Sunday, September 02, 2012

Revising Kael

An welcome appreciation of Pauline Kael that focuses on her abilities, not her personality. (Atlantic)
She could talk well about popular art because she had not only seen all the movies that there were, she would have gone to all the opera performances that there were if she had not been so burdened with tickets to the cinema. When she talked about Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, her remarks were up there with the professional dance critic Arlene Croce’s because she, Kael, had been a connoisseur of dance all her life. She knew her way around a jazz band. Apart from mental equipment like that, her reading was prodigious in its volume, and fully serious in its content. Her house had all the Oz books in first editions—I saw them, and marveled; they looked as beautiful as her Tiffany lamps—but she was by no means restricted just to film-linked popular literature. When she reviewed a Russian movie based on a Dostoyevsky story, she could refer with daunting ease to anything by Dostoyevsky, including all the major novels chapter by chapter. Toward the end, this collection includes an outstanding piece about the Michael Cacoyannis movie of The Trojan Women: she draws, apparently without effort, on what seems a wide knowledge of Greek tragedy.

It’s important to note that none of this erudition seems dragged in. If she had dragged it in, there would have been furrows. Hers was the style least calculated to conceal pretension. In fact, in that sense, there was no style there at all. One thing you can trust her for throughout her work is a genuine enthusiasm for the arts, of which she so resoundingly took cinema to be one: something new, but something that fitted right in there beside the high traditions and that might include them all. You can trust her for that, and you can trust her diligence. The question is whether you can trust her judgment.

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