17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2000
Gosh... Movie reviewers can certainly offend easily. I agree with Pauline Kael's assessments roughly 50% of the time, but I still love reading her. She is always intelligent (even when she is wrong wrong wrong) --- and what a great writer! She manages to be "mean" over and over again without exactly being mean-spirited. And why on earth is a movie reviewer not supposed to have political opinions? I never understand this peculiarly American criticism. Can you review "Triumph of the Will" or "Rambo" or "La Chinoise" without venturing into the realm of politics? Probably, but why would you want to? I don't think the type of person who makes this criticism is really looking for a dry, studied dissection of film technique, but perhaps I'm wrong. Anyway, she's no more "political" than any other worthwhile reviewer I can think of. This book is full of buried treasures --- quite a few films in it that I had never even heard of before. It's just a darned entertaining read, too. Every few pages, there is a laugh-out-loud funny turn of phrase. Usually a pretty mean turn of phrase but it's hard to have harsh feelings towards someone who writes, for example, in her review of "Funny Lady", "The moviemakers weren't just going to make a sequel to 'Funny Girl'---they were going to kill us." Or, in a review of "The Last Tycoon", "...so enervated, it's like a vampire movie after the vampires have left."
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Since this book first came out in the mid 1980s I have gone through no less than four well-thumbed, well-handled editions that have fallen apart from overuse. This is a compendium of all Pauline Kael's shorter reviews from the front of THE NEW YORKER, and it has perhaps given me more pleasure than any other book in my life. By no means exhaustive (Kael even made a gesture towards its ultimate incompleteness by neglecting to comment directly on GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ), the book covers more films than you would imagine, and its always fun to see what Kael saw and what she thought about it. Her aesthetic--simultaneously magisterial and informal, Olympian and fun-loving--has been discussed, critiqued, and even criticized to death; yet there is no getting around the fact that she is not only smarter than most other movie critics but also funnier. Her reviews of works as disparate as "The White Cliffs of Dover," "The Sound of Music," and the 1951 "Show Boat," have given me joy for years. Buy this, and see if you don't have to buy yourself another copy when the first one wears out.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 1998
This is a very good anthology of Pauline Kael's writings, but capsule reviews are very unsatisfying to those who are familiar with the strengths of her reviews as they were originally written. Kael is known for her flowing, "conversational" writing style; by chopping many of her reviews into two or three paragraphs, the main reasons for reading her in the first place tend to evaporate. In a typical Kael review, she literally layered opinions on top of opinions. It was not enough for her to simply review a movie--she had to express exactly how the directors and actors had grown (or diminished themselves). One looked forward to reading her because she had such a superb way of relating the film she was writing about to other films, whether by the same director or not, and she could intelligently speculate on how the film tied in to current events or may have been a product of them. She would talk expertly about how many films seemed to evolve out of other less superior ones and then expand due to a director's vision and desire to update a particular theme. Kael focused on what a movie is about--what it is really saying--and her dedication and playfulness was quite infectious (the many reviewers who used her style became known as Paulettes.) For a reference book, "5001 Nights At The Movies" is fun to look through; it is full of reviews but it is Kael-lite. She didn't call one of her best books "Deeper Into Movies" for nothing!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2003
As someone who is just beginning to explore the classics, I love being able to see what Pauline Kael thought about many of the most important movies of our time. Since I often agree with her, it helps me save time and money in determining which movies I want to rent (and if not available to rent, buy). All movie titles are in alphabetical order, and there is an index in the back which contains film titles, directors, actors, etc.
However, the capsule reviews can occasionally be misleading. From the capsules, I thought Pauline liked (or at least didn't dislike) "8 1/2" by Fellini and "Hiroshima Mon Amour" by Resnais. But in her book "I Lost It At The Movies", the full reviews are a pretty harsh pan.
I also wish that she had a "Best Movies" list. Nevertheless, still a very useful (but thick) book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2008
Pauline Kael was at her tangy, erudite best in the long-form reviews she wrote for "The New Yorker." Nevertheless, these capsule reviews she culled from her longer articles to comprise "5001 Nights at the Movies" manage to capture the acerbic essence of her style. (There are a few exceptions, such as the bare-bones squib on the Gene Deitch-Jules Feiffer satirical cartoon "Munro," so short and bland that I wonder why they bothered to print it.)
Kael was the first celebrity film critic, and still the most bracing and fun to read, although she can be extremely annoying when you disagree with her. (I don't understand her enthusiasm for John Boorman's indigestible "Excalibur," or her condescending summation of John Ford's masterful "The Quiet Man" as "fearfully Irish and green and hearty," to give two of many examples.) Kael had an encyclopedic knowledge of film technique and history, and she was never afraid to call them the way she saw them. One of her sharpest putdowns was of the Dustin Hoffman-Mia Farrow romantic drama "John and Mary": "Remember when that man in `The Graduate' told Hoffman to go into plastics? Well, he did when he made this one." And she was no respecter of inflated reputations, as when she took on Alain Resnais' revered "Hiroshima, Mon Amour": "Hushed and hypnotic, it makes you feel so conscious of its artistry that you may feel as if you're in church and need to giggle."
