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Tuesday, July 18, 2023

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael 2018 * * * Stars


Opinionated, pioneering, against the grain. Those are words I would use to describe the late Pauline Kael. Kael was (and still is) one of the most famous movie critics ever (behind Roger Ebert of course). What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is a documentary about Pauline's life that is not necessarily life celebrating but a manifest interpretation presented to the viewer (aren't most films that way?). Do we as moviegoers love or hate this woman? Do helmers and actors feel the same? Why the heck did she pan films that her other associates deemed masterpieces (West Side Story, Laurence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey)? And how did she become the Elvis of flick write-ups (that means that everyone knows who she is)?

Questions, questions, questions, and "The Art" tries its best to answer them avoiding being a one-sided, Pauline Kael wiki page. I can dig it, even though this docu still tells its story sequentially and well, routinely.

Now I speak routinely because "The Art" jots from film to film via Kael's almost censorious thoughts. It's rinse, repeat stuff consisting of archive footage (Pauline lived from 1919 to 2001), Kael's voice from the sepulcher, and interviews about her that are not always of praise. I'm not saying all of this is procedural but you always seem to know what's forthcoming as an audience member.

Normal documentary praxis aside, the one thing that truly elevates What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is the presence of legendary directors who are in that cinematic team photo. You know the John Boormans, the Tarantinos, and the Francis Ford Coppolas. They speak of Pauline like she's a filmmaker herself, like she's in their fraternity. Some of it is out of anger, some of it is plaudits, some of it is spite. All of it is well, diverting. I mean who knew a movie critic could so blatantly alter someone's career. "State of this art".

Written by Jesse Burleson

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