Are we allowed nowadays to express how little we’ve learned from Pauline Kael’s film reviews?
Or is that speaking ill of the dead? Because the last thing I’d want to do is speak ill of the dead … though, as I recall, Kael often spoke ill of the living, so that’s fine, right?
For instance: There was that completely non-judgmental review of Dances with Wolves, remember, where she suggests that director Kevin Costner has “feathers in his head”? That’s OK to say, isn’t it? I mean, levying personal insults at the filmmaker rather than criticizing the film is copacetic, no?
No. It sure ain’t. And I don’t think it makes sense to do that—no matter how bad the director’s films are.
Saying a flick’s poor in some way is, to my mind, much more fair. One of the reasons I never found Kael’s reviews enlightening is that they tended to include content, like the feather-festooned phrase cited above, that directly attacked those involved in the movies’ creation, for some reason, and that’s not valid criticism. Blast the film, not the maker. If the director’s a bad person, that’s one thing, but it also may be irrelevant. The picture is the thing when composing a movie review, and it should focus on that while describing what isn’t to like about the director’s techniques rather than the individual as a person. Keep the nastiness to the work.
I’ve never subscribed to the Cult of Kael, and although this is a big reason why, it isn’t the only one. I disagreed with her many a time on her perspectives, though once in a while I concurred. Yet her insistence on personal insults kept me from admiring her work overall. There are plenty of good critics in this world who maintain honesty without succumbing to such practices. Too bad Kael couldn’t do the latter. Frankly, I couldn’t praise that if I tried.