Friday, September 6, 2013

For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies

1994, undated later edition, from William Abrahams
Pauline Kael
For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies
Original price $34.95, purchase price $10.00
Hardcover with part of the index loose, worn dustjacket

I ended up skimming the last 300 pages or so, since that goes from State of the Art to the index, but the book is almost 1300 pages, perhaps the longest one I own.  I didn't care for most of her early reviews, and it didn't help that in Hud she jokes about attempted rape.  Reading so many of her reviews, I better understood her attitude towards violence.  In a late '70s essay, she sees squeamish people as judgmental and afraid of being moved by a movie.  She mainly has a problem with violence if it's used fascistly and/or unemotionally.

What I like best in her writing in this collection is her sense of movie history, both that she clearly remembers what it was like to watch movies in her youth-- including how disruptive the "titles" (word cards in between the action) in silent films were-- and that she can draw parallels between movies, as well as theatre, literature, and other sources.  The "Raising Kane" essay on Citizen Kane includes a lot of information and anecdotes about not only that movie but Hollywood and those times.  (She tells of running into Hearst on the dance floor!)

As always with Kael, there are movies I just don't care about, movies I'm eager to see her opinion on, and movies where she's got a great pithy quote.  For instance, the last line from When the Lights Go Down, regarding Richard Chamberlain's overacting, "His toes act in his shoes."  And this one, that I enjoyed for years even before The Tales of Beedle the Bard came along, on Sandy Dennis, "She's an icky little rabbit Babbitt."  Also, Kael of course quotes the audience, including her companions, as when she "overheard some young man exclaiming, 'I could listen to that music [in West Side Story] forever,' my little daughter answered, 'We have been listening to it forever.'"

As I noted earlier, Kael died in 2001, but her influence is still felt a dozen years later, twenty after she retired.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading this omnibus, as opposed to the individual collections, but if you can get it at a bargain, as I did, it's worth picking up. 

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