Film critic Pauline Kael passed away today at age 82. She is without a doubt the greatest film critic of all time. She had Parkinson's Disease and hadn't published any reviews since 1991, though every week I wish I could find out what she thought of the movies just released. She's the type of critic whose opinions you would adopt as your own if you agreed with her, and if you didn't agree with her, you'd still lose some faith in your own opinion.
If you love movies, you owe it to yourself to try and track down some of the collections of her reviews. Unfortunately, most of them are out of print, but you can find many used copies on the Internet. If you just want one, For Keeps is probably the wisest choice as it includes reviews from all of her previous collections.
She wrote reviews that were works of art themselves, elevating criticism to its highest form. You'd probably never see her reviews in newspaper ads today, except perhaps for arthouse films, because she would not write the type of trite sound bites studios favor--"Best thriller of the year!". For example, she wrote of Woody Allen, in her review of Sleeper: "He has the city-wise effrontery of a shrimp who began by using language to protect himself and then discovered that language has a life of its own... The tension between his insecurity and his wit makes us empathize with him; we, too, are scared to show how smart we feel." Yes, of course!
Film buffs love her because she saw through not only the trashy blockbusters but also pretentious art films. At times, she'd admit that she had enjoyed a film with obvious flaws, and you'd be relieved that someone else was able to articulate your guilty pleasure. Other critics today, when they review classic films like Last Tango in Paris, will always reference Kael's original review. No other critic today has her pull among film lovers, critics, directors, and actors.
Among her more memorable reviews were those dismissing films like The Sound of Music and Dances with Wolves. She was fortunate to review movies during the 70's, the golden age for filmmaking in the twentieth century. She would probably be disappointed with most of the studio movies today.
Some random writings from around the web:
--Roger Ebert, a big Kael fan, looked back at her life today.
--On Ain't It Cool News, her passing was first reported by a contributor nicknamed Butt Monkey.
--An interview with Kael in Modern Maturity, in which she reveals, among other interesting opinions, that she likes Jim Carrey.
--A whole slew of remembrances at Salon, from Stephanie Zacharek to Ken Tucker to Charles Taylor
--Nothing from The New Yorker, though.
Digression--Roger Ebert writes of Lawrence of Arabia: "As for ''Lawrence,'' after its glorious re-release in 70mm in 1989, it has returned again to video, where it crouches inside its box like a tall man in a low room. You can view it on video and get an idea of its story and a hint of its majesty, but to get the feeling of Lean's masterpiece you need to somehow, somewhere, see it in 70mm on a big screen. This experience is on the short list of things that must be done during the lifetime of every lover of film."
I was fortunate enough to see a 70mm print of it at Seattle's Cinerama back when that theater opened, in 1999(?). I saw a midnight showing that got out at around 4am. I fell asleep briefly after the intermission, but it entered my mind like a rich, potent dream.