Believe it or not, there was a time when film critics were widely discussed and debated, none more so than Pauline Kael during her long tenure at The New Yorker. Equal parts essayist, crusader and provocateur, she famously championed emerging talents and held them to account when they disappointed her.
Rob Garver’s valuable documentary will serve as a primer for those who don’t know about Kael and an evocative reminder of what she meant to those of us who grew up reading her. Using home movies, talk show clips, flashes of vintage films, and interviews with friends and admirers like Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell, What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is stimulating and informative. I learned about Kael’s struggle to get by as a single mother—even after landing the coveted New Yorker gig. Her daughter Gina James is a prominent voice in the film and relates that even that august publication didn’t afford Kael a living wage.
I vividly recall her firing from McCall’s magazine after a scathing review of The Sound of Music and read about acrimonious meetings of the New York Film Critics Circle where she sparred with Andrew Sarris. No one was spared her poison pen, but if you were one of her protégés she could be uncommonly generous. Seeing her speaking extemporaneously on television is a particular treat; I doubt that she could find such a forum today.
No film buff or budding critic should miss this. What She Said opens at Film Forum in Manhattan today. For more information about the film, go to www.paulinekaelmovie.com