Monday, June 15, 2009

Kael on Violence in Cinema

[Let’s kick off Pauline Kael Week with excerpts from her review of A Clockwork Orange. Kael wasn’t a fan of the film or its director, Stanley Kubrick, but she makes several arguments here that transcend the film in question. Please read and react in the comments section. Let's get a discussion going!]

The following is excerpted from “Stanley Strangelove,” by Pauline Kael, originally published in The New Yorker, January 1, 1972. It has been anthologized in For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies, pages 414-418. (In some cases, paragraph breaks and ellipsis have been added. All other punctuation is faithful to For Keeps.)

Stanley Kubrick’s Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is not so much an expression of how this society has lost its soul as he is a force pitted against the society, and by making the victims of the thugs more repulsive and contemptible than the thugs Kubrick has learned to love the punk sadist. The end is no longer the ironic triumph of a mechanized punk but a real triumph. Alex is the only likable person we see – his cynical bravado suggests a broad-nosed, working-class Olivier – and the movie puts us on his side. Alex, who gets kicks out of violence, is more alive than anybody else in the movie, and younger and more attractive, and McDowell plays him exuberantly, with the power and slyness of a young Cagney.

Despite what Alex does at the beginning, McDowell makes you root for his foxiness, for his crookedness. For most of the movie, we see him tortured and beaten and humiliated, so when his bold, aggressive punk’s nature is restored to him it seems not a joke on all of us but, rather, a victory in which we share, and Kubrick takes an exultant tone. The look in Alex’s eyes at the end tells us that he isn’t just a mechanized, choiceless sadist but prefers sadisms and knows he can get by with it. Far from being a little parable about the dangers of soullessness and the horrors of force, whether employed by individuals against each other for by society in “conditioning,” the movie becomes a vindication of Alex, saying that the punk was a free human being and only the good Alex was a robot.

The trick of making the attacked less human than their attackers, so you feel no sympathy for them, is, I think, symptomatic of a new attitude in movies. This attitude says there’s no moral difference. Stanley Kubrick has assumed the deformed, self-righteous perspective of a vicious young punk who says, “Everything’s rotten. Why shouldn’t I do what I want? They’re worse than I am.” In the new mood (perhaps movies in their cumulative effect are partly responsible for it), people want to believe the hyperbolic worst, want to believe in the degradation of the victims – that they are dupes and phonies and weaklings. I can’t accept that Kubrick is merely reflecting this post-assassinations, post-Manson mood; I think he’s catering to it. I think he wants to dig it. …

When I pass a newsstand and see the saintly, bearded, intellectual Kubrick on the cover of Saturday Review, I wonder: Do people notice things like the way Kubrick cuts to the rival teen-age gang before Alex and his hoods arrive to fight them, just so we can have the pleasure of watching that gang strip the struggling girl they mean to rape? Alex’s voice is on the track announcing his arrival, but Kubrick can’t wait for Alex to arrive, because then he couldn’t show us as much. That girl is stripped for our benefit; it’s the purest exploitation. Yet this film lusts for greatness, and I’m not sure that Kubrick knows how to make simple movies anymore, or that he cares to, either. I don’t know how consciously he has thrown this film to the youth; maybe he’s more of a showman than he lets on – a lucky showman with opportunism built into the cells of his body. The film can work at a pop-fantasy level for a young audience already prepared to accept Alex’s view of the society, ready to believe that that’s how it is.

At the movies, we are gradually being conditioned to accept violence as a sensual pleasure. The directors used to say they were showing us its real face and how ugly it was in order to sensitize us to its horrors. You don’t have to be very keen to see that they are now in fact desensitizing us. They are saying that everyone is brutal, and the heroes must be as brutal as the villains or they turn into fools. There seems to be an assumption that if you’re offended by movie brutality, you are somehow playing into the hands of the people who want censorship. But this would deny those of us who don’t believe in censorship the use of the only counterbalance: the freedom of the press to say that there’s anything conceivably damaging in these films – the freedom to analyze their implications.

If we don’t use this critical freedom, we are implicitly saying that no brutality is too much for us – that only squares and people who believe in censorship are concerns with brutality. Actually, those who believe in censorship are primarily concerned with sex, and they generally worry about violence only when it’s eroticized. This means that practically no one raises the issue of the possible cumulative effects of movie brutality. Yet surely, when night after night atrocities are served up to us as entertainment, it’s worth some anxiety. We become clockwork oranges if we accept all this pop culture without asking what’s in it. How can people go on talking about the dazzling brilliance of movies and not notice that the directors are sucking up to the thugs in the audience?

(Not sure these are even necessary. Please feel free to go your own way.)

Does this 1972 review seem prophetic or dated?

In general: Does graphic imagery in cinema desensitize us to horrific violence, or does it expose its ugliness?

Do so-called “torture porn” films, like the
Saw franchise, support Kael’s argument?

Is it exploitive or at least hypocritical to artfully romanticize or eroticize violence in a film intent to condemn violence?

In this specific example, is it possible that we can admire Alex and truly despise his actions? Do we become accomplices by becoming enthusiastic voyeurs of Alex’s crimes?

Could this line now apply to
Fight Club and Tyler Durden? -- "The film can work at a pop-fantasy level for a young audience already prepared to accept Alex’s view of the society, ready to believe that that’s how it is."


The Film Doctor said...

Thanks, Jason, for starting the Pauline Kael blogathon. You began the discussion with some tough questions, because I've always found Kael's dislike of this film irksome, in part because she has a point, and, also, I like the artistry of A Clockwork Orange. Quentin Tarantino said the first 20 minutes of this film are "about as poppy and visceral and perfect a piece of cinematic moviemaking as I think had ever been done up until that time." Is Tarantino an "enthusiastic voyeur of Alex's crimes"? Probably, but I wonder how Kael's condemnation of the violence here lines up with her celebration of other films, such as Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather.

Ed Howard said...

I'm with FilmDr in that this Kael review has always troubled me -- I see her point, and yet I also feel like she's missing something crucial in the film, that she's only seeing what she wants to see in order to make her point. This is such a challenging film precisely because Kubrick walks this fine line between the glorification of violence and the simple portrayal of violence. What's the difference? I think a lot of the problem that Kael and other detractors have with Clockwork Orange is that it's so stylistically exuberant. And yet it's hard to deny that its violence is horribly unpleasant, especially the rape scene that Kael mentions -- does she really think that Kubrick meant for people to find "pleasure" in that scene? Maybe that says more about Kael than Kubrick; to me that scene is harrowing and difficult to watch, which is of course as it should be.

