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Posted 6/21/2016 4:16pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Roger Ebert, The Great Movies III (2010), says in a review of The Godfather II (1974), P. 171:

No false romanticism conceals the necessity of using murder to do business. Such events as Vito’s (Robert DeNiro plays the young Don in the 1920's who is in turn played by Marlon Brando in the 1950's in The Godfather I) murder of the minor-league New York godfather have their barbarism somewhat softened as Coppola adopts Vito’s point of view and follows him as he climbs rooftops to ambush the man and successfully escapes. It is a built-in reality that we tend to identify with a film’s POV. 

Posted 6/15/2016 9:58am by Eugene Wyatt.

But first Pauline Kael to set the scene:

Monsieur Verdoux (1947)—Chaplin as a Parisian bank clerk—a dapper Bluebeard—in a comedy with attempted Shavian ironies. This private entrepreneur who charms rich widows and murders them for their money feels guiltless, and contrasts what he does with what governments do in war. “Numbers sanctify,” he says. Chaplin is more talented at carrying out his pantomime bits than in the talky, anti-war passages, which are meant to be complexly unsettling and come across as dubious and even rather lamebrained. There are also static sentimental interludes about Verdoux’s devotion to his virtuous wife (Mady Correll). The casting is not all it might be, with the glorious exception of Martha Raye as Annabella, who is so full of low-comedy life that, despite all Verdoux’s calculations, and one attempt after another, he fails to kill her. With Isobel Elsom, Marilyn Nash, William Frawley, Virginia Brissac, Robert Lewis, Fritz Leiber, and a glimpse of Edna Purviance. Produced, written, and directed by Chaplin, with Robert Florey and Wheeler Dryden as his assistant directors. United Artists. b & w.

5001 Nights At The Movies, A guide from A to Z (1982) Pauline Kael, P. 494.


The wife and child are shut away in a home which is at once a shrine and a jail; and there, immobilized, and cut off from the truth, they virtually cease to exist as living objects of love; they become an ever more rigid dream. For when the worst and the best in the personality are thus segregated, and the worst is thus utilized in the nominal service of the best, it is inevitably the good which is exploited; the evil, which thinks of itself as faithful slave, is treacherous master; and evil, being active and knowledgeable, grows; and good, rendered motionless and denied knowledge, withers.

P. 252.

Good and evil are inextricable, Verdoux insists. But his fatal mistake was in trying to keep them apart. If the film is regarded as a metaphor for the personality, and through that metaphor, as a metaphor for the personality as the family as business as war as civilization as murder, then this is certain: if the man and wife had honored their marriage with more than their child, the murders would never have been committed, the paralysis would never have imposed itself or would have been dissolved, and the wife and child would never have been shut into that exquisite tabernacle of a closed garden, but all three would have lived as one in that poverty for which the wife was forlorn, in the intactness of soul and the irresponsibility of that anarchic and immortal lily of the field, the tramp, the most humane and most nearly complete among the religious figures our time has evolved; whom for once in his life Chaplin set aside, to give his century its truest portrait of the upright citizen.

Agee On Film: Criticism And Comment On The Movies 1942-1948 James Agee, P. 257.

Because Agee was too close to the war (1947) he didn't say (perhaps because of personal convictions or he was too timid of the censors or of his higher-ups at The Nation, etc.) what the direct-speaking and courageous Chaplin as Monsieur Verdoux said on his way to the guillotine, (and I paraphrase) 'I only killed a few but war, as a business, has killed millions.'

As talky as the film was (Chaplin was first and foremost a silent star) Monsieur Verdoux remains superb.

Posted 6/13/2016 7:37pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Last Tango In Paris (1972) ... in this film, Bernardo Bertolucci used sex to express the characters’ drives. Marlon Brando, as the aging American, Paul, is working out his aggression on the young bourgeois French girl, Jeanne (Maria Schneider), and the physical menace of sexuality that is emotionally charged is such a departure from everything that audiences had come to expect at the movies that the film created a sensation.

5001 Nights At The Movies, A guide from A to Z (1982) Pauline Kael P. 410.

The script (which Bertolucci wrote with Franco Arcalli) is in French and English; it centers on a man’s attempt to separate sex from everything else. When his wife commits suicide, Paul, an American living in Paris, tries to get away from his life. He goes to look at an empty flat and meets Jeanne, who is also looking at it. They have sex in an empty room, without knowing anything about each other—not even first names. He rents the flat, and for three days they meet there. She wants to know who he is, but he insists that sex is all that matters. We see both of them (as they don’t see each other) in their normal lives—Paul back at the flophouse-hotel his wife owned, Jeanne with her mother, the widow of a colonel, and with her adoring fiancé (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a TV director, who is relentlessly shooting a sixteen-millimeter film about her, a film that is to end in a week with their wedding.

The Age Of Movies (2011) Pauline Kael P. 332

When they meet in the outside world, Jeanne sees Paul as a washed-up middle-aged man—a man who runs a flophouse.

The Age Of Movies (2011) Pauline Kael P. 333

It’s a bold and imaginative work—a great work. When Brando improvises within Bertolucci’s structure, his full art is realized; his performance is intuitive, rapt, princely. 

