Pauline Kael, the New Yorker film critic for 25 years until the early 1990s, was a lightning rod of American culture. She waged a battle to be recognized and her opinions made her readers hate or love her. Her distinctive voice pioneered the art form, and was largely a result of stubborn determination, huge confidence, and a deep love of the arts. The movie also shows 20th-century movies through Pauline's eye, and shows Pauline's own life through moments of other movies. The filmmakers had complete access to the subject -- through Gina James, Pauline's only child and the executor of her estate; friends and colleagues; and Pauline's personal archives. With over 30 new interviews, including David O. Russell, Quentin Tarantino, Camille Paglia, Molly Haskell, Alec Baldwin Greil Marcus, Paul Schrader, John Guare and Joe Morgenstern. Sarah Jessica Parker voices Pauline through her writing and letters.
Here's a documentary about film critic Pauline Kael. A movie about a movie critic! It seems an exercise in tail chasing.
For seemingly forever, including a couple of decades at The New Yorker, Pauline Kael was the outspoken voice of people who love an unseemly art. Movies, by their nature, cannot aspire to find that one, golden patron who will pay for their work. Instead, they must seek a mass audience, which means one must not be too hoity-toity. The business of movies is to make a product at a price that will entice enough people to pay for it to yield a profit. It's the same business model that a kid selling lemonade or Boeing making air craft uses.
If a critic has any purpose, it's to upbraid the movie producer who tries to slip bad films past an unsuspecting audience, to alert that audience to something that is unexpectedly good, and to do it in a manner that keeps people interested in her own, subjective opinion.... because it's all opinions, and it's all subjective... and ultimately, to let her audience know why: why this movie is good, why that movie is bad, why the third is junk, but good junk, and the fourth bad junk. She must be a prude and a pander, and enormously popular. And, to a certain extent, she must be feared.
All this Miss Kael did, with her world-weary attitude, her accessible, combative prose, her position as a reviewer for The New Yorker, and her books.
If this movie has any value, it's to alert people to the existence of Miss Kael's writing, to let them know that here's someone who has seen these films and might be able to tell them something that would enrich their understanding of them. Yet what matters about Miss Kael is not her life, or her rise to prominence. It's her writing. So read what she wrote.
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