I have my own problems with the film along the same lines as Kael, but what's interesting to me about it is the preservation of these contradictions within Alex and within the film's portrayal of societal malaise. Kael kind of glosses over the contradictions, and she's only considering one aspect, one layer. Her view isn't necessarily wrong, just incomplete.

Joseph "Jon" Lanthier said...

Agreed with FilmDr and Ed on this one. The biggest issue I have with this Kael review -- not one of her best -- is that, as Ed points out, she primarily focuses on those snippets of the film that best support her repulsed view of Kubrick's hip ultra-violent world. Her analysis of the film's brutality is not necessarily erroneous, but it seems silly to talk about only that and only briefly touch on Clockwork's redemption themes (she simply makes the point that "the movie becomes a vindication of Alex, saying that the punk was a free human being and only the good Alex was a robot.") Admittedly I'm not the biggest fan of the film myself because I find the social commentary somewhat hamfisted and needlessly opaque -- leaving only the repugnant visceral thrill of the dystopian cruelty (which has its merits, certainly, but only goes so far). In other words, I see where Kael speaks from, but I find essays that at least make the attempt unravel Burgess/Kubrick's urban moral ultimately more rewarding than those who simply focus on the film's "beautiful" sadism.

Jason Bellamy said...

Way to start us off, gentlemen. Before we go any further, let me make sure one thing is clear: the above is a portion of the review, not the entire thing. I think your objections to Kael's cherry-picking still apply, but she does say some complimentary things that I left out.

Though I'm fascinated by the discussion of the film itself -- and I hope that continues -- I'd like to hear people's thoughts on the overall arguments. In other words, even if you think she's being unfair in this instance, does her argument stand up in a broader analysis?

Jason Bellamy said...

Let me also ask this question: Considering how shocking A Clockwork Orange remains today, do we need to pay more attention to the context of its release? Ed is on to something when he notes that Kubrick probably isn’t after us to take pleasure during the rape scene. Then again, one could probably safely say that Kubrick does attempt to get us to cheer for a rapist.

That’s oversimplifying, yes. But perhaps the film is too visceral for its own good, or was in 1972. For example: One could say that Silence of the Lambs encourages us to root for a cannibalistic murderer, and that would be true. But that film doesn’t get under the skin that way Clockwork does. It’s more cartoonish. Clockwork is still disturbing today, but it isn’t as provoking as, say, a recent film by Lars von Trier. Maybe that’s what it felt like at the time. Thoughts?

Joseph "Jon" Lanthier said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Jason. I used this link to refer to the review in its entirety.

While I certainly think Kael's critique is valid, it's -- oddly, for her -- very uninteresting. Her goal seems to be to persuade us that Kubrick de-humanizes Alex's victims and makes only the protagonist himself seem vivacious enough to deserve our empathy and respect. To which I say: ho hum. I wasn't around in the early 70s, but hadn't film noir been dehumanizing stooges and innocent standers-by for years? I think a far more worthwhile critical stance would be to analyze why, precisely, Kubrick chooses to seemingly glorify such a clear anti-hero, and why we go along with it: Kael is more interested in chewing Stanley out for having created a sympathetic delinquent than she is in discovering why Alex affects her, the critic and filmgoer, in the way that he does. As Ed remarks, the reviews says more about Kael than Kubrick. It's more a kneejerk response than a critical analysis, to which I might say "Well played, Stanley."

This would be a fascinating review to juxtapose against Kael's essay about "Straw Dogs," a similarly brutal film released the same year as "Clockwork". Despite Peckinpah's sexist, macho-nihilist attitude, Kael approaches "Dogs" on its own terms and picks its brain apart quite dexterously.

Craig said...

Kael had it in for Kubrick on nearly everything post-"Lolita" (as did most of her mindless sycophants), and I can appreciate her perspective from a contrarian point-of-view while also thinking she's off the beam. This is the line that confuses her argument for me:

"At the movies, we are gradually being conditioned to accept violence as a sensual pleasure."

It's confused because up to then (and in her reviews on his other movies) it seems that her beef is that Kubrick isn't sensual enough, that his omniscient detachment from the violence (and everything else) is really what galls her. Kael was partial to violence that was lush or eroticized (Coppola, Scorsese, De Palma) rather than flatly ironic (Kubrick) or bludgeoning (Friedkin). She didn't like to be worked over.

I can relate to that; and I think her argument is on stronger ground (though not necessarily with "Clockwork") about making victims of violence seem so vile that they deserve to be killed. That said, it's pretty clear to me that Kubrick's sensibility is more complicated than this; but Kael assumes that, because his style is detached, that he's being smug or above-it-all. That was her prerogative, though to me, as Ed indicated, it's a pretty myopic and limiting view on how movies should be made.

The Film Doctor said...

I think my problem with Kael's argument mostly boils down to questions of style and technique (and I like her writing more for her style than for her ideas). I have no interest in modern-day torture porn scenes because they are crudely trying to get me to feel the extreme emotions of someone who faces dismemberment or death without much effort on the filmmakers' part, so the scene becomes both manipulative and predictable. Kael wants for us to be concerned about the evil effects of violence on the viewer, as we should be, and yet when she likes a movie, such as The Fury, then it seems to me that she will find ways to justify the violence in terms of the story or the director's vision. I like Kubrick's work because of the assurance and the bravado of his images and his juxtapositions. His ironic use of sound pairs classical music with brutality, "Singing in the Rain" with rape, and the artfulness of Beethoven with a criminal spree. I wouldn't want to judge Kubrick's use of violence in a general context of other violent films for that reason.

Ed Howard said...

As Craig points out, Kael pretty much never "got" Kubrick, and though it's been a while since I've re-read For Keeps, I do remember that the only one of his films she had kind words for was Lolita, and even there she wasn't exactly pouring out gushing praise.

Her review of Full Metal Jacket basically repeats the same criticisms she applied to Clockwork Orange, and I think it's a good example of how she'd make up her mind about a director and then stubbornly cling to her initial impressions even if the film doesn't back them up. The criticisms that can be somewhat applied to the earlier film just don't work at all with regard to FMJ. Here's a quote from her later review, which could just as easily be slotted into the earlier one with minor changes:

Kubrick probably believes he's numbing us by the power of his vision, but he's actually numbing us by its emptiness... He does it by lingering for a near-pornographic eternity over a young Vietnamese woman who is in pain and pleads "Shoot me! Shoot me!".

