WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL — Film Review

2018, 98 minutes
Directed & Edited by Rob Garver
Producers: Garver & Glen Zipper
Director of Photography: Vincent C. Ellis
Archival producer: Rich Remsberg.
Original music: Rick Baitz.
USA
A Juno Films release

Film Forum is in New York City

Three stars for Robert Garver’s 98-minute feature documentary. That’s a star for each time I fork over big-city, big-ticket $$$ to see it in a theater. The real rating of a film is revealed by the number of times we want see it. We always want to revisit the best.

No five stars here because I would probably numb out at four, though when I was playing basketball for the Sporting Club of Portugal, Lisbon, way back when, I and friends saw Norman Jewison’s JESUS CHRIS SUPERSTAR (1973) 25 times. The film was a smorgasburg of scenes that we had to see again and again as if compelled by some mystical force — and at that time I didn’t know of Kael. She reviled it as a “masochistic revel for eight-year-olds.”

Director Garvers’ use of archival footage of interviews and scenes from films, collages of clips, shots of news and magazine pages plus contemporary interviews — all flowing seamlessly together and back and for in space, like an unstuck-in-time Billy Pilgrim from SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5 (1972) — result in spellbinding movie making: Visceral thrills were never ending throughout the 98 minutes of Garvers’ creme de la creme. Of course I will revisit WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL a few more times streaming on the home screen when it shows up.

Roger Ebert’s quote, “the most powerful, loved, and hated film critic of her time” could have been, quotation marks for effect, “the most power film critic of her time hated because of the power she wielded and the misogyny in Hollywood and society at large.”

This snippet of a quote, “In a field that has historically embraced few women film critics …” — that’s from press material — is clearly euphemistic of a never-ending American scandal and disgrace. It should be clearly stated: A lot of that venom had a lot to do with misogyny. The many fiercely smoking, bitchin’, slam-dunkin’ scenes, comments, dialogues and conversation in this 98-minute gem generates visceral sensations one would expect from a get-down, action-adventure reality show.

Kael was a velociraptor with a ferocious wit who swam with the sharks of moviemaking and did more than just stand her ground. Her many years at The New Yorker magazine “energized her fans (“Paulettes”) and infuriated detractors” regularly. She championed the New Hollywood Cinema of the late 1960s and ’70s like BONNIE AND CLYDE, NASHVILLE, CARRIE, TAXI DRIVER and the works of major European directors like François Truffaut, Bernardo Bertolucci. She panned big studio hits like THE SOUND OF MUSIC, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, DIRTY HARRY.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC is one of the silliest movies I’ve ever sat through but my laughing and sneering in an Ithaca theater on my first romantic date — her name was Beth — had Beth thinking early on that I was nuts but she eventually joined me in dissing back at the screen. MIDNIGHT COWBOY, I’ve seen many times and could care less that Kael buried her fangs and claws in it. DIRTY HARRY movies were so over-the-top that I engaged in — don’t many of us do this? — redoing scenes in my mind, thus, filtering out the not-so-subtle sociopolitical scenes that irked my liberal and left-wing buddies.

Sarah Jessica Parker speaks for Kael in scenes, and filmmakers Quentin Tarantino, Paul Schrader, David O. Russell, and Francis Ford Coppola and critics Camille Paglia, Molly Haskell, Greil Marcus, David Edelstein, Stephanie Zacharek, Joe Morgenstern and Carrie Rickey, according to film publicity, “all speak to her enormous gifts and influence,” but the contemporaries made it feel that Kael, June 19, 1919 to September 3, 2001, was alive and kicking.

There is a somber undertone and every young writer who wants her and his work published should see this movie at least, oh, several times. Like a real velociraptor, it wasn’t an issue issue of Pauline Kael being right or wrong. It’s what she did and how she did it — and the awesome filmmaking of Robert Garver that matters.

Award Winning Assistant J-Professor, Hunter College/CUNY. Author, Writer. Blogs at blog.hunterword.com. Using Medium.com to test drive writing projects.