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Afterglow: A Last Conversation with Pauline Kael (excerpts)

by Francis Davis
(excerpts organized by page number)

"The educated audience often uses ‘art’ films in much the same self-indulgent way as the mass audience uses the Hollywood ‘product,’ finding wish fulfillment in the form of cheap and easy congratulations on their sensitivities and their liberalism." (24)

"Pauline’s insistence that art happens in the real world and that it should be an instrument of pleasure has become a governing principle in writing about rock and pop. Her importance as a movie critic cannot be overestimated, but it pales before her influence as a critic, period – and as a writer." (26)

The following is all Kael:

"I was often accused of writing about everything but the movie." (31)

"I think half of the reason that people become interested in movies in the first place is sex and dating and everything connected with eroticism on the screen." (33)

"One of the great things about movies is they can combine the energy of a popular art with the possibilities of a high art. What’s wonderful about someone like Altman is that mixture of pop and high art. He’s an artist who uses pop as his vehicle. That’s part of the excitement in a movie like Nashville; you get a sense of the different forces at work on the director." (34-35)

Davis: You once said that you wanted to write about movies the way that people actually talked about them on leaving the theater.
Kael: Yes, the language we really spoke – and the language of movies. I didn’t want to write academic English in an attempt to elevate movies, because I think that actually lowers them. It denies them what makes them distinctive.

"And I think that one of the reasons we love movies so much is that they have the pop element. It’s why so many plays seem deadly to audiences today. They have such a refined texture to them, and they put you to sleep with all that refinement." (91)

"It’s difficult to be a critic of mass culture. You write about so much crap that you begin to be contemptuous of what you’re writing about – at least, a lot of critics are, and they hope for something more interesting to do. You can’t fault them for that. But they don’t do justice to what they’re seeing. They don’t seem to be sensitive to what’s on the screen." (106)

"I don’t like movies that work on dread, and yet they’re often taken very seriously because of that dread factor. You sit there knowing that this poor guy is going to be beaten to a pulp, and it’s an awful feeling." (In talking about Boys Don’t Cry) (114)

"It’s not fun writing about bad movies. I used to think it was bad for my skin. It’s painful writing about the bad things in an art form, particularly when young kids are going to be enthusiastic about those things, because they haven’t seen anything better or anything different. I mean if you were writing about The Perfect Storm, you would have to consider that for many kids it’s the first time they’ve ever seen something like that, and they’re all excited about it... But if you write critically, you have to do something besides get excited. You have to examine what’s in front of you. What you see is a movie industry in decay, and the decay gets worse and worse." (126)


First Da Capo Press edition 2002

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