While Clockwork Orange rather intentionally toys with glorifying its unlikable protagonist and his violent actions, I can't see how the scene she's talking about from Full Metal Jacket is anything other than a horrifying condemnation of the way war deadens the emotional and moral instincts of young soldiers -- it's anything but "pornographic." I feel like Kael crystallized her view of Kubrick from the flippant irony of Strangelove and the satirical violence of Clockwork, and thus failed to recognize that his films were often more complicated and multi-faceted than she was willing to admit. Her tendency towards knee-jerk, visceral reactions pretty much guaranteed that she'd linger on the surface in this way, rather than delving deeper into the substance of these films. As much as I like her style and find her funny and entertaining, her anti-intellectualism really bothers me.

Edward Copeland said...

For me, A Clockwork Orange grows weaker with each viewing. Each time I see it, it seems to me as if Kubrick is getting off on the scenes of violence more than making a point or trying to show the real horror of it the way other films have such as Peckinpah's Wild Bunch or Scorsese's Taxi Driver.

Jason Bellamy said...

Kael also wasn't a fan of 2001, of course. In her 1969 Harper's piece on movie "trash," which, trust me, we'll get to later in the week, she rips it for being cold both visually and emotionally (cue Armond White). As folks have dropped comments here, I think it's obvious that Kael didn't have any love for Kubrick (her anti-Altman).

Still, while I agree with some of the arguments made here about the faults of the review, Clockwork is a movie I've never understood. Piggybacking on Edward Copeland's comment, I'm not sure what Kubrick is getting off on. I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel.

James Hansen said...

Maybe I'm asking for a critical thrashing here from everyone who seems to be disagreeing with Kael here, but I think many of the reactions in the comments thus far bite into what Kael is criticizing in the first place. Its not to say she is right and any of you are wrong, or even off base, but the point, I don't think, has been trumped.

As FilmDr points out at the very start, Kael's issues begin with precisely the reasons Tarantino likes it. The attitude Kubrick takes in making the film (its artistry, as everyone on the board says they love/appreciate) of visceral pop, of bemused attachment by using ironic classical music makes the violence awkwardly celebratory. She's not condemning ALL violence in movies (clearly her love of others film mentioned proves that), but the way Kubrick toys with the violence and makes it laudatory. At a certain point, the social critique (if there is any) gets swamped by the artistry in such a way that it can't say anything of use. Sure, its the same argument she makes against FMJ, but that doesn't make either point less valid or show that she "has it out for Kubrick." She rejects his sensibility outright, which is built into the way he constructs each of his movies that center around violence. Maybe its a weakness of her criticism that she refuses taking high intellectual stance that Kubrick fans claim she should take, but I think her critical approach is what opens other avenues of discussion that this week is looking for.

A final point for now: Jason brings up another example of violence in film with Silence of the Lambs and mentions how it is cartoonish compared to Clockwork. But I have to side with Kael and disagree (not in defense of Silence, but in putting Clockwork in the same category). Clockwork, through the film, is bemused by Alex and his actions. Thats why Kael objects to the rape scene. Whether we're "meant" to find pleasure in it or not, Kubrick's stylistic exuberance defeats the social commentary (which is likely why Burgess considered the film a failure). Its something Godard plays with in a much more effective manner in LES CARABINERS, to bring up an alternative example that may have more to do with FMJ than Clockwork, but whatever. Joseph brings up film noir's dehumanizing aspects, but I would strongly question if anyone really thinks the mannerisms of Kubrick's detachment from the violence is the same as 40s noir. Really?

James Hansen said...

Anyways, just to be clear, what I'm really saying is that most people are defending Kubrick based on the stylistic exuberance which they think Kael is ignoring. I see it, however, as the whole issue. Its precisely because of the style that Kael takes issue with the portrayal of violence. Whether Kubrick wants us to see the horrors or not, its impossible to do that given the bemused detachment he takes. Its exactly why people don't know how to feel or "get" what Kubrick is getting off on. The whole thing is conflicted by the way Kubrick makes it, which doesn't justify or highlight the fine line in representation, but rather an incoherence in argumentation on Kubrick's part.

Joseph "Jon" Lanthier said...

Excellent comment, James, just one clarifying statement...

Joseph brings up film noir's dehumanizing aspects, but I would strongly question if anyone really thinks the mannerisms of Kubrick's detachment from the violence is the same as 40s noir.

Well, of course the attitudes are not identical, but the point is simply that dehumanizing victims of violence is a veritable cinematic tradition -- I would argue that anytime film depicts brutality there's a distancing or dehumanizing effect due to the way the medium is perceived. But more to the point, I think Kael fails to properly argue what makes the poppy dehumanization of "Clockwork" so uniquely unsavory. And quite honestly, I think there are more than a few parallels between Kubrick's detached fascism and Sam Fueller's -- I didn't know how to react to most of "Pickup on South St" the first time I saw it.

Jason Bellamy said...

Now we're talking. Nice job, James! And good counter argument to my point on Silence and the emotionality of the horror in Clockwork and what Kael was responding to. (Though, we both agree, Silence is in a different ballpark.)

Just to clarify one thing: I don't think that Kael necessarily had it "in" for Kubrick; she just didn't like his artistry. That could be because she didn't get it, or because she's right.

James Hansen said...

Joseph- Thanks for the clarification. I see what you're saying, but I still think there is a larger difference which is what Kael objects to. Whether the violence is distancing or dehumanizing may be true (although I'm not sure I agree), but its the irony and bemusement (to use that word again) that Kubrick uses to play around with the violence that changes everything. Even if it dehumanizes, it doesn't take a (uh oh!) smug stance towards the actions of Alex over the victims. And, if you look at the end of 30S/40s classic noir (I'm thinking PUBLIC ENEMY, SCARFACE, WHITE HEAT) you always get a final impression on violence no matter how detached and "hip" the violence is throughout the film. You don't get that with Kubrick here, I don't think. He's a little too in love with his own style to really engage with much of anything Burgess is after in the novel (or anything he appears to be after here).

But fear not everyone. I'm no Kael apologist and Kubrick hater on all fronts. I disagree strongly about 2001, so I look forward into that discussion. Perhaps I'll find inconsistencies in my own arguments, which I'll happily admit to then.


James Hansen said...

Jason- The "had it in for Kubrick" comment comes from Craig. Sorry to lump it in with yours. Didn't mean to attribute it to the wrong person.

