What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

I may be a bit biased but, to me, Robin, a simple guy who loves movies, the best film critic ever gets a first-rate documentary treatment and we get to learn “What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael.”

Laura's Review: B

Clearly a fan, writer/director Rob Garver’s documentary about The New Yorker’s distinctive film critic Pauline Kael features new interviews and previously unseen archival footage, but while it makes its case for her prominent position in film history, it does so without any new or startling revelations. For example, we get the ‘greatest hits,’ such as how Kael’s “Bonnie and Clyde” review saved the film and paved a new path, her feud with Andrew Sarris and his auteur theory and her controversial take down of Orson Welles in her essay ‘Raising Kane.’ Her words, spoken by Sarah Jessica Parker, are accompanied by copious film clips. We also hear from Kael’s daughter Gina, whom she raised as a single mother and who became her transcribing typist.

But the film just skims the surface of her controversial six month stab at Hollywood production and chummy relationship with too many of her subjects. Garver talks about those she mentored who followed in her footsteps, ‘the Paulettes,’ were often pressured to champion certain films, but doesn’t get into the retribution that could follow. Some may find themselves pained listening to her pan of “Lawrence of Arabia” or agreeing with Renata Adler’s assertion that ‘she has, in principle, four things she likes: frissons of horror; physical violence depicted in explicit detail; sex scenes, so long as they have an ingredient of cruelty and involve partners who know each other either casually or under perverse circumstances; and fantasies of invasion by, or subjugation of or by, apes, pods, teens, bodysnatchers, and extraterrestrials.’ But one cannot dispute Kael’s fearless confidence in her own voice. “What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael” presents a wide ranging overview of the influential critic – one just wishes it were a little more analytical itself.

Robin's Review: A-

I have been reading film reviews from many critics for many years and since I read her review of Walter Hill’s “The Warriors (1979),” Pauline Kael became my favorite film critic, ever. Part of this has to do with how she viewed movies – as a member of the audience of movie goers rather than a pontificating “expert.”

Tyro documentary filmmaker Rob Garver assembles an eclectic collection of materials on the life and times, and her diverse views on movies, of Kael. The assembly of these materials – archival footage of Pauline, talking heads of writers, directors producers, critics and fans, and snippets of the many, many films she reviewed - is deftly laid out and holds your attention from start to finish – at least my attention, but then, I am biased.

Garver takes the time to give a full accounting of Kael’s long and oft-controversial career, from her start at McCall’s magazine, New Republic and the place she finally called home at New Yorker Magazine. Time is also given to her literary career with such sexy titles as; I Lost it at the Movies (1965), When the Lights Go Down (1989) and “Taking It All IN (1984), among many others.

Sit tight when the credits run and see just how many movies, great and not so great, she wrote about. The number, like Kael herself, is impressive.