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I Lost it at the Movies Paperback – January 1, 1994
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
Published in 1965, this is Pauline Kael's first book. It is at once her most uncharacteristic volume of essays and one of her most interesting. Rather than trace recent movie openings on a week-by-week basis, Kael here recalls classics by Ophuls, Renoir, and Bergman and comments on some of the international masterpieces of the early '60s. She also meditates on the state of the art in provocatively titled pieces like "Are Movies Going to Pieces?," "Fantasies of the Art House Audience," and "Is There a Cure for Film Criticism?" Few movie reviewers of any generation can match her wit or intelligence. And almost no one can equal her passion for an art that had such an indelible impact upon her life; Kael's treatment of Vittorio De Sica's masterpiece Shoeshine is perhaps the most intimate and beautiful movie review ever written.
From the Inside Flap
I Lost It at the Movies is vintage Kael on such classics of post-war cinema as On the Waterfront, Smiles of a Summer Night, West Side Story, The Seven Samurai, Lolita, Jules et Jim, etc., writing comments so fresh and direct, it's as if the movies had only been released last week.
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Simply put, Pauline Kael ranks alongside James Agee, Manny Farber, Dorothy Parker, Andrew Sarris and Frank Rich as one of the greatest American critics of the Twentieth Century. Unlike too many "movie reviewers" who think a snappy quip is all that's required, Kael gave intense analysis even to films she disliked intensely, so that her judgements were highly nuanced and thought through. Her insight into the shift in filmmaking and film consumption in the mid-late Twentieth Century, coupled with understanding of earlier movie eras, helps clarify the Sixties American switch from "movies" to "cinema"...and back again during the Reagan Eighties. She was a lifelong "movie lover" with the intelligence to comprehend the meaning of non-mainstream "cinema" - and the wisdom to know when its praise was earned, and when it was just pseudointellectual cliquishness.
This first collection is, in many ways, Kael's most "critique-y", containing a series of long articles on topics like the growing "cinerati" fondness for films with oblique narratives like LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD or LA NOTTE ("Zeitgeist and Poltergeist"), the "deep cinema" movies that were in their way as fraudulent as Hollywood's worst ("Fantasies of the Art House Audience"), and even a lengthy swipe at McCarthyism's corruption of Hollywood which should be required reading for Ann Coulter and every other "HUAC apologist" ("Morality Plays Right and Left"). There are also witty and thoughtful reviews of both "arthouse" and popular films of the mid-Fifties through mid-Sixties.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough - and I urge some US publisher to reprint her entire ouerve, and Amazon to "Kindleize" her work so that a new generation can appreciate the greatness of spirit that was Pauline Kael.
I love her reviews now for the same reason I loved them then -- she makes me want to see the movies she writes about. And more than that, she makes me want to see movies, period. Her passion for the medium -- even when she doesn't like a film -- is contagious, and she expresses it beautifully.
Surprisingly to me, in these early reviews she frequently quotes the reviews of other critics and then mercilessly takes apart what they have said. She particularly has it in for the New York Times' Bosley Crowther, but she doesn't let others off the hook easily, either.
Kael is fun to read, even if you haven't seen the movie she is talking about. I've never seen "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone", though I have seen "Suddenly Last Summer" -- both based on works of Tennessee Williams. But Kael's 1961 review of "Mrs. Stone" is a hilarious read. In one part, she says:
"The men who filmed 'The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone' seem to think the idea of an aging woman seeking companionship and love so daring and unusual that they fumble around with it almost as much as the doctor in the screen version of 'Suddenly, Last Summer', who couldn't seem to cope with the simple facts of Sebastian's homosexuality and kept saying, 'You DON'T mean THAT?'-- 'No, it CAN'T be THAT?' -- 'WHAT are you saying?' -- 'What do you MEAN?' I assumed the youngest child in the audience would get the point before he did. By trying so diligently to make Mrs. Stone so sympathetic and understandable the director and writer, Jose Quintero and Gavin Lambert, kill all interest in her. We could accept a woman buying love, but why make her haggle over it?"
Kael is hilarious, maddening, and most of all, thought-provoking. And if you love movies, she'll make you love them more.