And, to defend Kael once more, I think claims of "she didn't get it" are never going to be solid. That argument, no matter who you say it to (whether its a four year old kid or Kael) will always be shoddy. Everyone comes to film looking for different things, enjoying different things, and having different points of view on what movies can and should do. Saying someone "doesn't get" a work that you enjoy is reductive to the own work you are attempting to support because its proposing the work is only ever one thing. Its one of the downfalls of auteur criticism and something I hope doesn't get thrown around here too much. Even if someone doesn't engage as much as they should, I hope everyone avoids "didn't get it" claims until the end of time.

(Final point of clarification on this: I don't think anyone on here has said this up to this point, so PLEASE don't take this as a attack on something you've said. It's just a beef of mine that I'm letting out since it seems mildly appropriate here. :) ).

On with the discussion!

Jason Bellamy said...

James: No worries. This blog welcomes passionate (and even stubborn) arguments. As long as people keep it civil, we're cool. So far, so good. By all means, debate the issues! That's why we're here!

Kevin J. Olson said...

In response to the first comment by FilmDr I think that when you start to get into degress of violence the debate gets tricky. I think that perhaps Kael is not celebrating the violence in Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather, but she is celebrating the artistry of the complete film. Penn's film was the first to show someone getting shot in the same frame as the gun going off (I think), and the result was one of the first bloody films where violence had very real consequences.

The Godfather the violence is the result of bitter rivalaries and is heavily stylaized like that of an opera. This is what the cruel and violent world of organized crime is like.

I think the violence in A Clockwork Orange trumps everything else (narrative, sympathetic characters, etc.) Kubrick tries to do in the film, therefore it's what you have to talk about. I like the parallels to Fight Club because I think that film falls into the same abyss. I didn't care for Fincher's film, either, even though I admired the hell out of its aesthetics.

I've always found Kubrick's film to be excruciatingly boring. I know many people who hold it in high regard, and I know that I'm in the minority on this one, but I think it's one of Kubrick's worst movies.

What's interesting about is that despite all of the "shock" in the movie, most of it just made me yawn. Maybe I'm too desensitized, but I've tried to give this film a number of chances. I would say I've seen it more than a lot of the movies I really like from Kubrick, but I thought this film, and Full Metal Jacket, were evidence of some of the problems a lot of people have with Kubrick.

I don't really care if his violence is heavily stylized I care more that I never really am interested in the narrative because he keeps characters at such an arms length. I've always been appreciative of Kubrick's aesthetic, there's no denying the man's eye, but his storytelling skills lack in Clockwork and Full Metal Jacket, both films that rely more on violence to make you feel something than the character's evolution (or as is the case with most of Kubrick's films, their de-evolution).

I'm interested in something Ed Howard said (and not to get off on to much of a tangent), but I think it's interesting when, as Ed pointed out, a highly respected critic "stubbornly clings" to a feeling about a director. I think this can be flipped, too. A lot of times critics fog their own vision in regards to a filmmaker they adore.

There have been a lot of great filmmakers who have made stinkers, but sometimes you'll see a critic wax poetic about how good the director used to be, even though the film they are reviewing may be bad, they give it a good review because of a theme or specific trope the filmmaker likes to play with is explored; but if they've explored it far better in other pictures, why is it good in this particular picture?

I don't know if any of that made sense, but yes, Kael does stick to her guns and perhaps unfairly places the same negative feelings she had towards A Clockwork Orange onto Full Metal Jacket, but I think that's normal. Maybe not fair, but normal.

I probably have more thoughts on this, but I'll stop my rambling for now. This is a great discussion, by the way.

Sam Juliano said...

Pauline Kael is not the only the critic to have it "in" for Kubrick (as has been suggested here by some) as David Thomson's disdain for nearly every film made by the reclusive director is well documented. Yet in 1971, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE won the N.Y. Film Critics Award for Best Picture (for me only Bogdonovich's THE LAST PICTURE SHOW is a greater film that year) so it did ravish a good number of scribes. But Kael beats to her own drum; she once said Bergman's 50's masterwork SAWDUST AND TINSEL was "powerful all right" but "powerfully awful!" Yet she is one of the film culture's most important voices, and apart from Stanley Kauffmann, I would say she was our greatest critic on balance, despite her double-standards, war with words with Sarris, and a penchant to purposely adorn her rhetoric.

But one isse not discussed at length here is her rigid critical regard for film adaptations, which will give us more than a clue to her dislike for the film. She states flatly in I LOST IT AT THE MOVIES: "I don't think that anybody who tries to put a great work of literature on the screen stands much of a chance of reproducing its greatness in another medium and probably much of its richness will be lost" (in her review of THE INNOCENTS) yet ever the bundle of contradictions she goes on to say" "but there is an irresistable and certainly not-to-be-condemned desire to visualize works we love." However, as applicable to Anthony Burgess's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE we may be best advised to take up a subsequent comment she makes regarding "first-rate" novels and "second-rate novels," of which Kael rightly contends that "movies based on second-rate books are better than ones made from first-rate books, because what distinguishes a great book is the "writer's way of seeing, and the film director cannot do justice to that." Burgess's book is of course a second rate novel, although a strong one within that sub-category.

Yet Kael has her own method of qualification and in the context of this discussion here at the Cooler, it's unsatisfactory, and (as always) subject to personal taste. She extolls the excessive violence in BONNIE AND CLYDE (a film she unreservedly 'loves') saying in effect that it's the film's essence and meaning, yet she dismisses this similar context in Kubrick's film, using a completely different criteria.

I just don't buy it. Yes, I believe A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is Kubrick's greatest film and one of the best films of the 1970's, but this kind of double-standard dismisal is unconvincing.

Joel Bocko said...

I think Kael's overarching point here is pretty much inarguable: that Kubrick tries to have it both ways in Clockwork, hiding behind Burgess' moral (on whose terms most of the film's defenders rested their case) while stacking the deck so that the audience gets off on Alex's violence. To me the film would be stronger if the other characters weren't so cartoonish - if the zest with which McDowell achieves our complicity was matched by a horrific brutality in his violence. Kubrick goes part of the way with the graphic nature of the crimes, for which he deserves some credit, but he stops short by refusing us any real comprehension of the victims' suffering and by cleaning up - as Keal points out - some of Alex's nastier habits, which is true albeit hard to believe.

I like the film because of its visceral power (and that does seem to be an area in which I think Kael missed the boat), but it sits uncomfortably with me because of what I see as its essential hypocrisy. Kael, despite the various flaws in her argument and the adamence of her stance, which have been pointed out above, deserves credit for attacking the film from this angle (Ebert also had a very negative review on a similar note). I don't like to hear it celebrated as a moralistic parable. The book, I think, was. The movie, despite its facade, is not - it's pretty much what Tarantino says it was.

