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At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’, 24 September 2020

... some of his books: Wordsworth (whom he has already mentioned in the car), David Foster Wallace and Pauline Kael, both of whom feature later in the film. But interesting isn’t quite the word for Lucy’s finding in one of Jake’s books – Rotten Perfect Mouth (2015) by Eva H.D. – a poem we heard her recite to Jake as one of her own, finished just ...

Scentless Murder

Michael Wood: Billy Wilder, 2 March 2000

Conversations with Wilder 
by Cameron Crowe.
Faber, 373 pp., £20, December 1999, 0 571 20162 8
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... a clever, lively director whose work lacks feeling or passion or grace or elegance.’ This is Pauline Kael on Billy Wilder’s One Two Three (1961). Wilder himself seems to agree about this film. ‘It’s a kind of sporadically good picture.’ And: ‘It was not funny. But just the speed was funny.’ Of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes ...
Cary Grant: A Class Apart 
by Graham McCann.
Fourth Estate, 346 pp., £16.99, September 1996, 1 85702 366 8
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... man in a fix is, of course, Cary Grant – a man whose ‘lean-fitting suit’, according to Pauline Kael, ‘seemed the skin of his character’. His audience has come to see his suits as part of his image: clean-cut and suave, all-weather, drip-dry. Together, they can go through anything and come up smelling of Fabergé. As in art, in life: Grant ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Mank’, 21 January 2021

... Much​ of what Pauline Kael had to say in ‘Raising Kane’ (1971), her long article in the New Yorker, got lost in the controversy it created. One of her aims was to draw attention to Herman Mankiewicz’s role in writing the screenplay for Citizen Kane (1941), and therefore in the success of the film. But, more interestingly, she was also evoking a whole school of New York writers, for whom Mankiewicz could be made to stand representative: a set of wisecracking, worldly figures supposedly attracted to Hollywood by the prospect of copious easy money, who created not a genre of film, but rather a style that prepared the way for Citizen Kane ...


Marilyn Butler, 22 January 1981

Three-Quarter Face 
by Penelope Gilliatt.
Secker, 295 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 9780436179587
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Show People 
by Kenneth Tynan.
Weidenfeld, 317 pp., £8.95, October 1980, 0 297 77842 0
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When the lights go down 
by Pauline Kael.
Boyars, 592 pp., £8.95, August 1980, 0 7145 2726 2
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... the most dazzling of British post-war reviewers wasn’t wasting his time when star-gazing. If Pauline Kael’s book is finally better than the other two, that is largely because she isn’t apologetic about her journalistic brief. She includes one profile, to be sure, that of Cary Grant, but it’s an account of his career and says nothing about his ...

It Rhymes

Michael Wood, 6 April 1995

The Wild Party 
by Joseph Moncure March, with drawings by Art Spiegelman .
Picador, 112 pp., £9.99, November 1994, 0 330 33656 8
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... Pauline Kael used to write witheringly about musicals said to appeal to people who didn’t like musicals, and we might feel the same about poems for people who don’t like poems. ‘Here is a poem,’ the blurb for The Wild Party says, ‘that can make even readers who have no time for poetry stop dead in their tracks ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Innocents’, 9 January 2014

The Innocents 
directed by Jack Clayton.
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... including the house, the uncle, the children and the governess. This seems pretty conclusive. Pauline Kael, in a remarkable essay from her pre-New Yorker days, wrote of ‘that little wet tear, that little pearl of ambiguity’, and her piece was accompanied by a still of Kerr staring at the damp spot on her finger. Is the instance even ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘De Palma’, 20 October 2016

... and remains perhaps his best film. He himself is now rather dismissive of The Fury (1978), but Pauline Kael loved it, thought it had ‘the greatest finish for any villain ever’. Dressed to Kill (1980), Scarface (1983) and The Untouchables (1987) confirmed De Palma’s reputation as one of the most accomplished directors of his generation, although ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’, 5 April 2012

The Bad and the Beautiful 
directed by Vincente Minnelli.
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... Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), soon to be shown in cinemas across the country. Pauline Kael thought it was ‘spangled’ and ‘overwrought’, although she did have a kind word for the ‘hysterical stylishness’ of the direction, of which I suppose those slow shots of the empty sound stages would be an example. There is another ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: The films of Carol Reed, 19 October 2006

Odd Man Out 
directed by Carol Reed.
September 2006
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... be the director of Oliver! (1968). A better question – since Oliver! is a pretty good movie, and Pauline Kael, if no other critic, found something of the earlier Reed in it – would be how he could be the director of The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965). There must be many answers, including money, 20th Century Fox and sheer professionalism: what ...

Brand New Day

Niela Orr: ‘The Wiz’ and the Prez, 18 March 2021

... to teach the older kids, but scared to leave her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry to live on her own. Pauline Kael wrote that Ross was too old to play Dorothy, but Ross’s evident sense of failure and existential torpor make her Dorothy a more interesting character than the pre-teen played by Garland. Ross’s Dorothy is hemmed in, frightened of ...

Green Films

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 1 April 1982

Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage 
by Stanley Cavell.
Harvard, 283 pp., £12.25, December 1981, 0 674 73905 1
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... to her: ‘will you?’ Like the other pairs in the other films, they have played childish games. Pauline Kael was right, and speaks for many critics, although Cavell mentions almost none, when she called them all ‘a race of bitter, cynical and childish people’. But only partly right, for they have had to go into childhood to come out to see, as ...


David Thomson: LA Rhapsody, 27 January 2022

Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis and Los Angeles, California 
by Matthew Specktor.
Tin House, 378 pp., $17.95, July 2021, 978 1 951142 62 9
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... own career when in 1980, in the New York Review of Books, she published an 8000-word demolition of Pauline Kael, a more important and valuable film critic than anyone else in sight. It isn’t that Kael didn’t deserve some comeuppance, and she had walked off her own plank by going out to LA (she couldn’t drive!) to ...


Christopher Hitchens: On the Original Non-Event , 20 April 1995

... by Robert Altman in The Player, that is turning out turkey upon turkey. A few years ago, Pauline Kael wrote a celebrated article, based on a season spent in Hollywood, about why the movies were so rank these days. She anatomised the process now known as ‘development’, by which every drop of blood and every smidgen of originality was ...

Doing blow

Michael Wood, 25 July 1991

You’ll never eat lunch in this town again 
by Julia Phillips.
Heinemann, 650 pp., £15.99, June 1991, 0 434 58801 6
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... making movies is (was) enough for some. Audiences have ‘become afraid of American movies’, Pauline Kael wrote in 1976. People used to go to cosy American films and stay away from worrying European works. Now they see frothy French comedies because they are scared of The Godfather II, Nashville, and needless to say, Taxi Driver. I don’t know how ...

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