 Post by kekid » Thu Mar 10, 2005 11:08 pm

I do not judge a critic by whether I agree with his/her assessment of a particular film, but whether reading his/her review is either uiquely informative or an aesthetic experience on its own terms. I found Pauline Kael painful to read. I did not like her reviews of Godard, not because I dislike Godard (I do, but that is not why I dislike Kael), but because I found reading her review of Godard as painful as watching one of the Godard movies (some, not all, to be sure). Perhaps her reviews had the same style as that of the directors she admired. Given the wide reputation she enjoyed I have been reluctant to express my dislike for her writing all these years. Now I see I have company. And please, my opinion of her writing has nothing to do with her being a woman or her admiring some directors I do not like. In some deeper way, I do not relate to her world.

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#39 Post by david hare » Thu Mar 10, 2005 11:08 pm

Weren't her spawn Anthony Lane and David Denby both SO dreadful she almost looked reasonable. I personally loathed her endless opinion without qualification. She was surely the darling of people who feigned to love "film" but would never watch "movies" and only ever went to Film Festivals anyway. The support for "LAST TANGO" was merely an aberration. And the "Mankeiwicz vs.Welles KANE" saga was but one of her many nasty, nasty power plays.

cbernard

#40 Post by cbernard » Fri Mar 11, 2005 1:13 am

javelin wrote:
cbernard wrote:Am I the only poster here who can claim these two things?
you don't see any "Someone please put Anthony Lane out of his misery" threads, do you?
Oh, but you fucking should. That guy's an asshole AND a moron - he finished with top honors at Cambridge in the field of Classics. With that highest of educations, the man decides to immerse himself in the culture of popular film. Why? To condescend it, of course. Thanks, but no thanks.

Not sexist, mind, just vitriolic.
But my point is, we care about Kael - or ought to - but who gives a rat's ass about Anthony Lane? Who'll remember David Denby?

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#41 Post by javelin » Fri Mar 11, 2005 2:35 am

cbernard wrote:
javelin wrote:
cbernard wrote:Am I the only poster here who can claim these two things?
you don't see any "Someone please put Anthony Lane out of his misery" threads, do you?
Oh, but you fucking should. That guy's an asshole AND a moron - he finished with top honors at Cambridge in the field of Classics. With that highest of educations, the man decides to immerse himself in the culture of popular film. Why? To condescend it, of course. Thanks, but no thanks.

Not sexist, mind, just vitriolic.
But my point is, we care about Kael - or ought to - but who gives a rat's ass about Anthony Lane? Who'll remember David Denby?

Oh, I know. I was just acting out. Conversational derailing - probably a by-product of myself always intervening between my parents' arguments. But you bring up an interesting point - we ought to care about Kael. Why? Not that I disagree, but it's seemingly harmless statements like these that obfuscate an argument. I, frankly, find Pauline Kael to be a very talented writer, but not a good film critic. She offered little in the way of actual film criticism (coming to the film and discussing the film on its terms) and more in the way of reviewing/opining (approaching a film on her terms.) Not that this is inherently wrong (god knows must of us take this approach), but her stance re: Gimme Shelter (the impetus of this thread) was both misled and misleading. Her actions were outright journalistic fraud. This has no bearing on the rest of Kael's work, but, for the matter that was at hand, her words should not be taken as indicative of historical fact.

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#42 Post by ben d banana » Fri Mar 11, 2005 2:52 am

Donald Brown wrote:My initial statement was in response to some people unquestioningly accepting Kael's absurd contention that the Altamont concert was staged strictly for the Maysles to film.


Except I've never (that's right, never) read Kael and my initial comments were actually posed as questions. If Donald, or someone, would like to post any relevant info to the contrary (that is the film being in progress played no part in what became the Altamont concert going forward despite its relative lack of organization) in the Gimme Shelter thread I'm interested to read it. As I think I made clear in said thread, it's not like I believe the actions taken at Altamont were the fault of the Maysles, the band, others w/o knives and shit.