By the way, James, I'm in agreement with most of what you wrote, but I do have to disagree about not "getting" a film. I think we have to be careful lodging this accusation, but I think it's a valid point to make. There are plenty of films I don't think I get - I'm still in the process of warming up to Rules of the Game, for example, but I don't assume my coldness to it is based on a deeper or equal understanding of the film (and from this I am speaking essentially of a visceral understanding rather than an intellectual one) as its celebrants. I think a lot of people don't get Mulholland Drive, leading to dismissals which are essentially unfair - because they're missing what's so appealing about the film in the first place. We all have our blind spots, and I don't think there's anything wrong with recognizing this.

Craig said...

Boy, one offhand comment on my lunch-break and others run with it. Seriously, this is enjoyable stuff.

Let me return to that remark, though: "Kael had it in for Kubrick." I didn't mean it in the spirit of a Kael-basher or Kubrick-apologist. (Nobody has accused me of either, but just wanted to make that clear.) My reactions to both are more complicated than that. Yet I stand by it because I think her reading of the "Kubrickian sensibility" (if we want to call it that) is the opposite -- overly, almost willfully simplistic. It's not that she "doesn't get it"; it's that she doesn't want to get it -- an important distinction. I'm not going to argue the merits of Kubrick's detached take on violence vis-a-vis Coppola's operatic style or De Palma's erotic charge or Peckinpah's fetishized slo-mo, because, in principle at least, I think there's room for all. Kael, however, didn't. And as much as I love her criticism, I think this singular bent on a medium that is inherently pluralistic (an interpretative stance that was also, as others besides myself have mentioned, internally inconsistent) shut down more discussion than it ultimately opened up.

I know Jason, being much more inclusive, has bigger questions and issues on this topic, but I wanted to clarify my initial comment before going forward.

Ed Howard said...

Following Craig, I agree that whatever one thinks of Kubrick's film -- and as I've said, I have my own problems with it, and don't entirely disagree with Kael's stance -- it's Kael's willfulness, her stubborn insistence on seeing only what she wants to see, that really irks me in this review and her other writings on Kubrick. She has a point with regards to A Clockwork Orange, but it's a point that she'd then continue to apply to Kubrick's work, again and again, whether it fit or not.

One of the things I dislike about Kael -- and I think this is what Craig is getting at here -- is that she seldom seemed willing to meet a filmmaker halfway, to try and understand what s/he was getting at, to really dig into the nuances and complications of a film. Instead, she applied her rubric and got what she got out of the film and that was it, end of story. There was no give and take, no room for an alternate or reconsidered view (impossible if you never rewatch a film). On the one hand, I admire that she stuck to her guns, but on the other hand nobody's always right the first time, and multiple visits to the same film can yield insights and ideas beneath the surface level. I think Kael, at heart, viewed film as a transitory experience and thus often didn't get beyond that surface level, both with films she liked and films she didn't like.

James Hansen said...

Sam (and Ed, sort of)- First DRAG ME TO HELL and now this! Oh no! :) Anyways, aren't we supposed to judge films by different rubrics? Are the things you point out really gaping contradictions? Should I watch A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in the same way I watch, say, KILL BILL or PINNOCHIO? And is Kael having personal taste and making it part of her reviews really a bad thing? I'm getting into multiple issues here, but I think in your defense of a movie you clearly love that you're overlooking much of Kael's argument that I have defended already. Just because one movie has a lot of violence doesn't mean you're going to like every movie that has a lot of violence. If a movie praises violence in one manner and another praises it in a different way, those mannerisms are going to effect the way a critic watches and judges said film. She rejects Kubrick's sensibility and finds something different in Penn's. I just don't see an inconsistency in saying BONNIE AND CLYDE good, CLOCKWORK ORANGE bad. I also don't see a problem with saying great books don't become great novels (they don't, by the way) but that we always want to see our great books turn into movies. Everyone feels that way about books they love, I think. Double-standard? Maybe, but it doesn't obfuscate the rest of the review or her criticism in general.

MovieMan- Fine by me, but I think admitting "I don't get it" and someone shoving their nose up and saying "You don't get it" are different things somehow. If you know you're missing something in your own engagement and are working to "figure it out", then that shows you're an active viewer who (as Ed says) wants to meet the filmmaker at least half way. BUT, if the film doesn't engage you and doesn't make you want to watch it and doesn't excite you, should someone be required a moral imperative to watch something multiple times so they "get it"? I dunno. I guess I'm torn too because people frustrate me with Mulholland Drive sometimes, but I'd never tell anyone "they didn't get it" if they watched the whole film and weren't into it.

Ed (and back to Sam, kind of)- As I say above, Kael meeting the filmmaker half way is something that may be crucial, but I think the way she discusses the way Kubrick shapes the work (which is what she rejects) shows that she is working with it. Now, I'm not going to defend everything (I'll probably show some double standard of my own later on this week I'm sure) as I agree with you about Kael's visceral criticism in several instances. But, in this case, I don't have a problem with her engagement. Maybe you're saying she only has one rubric that she is applying to Kubrick (shouldn't that make all y'all auteurists out there happy?) but don't then the "contradictions" Sam points out prove that false? Criticism is a slippery thing and personal taste is a factor (and a positive one!) If you defend why you don't engage with something all the way, something Kael does here and doesn't do in her 2001 criticism, then it shows you were trying to meet the artists half way and just couldn't do it. The surface she's getting behind here is the way Kubrick makes movies. Still looks like solid criticism to me.

Joel Bocko said...

James, I kind of agree. In that I think, often times, people AREN'T getting it but - unless they provoke you with a flippant and ill-considered dismissal (and perhaps even then) "you didn't get it" isn't really a point worth making, because it comes off least if phrased that way. So semantically at least, I'm on the same page.

As for Kael's single-mindedness, I wouldn't have it any other way. Her stubbornness and the singularity of her point-of-view are a large part of what makes her so interesting to me. Often I think she's wrong, but many times I also think she's on to something and kind of admire the stubbornness with which she sticks to her guns when I find myself a little more wishy-washy, seeing the flaws in something but forgiving it a bit more. I tend to judge her the same way I judge Kubrick, almost more as an artist than a critic (though the two roles perhaps overlap more than we tend to realize): by the forcefulness and appeal with which she expresses her point of view.

