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Pauline Kael (1919 – 2001)


American film critic best known for the reviews she wrote in The New Yorker.
Pauline Kael
After one of those terrible lovers' quarrels that leave one in a state of incomprehensible despair. I came out of the theater, tears streaming, and overheard the petulant voice of a college girl complaining to her boyfriend, "Well I don't see what was so special about that movie." I walked up the street, crying blindly, no longer certain whether my tears were for the tragedy on the screen, the hopelessness I felt for myself, or the alienation I felt from those who could not experience the radiance of Shoeshine. For if people cannot feel Shoeshine, what can they feel?... Later I learned that the man with whom I had quarreled had gone the same night and had also emerged in tears. Yet our tears for each other, and for Shoeshine did not bring us together. Life, as Shoeshine demonstrates, is too complex for facile endings.
Kael quotes
In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising.
Kael
The conglomerate heads may be business geniuses, but as far as movies are concerned they have virgin instincts; ideas that are new to them and take them by storm may have failed grotesquely dozens of times. But they feel that they are creative people — how else could they have made so much money and be in a position to advise artists what to do? Who is to tell them no?




Kael Pauline quotes
It would be very convincing to say that there’s no hope for movies — that audiences have been so corrupted by television and have become so jaded that all they want are noisy thrills and dumb jokes and images that move along in an undemanding way, so they can sit and react at the simplest motor level. And there’s plenty of evidence, such as the success of Alien. This was a haunted-house-with-gorilla picture set in outer space. It reached out, grabbed you, and squeezed your stomach; it was more gripping than entertaining, but a lot of people didn’t mind. They thought it was terrific, because at least they’d felt something: they’d been brutalized. It was like an entertainment contrived in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World by the Professor of Feelies in the College of Emotional Engineering.
Kael Pauline
Earlier generations went to see what was forbidden in life and developed a real excitement about the movies. Today’s rating system keeps kids out of the good ones. I wouldn’t want them to see movies like Natural Born Killers, but my tendency is you’re better off seeing things than not. That glazed indifference kids develop can be worse than over-excitement.
Pauline Kael quotes
Audiences who have been forced to wade through the thick middle-class padding of more expensively made movies to get to the action enjoy the nose-thumbing at "good taste" of cheap movies that stick to the raw materials. At some basic level they like the pictures to be cheaply done, they enjoy the crudeness; it’s a breather, a vacation from proper behavior and good taste and required responses. Patrons of burlesque applaud politely for the graceful erotic dancer but go wild for the lewd lummox who bangs her big hips around. That’s what they go to burlesque for.
Pauline Kael
It's sometimes discouraging to see all of a director's movies, because there's so much repetition. The auteurists took this to be a sign of a director's artistry, that you could recognize his movies. But it can also be a sign that he's a hack.
Kael Pauline quotes
Before seeing Truffaut's Small Change, I was afraid it was going to be one of those simple, natural films about childhood which I generally try to avoid — I'm just not good enough to go to them. But this series of sketches on the general theme of the resilience of children turns out to be that rarity — a poetic comedy that's really funny.
Kael
The critical task is necessarily comparative, and younger people do not truly know what is new.
Kael Pauline
The craftsmanship that Hollywood has always used as a selling point not only doesn’t have much to do with art — the expressive use of techniques — it probably doesn’t have very much to do with actual box-office appeal, either.
Pauline Kael
It's as if Brian de Palma were saying, "What is getting older if it isn't learning more ways that you're vulnerable?"




Pauline Kael quotes
The words "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," which I saw on an Italian movie poster, are perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. This appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this.
Pauline Kael
De Niro's inflamed, brimming eyes are the focal point of the compositions. He's Travis Bickle, an outsider who can't find any point of entry into human society. He drives nights because he can't sleep anyway; surrounded by the night world of the uprooted — whores, pimps, transients — he hates New York with a Biblical fury, and its filth and smut obsess him. This ferociously powerful film is like a raw, tabloid version of Notes from the Underground. Martin Scorsese achieves the quality of trance in some scenes, and the whole movie has a sense of vertigo. The cinematographer, Michael Chapman, gives the street life a seamy, rich pulpiness.
Kael quotes
At the movies, we are gradually being conditioned to accept violence as a sensual pleasure. The directors used to say they were showing us its real face and how ugly it was in order to sensitize us to its horrors. You don't have to be very keen to see that they are now in fact desensitizing us. They are saying that everyone is brutal, and the heroes must be as brutal as the villains or they turn into fools. There seems to be an assumption that if you're offended by movie brutality, you are somehow playing into the hands of the people who want censorship. But this would deny those of us who don't believe in censorship the use of the only counterbalance: the freedom of the press to say that there's anything conceivably damaging in these films — the freedom to analyze their implications. If we don't use this critical freedom, we are implicitly saying that no brutality is too much for us — that only squares and people who believe in censorship are concerned with brutality. Actually, those who believe in censorship are primarily concerned with sex, and they generally worry about violence only when it's eroticized. This means that practically no one raises the issue of the possible cumulative effects of movie brutality. Yet surely, when night after night atrocities are served up to us as entertainment, it's worth some anxiety. We become clockwork oranges if we accept all this pop culture without asking what's in it. How can people go on talking about the dazzling brilliance of movies and not notice that the directors are sucking up to the thugs in the audience?
Kael Pauline
When you clean them up, when you make movies respectable, you kill them. The wellspring of their art, their greatness, is in not being respectable.
Kael Pauline quotes
What's disgusting about the Dirty Harry movies is that Eastwood plays this angry tension as righteous indignation.
Pauline Kael
One of the biggest box-office successes in movie history — probably because for young audiences it's like getting a box of Cracker Jack that is all prizes. Written and directed by George Lucas, the film is enjoyable in its own terms, but it's exhausting, too: like taking a pack of kids to the circus. There's no breather in the picture, no lyricism; the only attempt at beauty is in the image of a double sunset. The loudness, the smash-and-grab editing, and the relentless pacing drive every idea out of your head, and even if you've been entertained, you may feel cheated of some dimension — a sense of wonder, perhaps. It's an epic without a dream.
Pauline Kael quotes
Picasso has a volatile, explosive presence. He seems to take art back to an earlier function, before the centuries of museums and masterpieces; he is the artist as clown, as conjurer, as master funmaker.
Pauline Kael
De Mille's bang-them-on-the-head-with-wild-orgies-and-imperilled-virginity style is at its ripest; the film is just about irresistible.
Kael Pauline
If you can't make fun of bad movies on serious subjects, what's the point?


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