Tag Archives: De Palma

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

21 Feb

‘What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael’: Sweet kiss for film critic with acid tongue

 

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Rob Garver’s hagiographic ode to the life and work of film critic Pauline Kael adequately covers the writer’s rise to her post at The New Yorker, her daunting (perhaps exaggerated?) influence on the film industry and her legions of A-list admirers. What distinguished Kael, besides being the lone woman in an all-male club when she got into film criticism back in the 1950s, were her uniquely punchy, eloquent and visceral reactions, many imparted in a single sentence. Kael also became famous for her embrace of graphic violence (she largely adored Scorsese, De Palma, Peckinpah and Coppola) and envelop-pushing erotica (“Last Tango in Paris”) while gouging away at sacred cows such as French New Wave icon “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and Christmas classic “The Sound of Music” (“the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat”).

“What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael” is framed with tape recording of Kael being interviewed by a young girl who gaily asks the critic her first movie (Chaplin) and later, her favorite film is (a detail I’ll let the moviegoer discover). Kael, who lived in Great Barrington and died just before 9/11, came from humble roots in Northern California, where she attended college at Berkeley. She never graduated, failed as a playwright in New York and her one marriage ended quickly, but throughout it all she maintained a deep passion for emotion-provoking narratives, be they bound by book jacket or cinematically projected. Her early reviews were on radio and for free, but being a single mother Kael looked to get paid for her labor; before landing at The New Yorker she was at McCall’s, which ended badly. 

Film clips spruce up the narrative, sometimes to echo Kael’s thoughts and other times simply as illustrating the film being trumpeted or impaled. We get Kael’s personal reflections from letters and other scrawlings read by Sarah Jessica Parker in voice only, evoking a smooth, husky Hollywood starlet persona that feels warmly congruent with the actual Kael we hear at the bookends, and in interview clips with Dick Cavett and other TV talk show hosts of the era. Plenty of celebrities lend their talking heads to the project, most prominently screenwriter/director Robert Towne (“Chinatown”), Alec Baldwin and film-nerd-turned-auteur Quentin Tarantino. Continue reading

De Palma

23 Jun
Brian De Palma has directed over 25 films in his career, including Scarface, the cult classic starring Al Pacino

Brian De Palma’s career has been a veritable roller coaster of highs and lows. Carrie was a blockbuster, Bonfire of the Vanitieswas a bomb. Mission: Impossible kickstarted a long-running franchise, Life on Mars crashed and burned. More curious perhaps is how some of De Palma’s less successful films are now warmly embraced many years later, with some even ascending to cult status, Blow Out, Scarface, and Body Double to name a few.

Fellow filmmakers and De Palma acolytes, Noah Baumbach (Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha) and Jake Paltrow (Gwyneth’s bro) have crafted a fond rewind of the storied director’s life with their documentary De Palma. In the doc, Baumbach and Paltrow go through each of the director’s films in chronological order and get the suspense-thriller auteur’s perspective on the politics of makings of those movies and the fine line between a masterpiece and disaster.

If you’ve never been a fan of De Palma and his blood-covered output, you’ll at least walk away with respect for the director who, in the documentary, comes across as an amiable raconteur with a huge heart for the filmmaking process as he warmly takes you behind the scenes to show you the tricks of the trade and the taxing challenges of working with mega egos. Continue reading