I agree with Ed that one should be willing to return to a film, to reassess it, to mull over it, but if Kael did that I might enjoy her writing less, to be honest.

Martin said...

The key to A Clockwork Orange, in my opinion, is that it's the template for an overtly political movie that absolutely refuses to let its audience off the hook. Usually this means something like, "The audience is implicated in the violence of the protagonist and/or villain," but I don't really mean that. What I mean is that most political Hollywood movies take up as their theme some painfully reductive and simplistic lesson such as "racism is bad." A Clockwork Orange does not permit its viewers to resolve the film satisfyingly in such a lesson. Violence is innate, violence equals freedom, society is at fault, nature or nurture-- the movie confounds such attempts to come away with a clean placing of blame or remedy, in a political sense. The gleam in Alex's eye, as well as any aesthetic pleasure the audience derives from a rape victim, must be seen in that context. BTW I find Kael's review very insightful, as far as it goes. But Kubrick might be a step ahead of her.

Jason Bellamy said...

Great comments, everyone. I'm really enjoying following along! Though I'm posting new items, please consider this discussion ongoing. It's Pauline Kael WEEK, after all. Thanks!

Joel Bocko said...

Martin, I agree that the movie goes partway there - for the reasons you point out (the gleam in Alex's eye). To create the tension the gleam is juxtaposed with our own presumed ethical opposition to violence. However, I don't think this is enough for Kubrick to truly make his point. Ethics are easy to throw out the window when watching a movie, something I do with great frequency. That the violence is graphic - hence "realistic," and presumably ethically objectionable - is not enough to pit the audience against Alex or make it feel the victims' pain. For that to happen, the victims have to be less cartoonish than they are, less objectionable (for the reasons Kael astutely observes), and we have to share in their suffering that we simultaneously (or at least, at different points within the same movie) share Alex's antisocial glee and his victims' all-too-human pain and suffering and fear. THEN the movie could truly implicate the audience in Alex's violence, something you do not seem to think is necessary, but which I do. Kubrick has been saluted for the "bravery" of making Alex's nastiness fun, but the manner in which he does so isn't brave at all - it's the easy route.

I am aware that the book does not take this approach, as Alex is the narrator, but literature has different means at its disposal than cinema and can foster empathy or reflection different ways.

Joel Bocko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam Juliano said...

"Oh no! :) Anyways, aren't we supposed to judge films by different rubrics? Are the things you point out really gaping contradictions? Should I watch A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in the same way I watch, say, KILL BILL or PINNOCHIO? And is Kael having personal taste and making it part of her reviews really a bad thing? I'm getting into multiple issues here, but I think in your defense of a movie you clearly love that you're overlooking much of Kael's argument that I have defended already. Just because one movie has a lot of violence doesn't mean you're going to like every movie that has a lot of violence."

James, there are two sides to every argument, and yes, I did choose to take Ms. Kael at her word, that is 'what she wrote' and not what a reader speculates. Similarly I believe we CAN ascribe teh same rubrics to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE as we do for other films that are excessively violent like BONNIE AND CLYDE for example. And the issue of her views on film adaptationhave been reiterated numerous times through her volumes, so yes I do believe they are applicable. Any argument can be countered with the right breath of rhetorical acumen, but I chose to go to the source and relate what Kael ACTUALLY WROTE. If you choose to interpret this in a different way, you are well within your rights.

And I am not frazzled by disagreement at all. You are a good man and a person I enjoy talking film with. And the fact that you personally acknowledge me is much much appreciated. Thank You for that.

To repeat: I agree with the New York Film Critics Circle on theie high estimation of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in 1971. I only rate one film higher. It's Kubrick's greatest film for me.

James Hansen said...

Sam- Thanks for the response. Glad you don't shy away! Its all in fun dialogue! Two things:

I get what you're saying in general, but I'm confused by the point you're making about adaptations. If, as you say, its a B-rate novel, then wouldn't Kael be saying it COULD be a great movie? Or is it the other way around? Or are you just saying she has a thing against adaptation which is applicable here? I'm just not sure what larger argument you're making in calling upon that "rubric" of hers. I wasn't disagreeing with that or saying it wasn't applicable. I just wasn't sure what you were implying about it in relation to CLOCKWORK.

And even if you apply the same rubric to BONNIE AND CLYDE and CLOCKWORK and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and HOSTEL (which is fine, I guess), I think its still extremely vital to look at how the movies are constructed. There's not one point about violence that each of the films are making. They all say different things in the way they display, confront, and deal with the violence and thats something you can't just stick a rubric to and say "I like violence in movies" or "I don't like violence in movies." I just don't think its that simple, which is why (and where) I see plenty of engagement on Kael's part.

Just Another Film Buff said...

I believe Kubrick's moral position is same as Bunuel's in Los Olvidados... Clearly, its isn't the directors' intention (nor are they untalented to gain bucks out of sleaze/gore) to make us root for the criminal (Noirs may have done that, but not these two).

It is our own film going conventions that we attach ourselves to the first character in the film - Alex. Had the film been shown in the viewpoint of the senior Alex, our stance would perhaps have been different.

"The trick of making the attacked less human than their attackers, so you feel no sympathy for them, is, I think, symptomatic of a new attitude in movies." - True, perhaps the directors believed that the audience knows to discern right from wrong and good from bad. The point is not that everyone in the world is cruel, but the deathly irony of our social laws which themselves seem to suggest, in a way, that might is right.

Comkpare ACO with that pretentious Cannibal Holocaust with its tacked up message. That would prove the difference.

Awesome initiative Jason. This is teh first time I'm reading a review by Kael (gulp!). Top Stuff...


Sam Juliano said...

Jamie: Kael has suggested that first-rate novels make for less-satisfactory novels, but this general position may not be applicable to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is her perception as it would seem to fall in the midlle of "first rate" and "second rate" as I see it. Obviously, the clearest case of a "second rate" novel translating to a film masterpiece would be THE GODFATHER, and a great novel fizzling out would be among others THE GREAT GATSBY.

But I reaslize that film adaptation as applicable to this thread is secondary to the major topic about screen violence. Her objections remain contradictory, as throughout her career she has consistantly embraced extremely violent films, and not just the ones broached on this thread but disturbing films like Schipisi's THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH, (which I nonetheless find pretty great myself.) Stanley Kauffmann bemoans the "sadism" rampant in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which a least is a specific disclaimer, but on this matter I really believe Paulie has failed to address (satisfactorily) why violence is objectionable in a film that is woven into its "fabric" like her beloved BONNIE AND CLYDE.

