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Kael? Sarris?

The critics convene at the Coolidge
By GERALD PEARY  |  October 31, 2007

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Pauline Kael

“Kael was a presence, a factor in how many of us do our jobs,” argued Salon.com’s Stephanie Zacharek. Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman agreed: “She was the Elvis, or the Beatles, of film criticism.”

When he was a student, Gleiberman added, he wrote a fan note to Kael, and she wrote back. “It was like God had sent me a letter.”

“I think the time is ripe for a guerrilla attack on Pauline,” answered David Sterritt, president of the National Society of Film Critics. This was the most argumentative anyone got. Sterritt went on, “I honestly think more people were influenced by Andy Sarris than Pauline Kael. He was always writing about interesting directors I’d never heard of, and ‘B’ movies, and spectacles.” The LA Weekly’s Scott Foundas nominated Manny Farber for Most Important Critic consideration, and Premiere magazine’s Glenn Kenny brought up Robin Wood, the British critic who has lived for decades in Toronto.

At its most fossilized, when nine voices droned on, unchecked, about some dimly interesting film-critic concern, “Beyond Thumbs Up” resembled that most deadening playing field of discourse, an academic conference. Yawn and snore! But that wasn’t often: critics are far wittier, and a hundred times less earnest, than most college profs I know. So much of the two days of discussion proved flavorful because film critics are interesting thinkers with insightful things to say about their profession. For instance:

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe: “I have to be cognizant at the Globe that I have all kinds of readership. Some like movies, some don’t, some take their kids. I try to address the consumer audience in the first couple of paragraphs of a review. Then I can go on to an audience who cares about culture and, in the back half, try to explain the film to myself.”

Phillip Lopate, author of American Movie Critics: “I want to speak against the notion of risk and edginess, [the idea] that the subversive, the transgressive, is always what’s important. If I put up Lubitsch, Ford, Mizoguchi versus the edginess of Altman and Scorsese, I’d take the first group. I want a film to show sublimity, to have wisdom, compassion, and a visual rigor. Not 10 styles, one style.”

Armond White of the New York Press: “I consider myself a pop-culture kid, always interested in what’s new. But I’m not always taken in by what’s new.”

Scott Foundas: “Seriousness is a great liability in our culture. The critical voice has less influence today than ever. Local critics are put on other beats, put out to pasture. I get e-mails all the time at the LA Weekly from young critics, and I often try them out with a freelance review. You can still get your foot in the door. But I tell them also: [for a profession as a film critic,] there’s no future.”

Related: Vitus, Flashbacks: June 9, 2006, The hub of film criticism?, More more >
  Topics: Film Culture , Elvis Presley, Entertainment, Movies,  More more >
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