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5001 Nights at the Movies Paperback – Bargain Price, May 1, 1991

4.1 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, May 1, 1991
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This series of capsule movie reviews by the great Pauline Kael is actually an anthology of her writings for the "Goings on About Town" section of the New Yorker magazine. In 5001 Nights, Kael digs into the heart of each movie she considers with extraordinary penetration and exuberance. And while every movie you know may not appear here, each of Kael's reviews is detailed enough to provide tremendous insight into the movies that are covered. This book is as much fun to browse as it is to read through. Whether you've run the rounds at your local video store, Kael will lead you to treasures you may not know are out there. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


“She is, indeed, the Edmund Wilson of film reviewers.” ―Larry McMurtry

“She's the best film critic we've got.” ―Details

“A great critic…with a body of criticism that can be compared with Shaw's criticism of music and the theatre.” ―The Times Literary Supplement (London)

“Kael changed the way we see. Poets aren't the only unacknowledged legislators of the world; great critics write the text as well.” ―San Francisco Examiner

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 960 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Company (May 1, 1991)
  • ISBN-10: 0805013679
  • ASIN: B0006SHMPM
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,434,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on April 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
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."
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Format: Paperback
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.
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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!
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Format: Paperback
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.
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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.
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