Andre, it may be time to re-evaluate my anti-emoticon stance.

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Donald Brown
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#43 Post by Donald Brown » Fri Mar 11, 2005 3:57 am

An eye-rolly emoticon? Oh, I love those. Anyway, this is what I was responding to, not your comments:
BWilson wrote:
oldsheperd wrote:I thought the free show was because they wanted a west-coast version of Woodstock.
They wanted a west coast version of Woodstock that they could exploit by filming it and make a fortune from releasing the film. The concert (while attended by 200,000 people) was really put on expressly to make the movie. Read Pauline Kael's review.

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#44 Post by Napoleon » Fri Mar 11, 2005 7:56 am

The concert (while attended by 200,000 people) was really put on expressly to make the movie. Read Pauline Kael's review.
See, that is the problem I have with critics. When people take their word as gospel. All films, and particularly the ones that this forum concerns itself with, should be intepretated and appreciated on a personal level.

And this:
Kael's absurd contention that the Altamont concert was staged strictly for the Maysles to film.
Is patently bollocks. That is Kael's contention, not the the absurdness of it.

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GringoTex
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#45 Post by GringoTex » Fri Mar 11, 2005 8:29 am

Jun-Dai wrote: if it is apparent that there is something wrong on a systemic level (e.g., a general bias in public opinion against female film critics), then there is an extent to which the burden of proof lies on the writer to vindicate their writing, since they are the only one capable of proving beyond doubt, one way or the other, that their writing is not simply part of some larger sexist context.
I would agree if Kael were a feminist critic. Then a critique of her work would have to address systemic sexism. But as it is, Kael was purely a mainstream critic. The fact that she happened to be a woman does not place the burden of proof on the critiquer to address his own personal sexism.

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#46 Post by ben d banana » Fri Mar 11, 2005 12:50 pm

Donald Brown wrote:An eye-rolly emoticon? Oh, I love those.
The violin actually.

No answer on Altamont, huh? Was it just Kael overstating what actually transpired in her emotional and pissy manner that most everyone is so upset about or was it absolute bullshit?

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Donald Brown
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#47 Post by Donald Brown » Fri Mar 11, 2005 10:12 pm

Her comments on Altamont, as on so much else, is such transparent bullshit that no rebuttal is necessary. She was a person unburdened by anything so cumbersome as facts and logic.

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#48 Post by david hare » Fri Mar 11, 2005 10:52 pm

Not only that - as a friend pointed out she was utterly disdainful of feminists and feminist writing (Molly Haskell's "From Reverence to Rape" etc) and similarly disparaging of gay/lesbian issues. She really was a shit.

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#49 Post by bcsparker » Sat Mar 12, 2005 11:03 am

Just let it go guys.

Honestly, who gives a shit?

And yes, I've read her work.....

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#50 Post by two mules » Sun Mar 13, 2005 8:46 am

Just my two cents, here:

Is it really necessary [and possible] to trash her entire written output in one fell swoop? Can everything she wrote be idiotic and wrongheaded, Donald?

I first read WHEN THE LIGHTS GO DOWN back in 1994, and since read most of her other books. True, she didn't like a lot of films that I like, but I respected and considered up her criticisms, particularly when her gut feeling or instinct about a movie was the basis for what she wrote [interestingly, she was the first to criticise those who argued it was "all a question of taste" - she preferred to add experience and education to the list. Very true: I find that now I'm 34, after 16 years of serious film-viewing, my perceptions are a lot sharper than when I was 20].

Often, when she was passionately trashing a movie, she revealed a lot to me that has since helped me when weighing up other films [I particularly remember her criticisms of Woody Allen's snobbery and insularity, and of Warren Beatty's REDS being mired in second and third thoughts]. The way other people think about things can open up whole new vistas for you if you keep your mind open... you don't have to agree.

And Donald, don't you feel stupid writing that she was an idiot? Really? Don't you think it bears a little more consideration than that?

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