Steven Hart said...

I had problems with A Clockwork Orange from my first viewing of it, and Kael's review (along with John Simon's critique, to be found in Reverse Angle) helped me clarify what I thought about the fundamental coarseness and sadism of the film. Simon was particularly shrewd about the way the Anthony Burgess novel had been dumbed down, but Kael's reaction got to the heart of the adolescent cruelty of the way Kubrick treated Alex's victims, and the way the film cleaned up some of Alex's habits. Burgess pointed up the mechanical nature of Alex's violence by showing that any woman or girl, regardless of age or condition, was a target for sexual assault: Alex seriously considers raping the obese Mrs. Slouse during the attack on the tobacco shop, and the day after mauling Mrs. Alexander he assaults a pair of barely pubescent girls. In the film, Alex's female victims are all buxom, Playboy-quality models: Malcolm McDowell says Kubrick invited him to comb through audition books in search of sexy women to use as rape-objects; when Adrienne Corri lobbied for the role of Mrs. Alexander, Kubrick said, "What if I don't like the tits?" I think the film's depiction of the Alexanders tips Kubrick's hand: Mr. Alexander is transformed from a grieving widower into a raving cousin of Dr. Strangelove, and Kubrick even rewrites the scenario to suggest that Mrs. Alexander's death was not the result of being savaged by the droogs.

Kael certainly celebrated quite a few violent movies, but I think the leering callousness of Kubrick's treatment is what repulsed her about A Clockwork Orange. It's certainly what repulsed me.

Sam Juliano said...

How is this film more "callous" than other violent films? I don't get that argument now nor have I ever gotten it, even while reading Kael and Simon's position. Luckily fans of the film can be reassured (if that matters) that the vast majority of the critical establishment validated the film then, and it is now recognized as a masterpiece.

Jason Bellamy said...

"How is this film more "callous" than other violent films?"

Sam: I don't want to speak for Steven, but I will say that I'm someone who finds Clockwork "more callous than (many) other violent films." Why? I honestly don't know. Nodding back to a previous comment I left here, it might be that Kubrick's film is more effectively disturbing. In other words: perhaps he's more successful at achieving violence, and thus his film is more disturbing. Maybe Clockwork feels too close to real, rather than cartoonish.

I understand that Clockwork has its backers. But while I'm probably due to give it another look, it's not a film I've ever felt drawn to. It is provocative, and in that sense I see its 'greatness.' But, perhaps just because of the subject matter, there's nothing about the film that makes me want to bow in reverence. (That's just me.)

Good discussion here, everyone! Thanks so much! Keep it going!

Sam Juliano said...

Jason: Fair enough. I won't deny that it's violence is excessive, and none other than Stanley Kauffmann felt it had a sadistic strain. I do realize that there is sizable contingent that are either repulsed by the film, or are indifferent. Whenever I feel strongly about a film I get very defensive. And Steven should you respond here please don't be offended by my aggressive tone.

And Jason, thanks for a very constructive response there.

Joel Bocko said...

Sam, I think Steven did a pretty good job of laying out why the violence and the approach towards it is more callous in Clockwork than in other violent films. I find the film hypnotic, but morally quite problematic. I like that Kael punctures a perceived pomposity in Kubrick's style and in the approach the media took towards him, because I think it's deserved even though I also think Kubrick is a brilliant filmmaker.

Sam Juliano said...

Movie Man:

I didn't have an issue with the film's morality, as it was in large measure part of Burgess's vision. Similarly I didn't see the pomposity that you and some others have seen here. I think I need to write a full review of this film soon, especially as it's a 70's film. LOL. OK, I just re-read Steven's submission and he does defend his position here quite well.

Joel Bocko said...

Some of the pomposity is in the film's style, that typically Kubrickian grandeur and hubris. Let me gratuitously quote myself in a review of The Killing: "It's often said that Kubrick's films reveal the follies of men but perhaps it would be more appropriate to observe that there's only room for one man-god in a Kubrick film, and he's always seated behind the camera."

Which, in the context of that review, was not meant as a criticism, though it's admittedly a bit barbed. Nonetheless, it does open Kubrick up to charges of pretension. Furthermore, beyond the film's style, there is the way the film and its auteur were received in 1971. It may seem unfair to consider that in an analysis of the film, but Kael's critique is in part a critique of the film's media reception and the aura around it, not just of the movie itself.

Steven Hart said...

It's been a while since I read the novel, but I don't think Kubrick's film reflects Anthony Burgess's moral vision. Once again we return to the fact that Alex's antagonists are all made grotesque and ridiculous. P.R. Deltoid, for example, speaks with moral authority in the novel: he's ineffectual, but he sees Alex pretty clearly. In the film, Deltoid is a slapstick dolt who drinks from a glass holding dentures and, after giving Alex a tut-tutting lecture, makes a grab for his crotch.

Maybe the whole "callousness" question is a matter of taste. Part of the film's problem is that the novel, while coming across in a highly visual way, is heavily dependent on language. The Nadsat slang, which many critics see only as a gimmick, is the novel's central load-bearing device: by distorting our immediate understanding of what Alex and his droogs are doing, it muffles our response in a way that mirrors the gang's indifference to the pain it is inflicting on people. (It also conveys the Russification of its Cold War socialist society, and by the end of the book it brainwashes us into understanding Nadsat -- a neat trick for a novel that's partly about brainwashing.) The fact that the Nadsat words for "thing" (veshch) and "Man" (veck) are virtual soundalikes tells us a great deal about the thugs using the slang. Kubrick could not match this device in visual terms, though as John Simon points out, the film omits many details from the novel that would have carried great suggestive power. The closest he comes is in the Korova Milkbar's furniture: fiberglass figures of women in submissive sexual poses, which are echoed in the way Dim wrenches Mrs. Alexander backward during the "Singing in the Rain" sequence. Back in the Korova, Dim, who has just reduced a living woman to an object, is grotesquely apologetic as he draws milk from an artificial woman.

I'm a Kubrick fan, but I've always considered A Clockwwork Orange his first truly bad film, excluding the early tyro work of Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss. After the initial round of violence, the film's energy leaks away in slow pacing and those endless scenes with the prison guard whose Hitler mustache is apparently supposed to keep us yukking nonstop.

Sam Juliano said...