Kael excelled at giving readers the exact mood and feel of a movie, and when she was right about a movie, she was very, very right. She puts the finger on Jean Cocteau's "Orphee": "Cocteau's special gift was to raise chic to art." And she was astute enough to call Kurt Russell "a star in the world of the mendacious" for his much underrated comic con man performance in Robert Zemeckis'"Used Cars." She also pinpointed the exact problem with Lawrence Kasdan's Western "Silverado": "The film is so opulent it has a nouveau riche aura about it; it's a counterfeit Western, without the feel of the memorable ones." The book doesn't quite live up to its title--there are 2,800-plus capsule reviews here, not the 5,001 the title would suggest. Nevertheless, they make compulsive reading. Like a giant tub of buttered popcorn, you'll find yourself consuming these reviews till you come to the end.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2013
For those who might think that Pauline Kael couldn't write anything of value without a 1,500 word running start, here, in its entirety, is her opinion of the 1936 Hollywood costume drama, THE GORGEOUS HUSSY:
"The title is deceptive. The film is about Andrew Jackson (Lionel Barrymore) and his Presidential problems. Specifically, it deals with his dissolving his Cabinet because the wives of the members had cut a certain Mrs. Eaton (Joan Crawford). Something like this actually happened, though the picture will never convince anyone of it. Beulah Bondi smokes a corncob with the assurance befitting a First Lady, Melvyn Douglas plays a dreary, gentlemanly John Randolph, and Robert Taylor and Franchot Tone are the handsome young men. Clarence Brown directed. M-G-M. b&w"
Consider the wit and skill that went into summarizing and dispatching this long-forgotten piece of A-list fluff in six sentences, and you'll agree that Kael was as insightful (and deadly) within the length of a paragraph as she was within her preferred review length of several pages. That she did most of it from memory is flabbergasting.
The 2,800 or so reviews included here are a mixture of original entries and ruthlessly edited -- or, as she called it, vandalized -- highlights from her ten collections I LOST IT AT THE MOVIES (1965) through MOVIE LOVE (1991). It's interesting that the bad and mediocre movies considered here seem to outnumber the good ones, but it's the various ways in which those movies fail that make this such a rich and instructive volume for browsing. You'll come across such wonderful observations as, "The picture's ponderousness doesn't keep it from affecting some people deeply...Essentially, this is a dating movie...but for darker times, for times of lower expectations." (THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, 1988) Or better yet, "People hadn't seen anything like it; that didn't mean they needed to." (LITTLE MISS MARKER, 1934)
I won't say that if you care about film you must have this book; that's going too far. On the other hand, if you've ever wondered how sharp your critical focus really is while you're watching a film -- or if you've ever been curious about the merits of THE MODEL AND THE MARRIAGE BROKER (1951) or THE GRACIE ALLEN MURDER CASE (1939) -- you'll find this collection difficult to resist.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 1999
Pauline Kael is fascinating to read, providing you know that you won't necessarily agree with her. In fact, you'll probably become quite irritated with her blindness to the greatness of a film. But Kael is (was) a fantastic reviewer of film, because she never compromises her opinion, she makes you think, and most of all, she obviously loves movies. I say that she makes you think because when she trashes a movie that you may love, ("Star Wars," "2001: A Space Odyssey") you will start coming up with arguments to her points yourself. Thus, she does what any great critic should do: challenge your opinion of a film, and make you gain a new perspective of what made that film great or terrible. Furthermore, Kael was one of the first major critics to do this. I also said that Kael obviously loved movies. This really comes across when she gives a film a good review. Her praise is, to say the least, glowing. If she thinks that a film is brilliant, she seems almost giddy in her writing. In short, Pauline Kael possesses all the qualities of a great reviewer.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2007
Pauline Kael did not specialize in capsule reviews, and in her NEW YORKER columns, any film that did not merit much more than one or two paragraphs was literally and figuratively being given 'short shrift.' The reviews in 5001 NIGHTS AND THE MOVIES were either written (kinda) anonymously for the "About the Town" section or have been largely been edited down from her lengthier reviews to make them more "browser friendly." There are upsides and downsides to this approach. Readers still get a flavor for Kael's sharp, quirky writing style, but also get to the heart of her criticism more readily than they would have in the longer format. Yes, you can see almost immediately whether she LOVED IT or HATED IT, but some of the fun in reading Kael's longer reviews lay in following the twists and turns in her arguments. The more you got used to her highly personalized and somewhat rambling writing style, the more you appreciated her insights, which could be wildly enthusiastic, bitingly negative OR (more often than people gave her credit for) understandably mixed.
