Saturday, June 20, 2009
[To close out postings for Pauline Kael Week (consider the discussions ongoing), here are some scrumptious Kael morsels.]
Full reviews of the following films can be found in For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies.
Last Tango in Paris
This is a movie people will be arguing about, I think, for as long as there are movies. They’ll argue about how it was intended, as they argue again now about The Dance of Death. It is a movie you can’t get out of your system, and I think it will make some people very angry and disgust others. I don’t believe that there’s anyone whose feelings can be totally resolved about the sex scenes and the social attitudes in this film.
The Godfather – Part II
Throughout the three hours and twenty minutes of Part II, there are so many moments of epiphany – mysterious, reverberant images, such as the small Vito singing in his cell – that one scarcely has the emotional resources to deal with the experience of this film. Twice, I almost cried out at acts of violence that De Niro’s Vito committed. I didn’t look away from the images, as I sometimes do at routine action pictures. I wanted to see the worst; there is a powerful need to see it.
Is there such a thing as an orgy for movie-lovers – but an orgy without excess? At Robert Altman’s new, almost three-hour film, Nashville, you don’t get drunk on images, you’re not overpowered – you get elated. I’ve never before seen a movie I loved in quite this way: I sat there smiling at the screen, in complete happiness. It’s a pure emotional high, and you don’t come down when the picture is over; you take it with you.
No other film has ever dramatized urban indifference so powerfully; at first, here, it’s horrifyingly funny, and then just horrifying. … The violence in this movie is so threatening precisely because it’s cathartic for Travis. I imagine that some people who are angered by the film will say that it advocates violence as a cure for frustration. But to acknowledge hat when a psychopath’s blood boils over he may cool down is not the same as justifying the eruption.
The Deer Hunter
He [Robert De Niro] fails conspicuously in only one sequence – when he’s required to grab Nick’s bloody head and shake it. You don’t shake someone who’s bleeding, and De Niro can’t rise above the stupidity of this conception; even his weeping doesn’t move us. We have come to expect a lot from De Niro: miracles. And he delivers them – he brings a bronze statue almost to life. He takes the Pathfinder-Deerslayer role and gives it every flourish he can dream up. He does improvisations on nothing, and his sea-to-shining-sea muscularity is impulsive. But Michael, the transcendent hero, is a hollow figure. There is never a moment when we feel, Oh my God, I know that man, I am that man.
Return of the Jedi
If a filmmaker wants backing for a new project, there’d better be a video game in it. Producers are putting so much action and so little character or point into their movies that there’s nothing for a viewer to latch on to. The battle between good and evil, which is the theme of just about every big fantasy adventure film, has become a flabby excuse for a lot of dumb tricks and noise. It has got to the point where some of us might be happy to see good and evil quit fighting and become friends.
What is this commercial selling? It’s just selling, because that’s what the producers, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and the director Tony (Make It Glow) Scott, know how to do. Selling is what they think moviemaking is about. The result is a new “art” form: the self-referential commercial. Top Gun is a recruiting poster that isn’t concerned with recruiting but with being a poster.
The film’s kinkiness isn’t alienating – it’s naïveté keeps it from that. And its vision isn’t alienating: this is American darkness – darkness in color, darkness with a happy ending. Lynch might turn out to be the first populist surrealist – a Frank Capra of dream logic.
I know that Platoon is being acclaimed for its realism, and I expect to be chastised for being a woman finding fault with a war film. But I’ve probably seen as much combat as most of the men saying, “This is how war is.”
Full Metal Jacket
It’s very likely that Kubrick has become so wrapped up in his “craft” – which is often called his “genius” – that he doesn’t recognize he’s cut off not only from America and the effects the war had on it but from any sort of connection to people. (The only memorable character in the his films of the past twenty years is Hal the computer.) What happened to the Kubrick who used to slip in sly, subtle jokes and little editing tricks? This may be his worst movie. He probably believes he’s numbing us by the power of his vision, but he’s actually numbing us by its emptiness. Like a star child, Kubrick floats above the characters of Full Metal Jacket, the story, the audience. Moviemaking carried to a technical extreme – to the reach for supreme control of his material – seems to have turned Kubrick into a machine.
Casualties of War
The movie about war and rape – De Palma’s nineteenth film – is the culmination of his best work. In essence, it’s feminist. I think that in his earlier movies De Palma was always involved in examining (and sometimes satirizing) victimization, but he was often accused of being a victimizer. Some moviegoers (women, especially) were offended by his thrillers; they thought there was something reprehensibly sadistic in his cleverness. He was clever. When people talk about their sex fantasies, their descriptions almost always sound like movies, and De Palma headed right for that linkage: he teased the audience about how susceptible it was to romantic manipulation. Carrie and Dressed to Kill are like lulling erotic reveries that keep getting broken into by scary jokes. He let you know that he was jerking you around and that it was for your amused, childish delight, but a lot of highly vocal people expressed shock. This time, De Palma touches on raw places in people’s reaction to his earlier movies; he gets at the reality that may have made some moviegoers too fearful to enjoy themselves. He goes to the heart of sexual victimization, and he does it with a new authority. The way he makes movies now, it’s as if he were saying, “What is getting older if it isn’t learning more ways that you’re vulnerable?”
Born on the Fourth of July
Oliver Stone has a taste for blood and fire, and for the anguish and disillusionment that follow. Everything is in capital letters. He flatters the audience with the myth that we believed in the war and then we woke up; like Ron Kovic, we’re turned into generic Eagle Scouts.
The filmmaking process becomes the subject of the movie. All you want to talk about is the glorious whizzing camera, the freeze-frames and jump cuts. That may be why young film enthusiasts are so turned on by Scorsese’s work: they don’t just respond to his films, they want to be him. When Orson Welles made Touch of Evil, the filmmaking process just about took over – that movie was one flourish after another. But that was 1958, and making a thriller about your own wallowing love of the film medium was a thrilling stunt.
Dances With Wolves
There’s nothing affected about Costner’s acting or directing. You hear his laid-back, surfer accent; you see his deliberate goofy faints and falls, and all the closeups of his handsomeness. This epic was made by a bland megalomaniac. (The Indians should have named him Plays with Camera.)