You are a gentleman and a scholar, and have again entered a top-rank submission here. Yes, the "callouness" angle may indeed come down to taste, and I have grown through the years (I'm 54 now and grew up reading John Simon's criticism) to take many of his views with a grain of salt, as he is an overbearing misanthrope--his excellent INGMAR BERGMAN interview volume notwithstanding--as there he dispences with his sword and play scheerleader while posing some admittedly outstanding questions.

How do I defend my position in light of the intimidating and superbly-posed issues brought to this thread?

Well, let's say that the moral issues while offending some would only come into play with someone who is not dazzled by the filmmaking, the sensory dazzlement, and the delirious cynicism. My own position on the film is fully along the lines that Vincent Canby wrote in his spectacularly-positive 1971 NEW YORK TIMES review:

"It is brilliant, a tour de force of extraordinary images, music, words and feelings. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is so beautiful to look at and to hear that it dazzles the senses and the mind. Makes real and important the kind of fears simply exploited by other, musch lesser films. An esentially British nightmare in its attentions to caste, manners, accents and the state of mind created by a kind of weary socialism. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is so beautiful to look at and to hear that it dazzles the senses and mind, even as it turns the old red vino to ice."

Alas, this position is precisely the one to ascribe to, as it (for me) reduces the other arguments as "beside the point." Does that mean that Steven and others here missed the boat? Not remotely. It's the beauty of looking the same work and coming away with completely different perceptions.

By the capture the dicotomy of the thread her I defer to Britain's Derek Malcolm when he says:

"It is not a film the memory of which you will exactly wish to cherish. You may even, like me, reject the glib and icy pessimism of its message. But you will, I can assure you, find it difficult to put out of mind."

It is clear that Steven, Movie Man and others have "rejected the glib and ice pessimism of Kubrick's 'message.' I have not. And therein lies the difference of opinion and sensibilities.

Steven Hart said...

Sam: John Simon's shelf life as a film critic was much shorter than Pauline Kael's, and he quickly turned into Anton Ego before the character was even a pixel in Brad Bird's eye. Simon's Ingmar Bergman book was so good that it seems a real shame he didn't follow through with more substantive, scholarly works along that line. Pauline Kael's criticism was perfectly suited to the weekly/bi-weekly review format, and she often got in over her head wwhen she write longer pieces. Simon should have realized that the world needed more books like Ingmar Bergman Directs, not more opportunities to see John Simon cock a leg over flicks like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Sam Juliano said...

Indeed Steve, indeed. I agree with everything you say here. When he embarked on his patented personal attacks, like saying how physically ugly Barbra Streisand appeared as in WHAT'S UP DOC? for example he crossed the line and made himself insignificant. I love the Bergman book and am a proud owner of it, especially since Simon rightly acknowledged both SAWDUST AND TINSEL as masterpieces in his evaluation of the "four" Bergman masterpieces to that point. (the others: SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT and PERSONA) Had he continued down that road it's true we would have all gained immeasurably. On balance, I continue to believe that Stanley Kauffmann may well have been our greatest--in part because he never engaged in the belittleting critical battles waged by Kael, Sarris and Simon, but also as he is an extraordinary writer and authority on all the arts--I know Simon is a stage man too--he is still writing at 94!- amazing.

Steven Hart said...

As my final contribution to this Clockworkklatsch,here's a link to something I posted a while back about a Malcolm McDowell fan site that has stills from some crucial scenes deleted from the final cut of A Clockwork Orange, including the "sammy act" with the old ladies and the beating of the library patron.

Sam Juliano said...

I left out WINTER LIGHT in my last submission as the "other" masterpiece I was referencing.

Steven: Kudos to you Sir. Just read your blog post and was hardly surprised that Stanley ordered an assistant to destroy all the outakes. Ha!

But what caught my attention most of all was THIS:

About Steven Hart’s First Book
Steven Hart’s first book, The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America’s First Superhighway, has been published by The New Press.

The critical blurbs were most impressive. I am honored you have engaged me here in this discussion and Best Wishes with your career.

Joel Bocko said...

Wow, 46 comments! I guess this is the hit piece of Kael week...though I kind of wish more had jumped in on Jason's four-part "Trash" series, as I think that's Kael's masterpiece.

Sam, I'm actually about halfway between your and Steve's position on this movie. Like you, the aesthetic effect tends to overwhelm all objections. But the objections do remain. They are what I've focused on here, but this neglects the fact that I own the movie, greatly enjoy it, and that the objections usually come in after the fact, once I've finished watching and am thinking about it.

The other day I saw Carrie Fisher's book in a bookstore, and it had a quote from John Simon on the back:

"Carrie Fisher is bovine and unappealing, having inherited the worst qualities of both her parents."

Sam Juliano said...

Thanks Movie Man for that clarification which is more than fair enough. Not surprisingly we are having much of the same discussion with amazingly similar context over at WitD on Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS, which bares more than a thematic kinship to ACO. And you were the guy who lit the fuse! LOL!!!

Joel Bocko said...

Sam, my comment was actually meant to imply that Tony had thrown the bomb, but the fuse seems to have been snipped, as nobody got as angry as I thought they would.

Sam Juliano said...

Yes quite true Movie Man. Anger yielded there to enriching discourse, which at the end of the day is exactly what we want.

El Miope Muñoz said...

Good night. I'm spanish, so I apologize for my grammar issues.

I'm reading Kael right now and one of her most famous collections, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Jonathan Rosenbaum has said many times whose are her deffects in her writing.

But I'm spanish and young enough for learning what is useful from Kael's criticism becuase I found some great points in her reviews.

This is one of her worst. Clockwork is a movie that deals with behavorism and it doesn't glamourizes Alex's attitude towards the life. It shows a world and how our star lives in. It shows how laws can't stop violence with more violence. It shows cruelty and the irony of the system defeating it. It's as deep as Kubrick was.

Violence, on the other hand, isn't dangerous as long as is fiction. Often all critics think that fiction has the same tasks that non fiction. That's a problem, but even with that, Clockwork's Orange it's not a pop fantasy.

And Fight Club isn't a teen fantasy of freedom. Fight Club is a story of how to exit. It's about to exit. It's about the post-industrial angst. Wanted, the Mark Millar comicbook and some bits of the beautiful shot action movie of the sam ename, is a teen fantasy. Fight Club is cleary one thing: a story of a man that can't escape himself and find an exit for it's pain. It's very deeply.

Saw isn't my favourite movie, but isn't toxic or dangerous. It all comes from the Gran Guignol and Kael herself often praised the great trash and Brian DePalma, another filmmaker who has great movies plenty of granguignol-esque moments like the Dressed To Kill elevator's murder.