Her writing often seemed like an attempt to reason through why a particular film mattered (implicitly, why it mattered to HER, but also why it might matter to other more or less like-minded souls). But even when she was dismissive of a film, she would often write at considerable length as to why it failed, why it still might be a popular success and why it may or may not matter as a cultural artifact, even if it was an artistic disaster.
As some other reviewers have stated: she got you thinking. And even if you vehemently disagreed with her, either in general, or on this or that particular film, that's always a good thing. I remember, in my early 20s, getting excited over the auteur theory debate that was raging(?) a few years prior between Kael and Andrew Sarris. After a bit of reflection, I decided they were both right, in their ways. I'm nothing if not a critical mamby pamby, I guess. But seriously, there was something to be said for the film-as-product-of-an-auteur school and for the film-as-collaboration school. Both critics enhanced my understanding of film, and if that's mamby pamby, so be it.
I'm glad to have this handy compendium of Kael's abbreviated writings. As noted, the capsule format makes for great browsing, and for many reviews, a reference for a more extended treatment (when available) is cited, so that researchers and new found fans can, if they choose, dig up a more exhaustive critique. Be advised, however, that many of the anthologies of her full length reviews are currently out of print. They still may be available through out-of-print services and in public libraries.
If you like what you find in this volume, don't stop there.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 1999
Having read Kael's work for years, I find untenable the assertion that she was favored European "art" film over American cinema. Any perusal of her writings will indicate that she lauded innovative American filmmaking - Scorsese ("Mean Streets", "Taxi Driver"), Coppola ("Godfather I" and "Godfather II"), Altman ("MASH", "McCabe", "Nashville", etc.) and was a discerning and forthright critic of "art" cinema - she does not exactly heap praise on Kubrick, she's rather reserved about Bergman (with some notable exceptions), doesn't have much use for Truffaut between "Jules et Jim" and "Adele H.", adored Antonioni's "L'Avenntura" but didn't like his other work (especially "Blow-Up"), disliked Fellini's carny-collages, and railied against the pretentious art-house cinema mind games of Resnais's "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" and "Last Year at Marienbrad." While she does indeed praise many foreign films - and this alone seems enough to make her a snob in some people's eyes - one comes away from her works of directors she liked (Scorsese's 1980s films, Altman's 1980's films, Satyajit Ray's "Distant Thunder", Bunuel's "The Milky Way") and praised the works of directors she didn't (Alan Parker's "Shoot the Moon"). Granted, she was often critical of popular favorities (and some of my favorities, too - like "Goodfellas", "Wings of Desire", "Raiders of the Lost Ark") but a critic who kowtows to popular sentiment rather than exercises her own judgement isn't a critic but a publicist.
It's ironic that Kael spent most of her life criticizing those "snobs" (like Dwight MacDonald) who refused to acknowledge film as a popular art form - that there could be something aesthetic in a mass art form - and now, people accuse her of the same sort of arrogance. In truth, she was one of the most lucid and analytical film critics of her time. When she dug into a film's themes, a director's motives, an actor's performance, or a cinematographer's color scheme, she could make any subject complusively readable. And she performed the critics' most important function (which is not panning, despite what people may think) -- she helped one see elements and ideas in films that were frequently overlooked or taken for granted and she helped you to see them in new ways. You may have disagreed with her but you walked away from reading her work a sharper film viewer than before. The only flaw with a collection like "5000 Nights" is that all you get are summaries, not the complete reviews, so you can't get a full appreciation of her essayistic skills. For that reason, this book should be complemented with "For Keeps" to round out not only the breadth but depth of her writings
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2006
There's no doubt that Pauline Kael turned film criticism into an art form--she loved movies, was grounded in the details of every film she reviewed, was a writer of great abilily and possesed a wit second to none...
"5001 Nights At The Movies" contains 2800 capsule reviews that originally appeared in the Goings On About Town section of the New Yorker...
Is is vintage Kael, with this new expanded edition (first edition was published in 1984) containing 2800 reviews and adding material through 1991, so the reader get Kael's takes on "Goodfellas" and "Field of Dreams" for example.
Kael retired from film criticism in 1991 stating she was doing so to avoid sitting through another Oliver Stone film.
The notorius Kael wit is evident on almost every page--she describes Yoda as "looking like a Won Ton and talking like a fortune cookie" and completely obliterates Sinatra's tepid 1966 spy film "The Naked Runner" by stating 'it would be a good movie to read by if there were light in the theater'.
Most of Kael's classic review collections (Hooked, Deeper Into Movies, After the Lights Go Down, Reeling at al ) are currently out of print, but the availabity of "5001 Nights At The Movies" along with its companion piece "For Keeps," is a blessing for film lovers.