5001 Nights At The Movies, A guide from A to Z (1982) Pauline Kael P. 410.

Bertolucci builds a structure that supports improvisation. Everything is prepared, but everything is subject to change, and the whole film is alive with a sense of discovery. Bertolucci builds the characters “on what the actors are in themselves. I never ask them to interpret something preëxistent, except for dialogue—and even that changes a lot.” For Bertolucci, the actors “make the characters.” And Brando knows how to improvise: it isn’t just Brando improvising, it’s Brando improvising as Paul. This is certainly similar to what Mailer was trying to do as the gangster and the cop and the movie director, but when (Norman) Mailer improvises (in his films: Wild 90 and Beyond The Law), he expresses only a bit of himself. When Brando improvises within Bertolucci’s structure, his full art is realized. His performance is not like Mailer’s acting but like Mailer’s best writing: intuitive, rapt, princely. On the screen, Brando is our genius as Mailer is our genius in literature.

The Age Of Movies (2011) Pauline Kael P. 335

Working with Brando, Bertolucci achieves realism with the terror of actual experience still alive on the screen. With Jean-Pierre Léaud, Massimo Girotti, Catherine Allegret, and Maria Michi. Script by Bertolucci and the editor, Franco Arcalli; cinematography by Vittorio Storaro; music by Gato Barbieri; production design by Ferdinando Scarfiotti; produced by Alberto Grimaldi. 

5001 Nights At The Movies, A guide from A to Z (1982) Pauline Kael P. 410.

Posted 6/10/2016 3:12pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Pauline Kael was the film critic for The New Yorker from 1967 to 1991, " ... in the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising."

Posted 6/8/2016 9:46pm by Eugene Wyatt.

... we can turn to (Kael's) review of Sidney J. Furie's Lady Sings the Blues, the biography of Billie Holiday:

"Lady Sings the Blues" fails to do justice to the musical life of which Billie Holiday was a part, and it never shows what made her a star, much less what made her an artist. The sad truth is that there is no indication that those who made the picture understand that jazz is any different from pop corruptions of jazz. And yet when the movie was over I wrote "I love it" on my pad of paper and closed it and stuffed it back in my pocket. 

Pauline Kael The New Yorker 1972.

She goes on in that review to say that certain movies have a "chemistry of pop vulgarization [that] is all-powerful." Lady Sings the Blues has "what makes movies work for a mass audience: easy pleasure, tawdry electricity, personality, great quantities of personality."

While John Simon would balk at the rationale here (steeped as it is in self-analysis.and sociology), other critics and moviegoers find this frankness, combined with Kael's standards, a more tenable approach to criticism. Whatever else you say about it, you must admit that Kael's rationale is never cloaked. You always know what she is thinking and why--and her prose is straightforward. 

A Comparative Study Of Selected American Film Critics 1958-1974 Joseph Blades 1976, p. 52.

Posted 6/8/2016 8:08pm by Eugene Wyatt.

The New Yorker film critic (1967-1991)

Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.

Trash, Art And The Movies from Going Steady, Pauline Kael 1968, p. 85.

Posted 6/1/2016 12:55pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Monica Vitti As Claudia ln L'Avventura (1960)

Monica Vitti: I like prominent noses on women, it has to do with pride.

The characters are Too shallow to be truly lonely, they are people trying to escape their boredom in each other and finding it there. They become reconciled to life only by resignation. Claudia, the only one capable of love, is defeated like the rest; her love turns to pity.

I Lost It At The Movies, 1961 Pauline Kael, p. 148-149.

By the way Pauline Kael liked, like I like Monica Vitti, L'Avventura.

Posted 5/27/2016 9:54pm by Eugene Wyatt.

This evening I happened to be watching an example of Film Noirspecifically The Big Sleep, adapted as a screenplay from the Raymond Chandler novel by William Faulkner et al, starring Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian, directed by Howard Hawks, 1946. Chandler, through his characters Marlowe and Vivian, mentions Marcel Proust.

The screenplay, The Big Sleep,

Vivian : So you do get up, I was beginning to think you worked in bed like Marcel Proust.

Marlowe : Who’s he ?

Vivian : You wouldn’t know him, a French writer.

Marlowe : Come into my boudoir.

The novel, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler 1939, 

Vivian « Well, you do get up »

Wrinkling her nose at the faded red settee, the two odd semi-easy chairs, the net curtains that needed laundering and the boy’s size library table with the venerable magazines on it to give the place a professional touch.

Vivian « I was beginning to think perhaps you worked in bed, like Marcel Proust. »

Marlowe « Who’s he ? »

I put a cigarette in my mouth and stared at her. She looked a little pale and strained, but she looked like a girl who could function under a strain.

Vivian « A French writer, a connoisseur in degenerates. You wouldn’t know him. »

Marlowe « Tut, tut, come into my boudoir. »

Posted 5/25/2016 5:13pm by Eugene Wyatt.

In the mid '80s,

... (A)t a film critics meeting, Pauline Kael leaned over to Richard Schickel and whispered, “It isn’t any fun anymore.” When Schickel asked why, she answered, “Remember how it was in the ’60s and ’70s, when movies were hot, when we were hot? Movies seemed to matter.” 

The Complete History Of American Film Criticism (2010) Jerry Roberts, Loc 4905.

Posted 5/25/2016 5:07pm by Eugene Wyatt.

I wish somebody could convince me that the movies are not just about over. They’re so sensationalistic, they’re so empty, they’re so cruel, they’re so fast paced. The only thing that convinces me I’ve been to the movies is that I’m sick to my stomach.

Mark Crispin Miller, Head of the Media Studies program at Johns Hopkins University in The Atlantic Monthly.