WHEN THE LIGHTS GO DOWN: Movies at the End of the 1970s by Pauline Kael
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WHEN THE LIGHTS GO DOWN: Movies at the End of the 1970s

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All of Kael's New Yorker writings from 1975 to 1979, film reviews except for the lead-off piece: an infectious appreciation of Cary Grant, ""the finest romantic comedian of his era. . . the Dufy of acting--shallow but in a good way, shallow without trying to be deep."" As for the movies covered here, most of them are minor efforts, and one wonders why a smaller, better, and less awesomely expensive volume couldn't--with just a little selectivity--have been made; but Kael apparently is now the sort of critic-guru whose every word must be bound between boards. Not that she isn't good. She's generally superb--rigorous enough not to fall for the trendy stances of Network or Wertmuller's Seven Beauties (""deeply reactionary and misogynous""), movie-movie enough to eat up Jaws and Carrie, firmly grounded in film heritage (watch her dissect The Turning Point with devastating reference to Old Acquaintance), seriously concerned about the underlying (im)morality and manipulations of popular filmmaking (she's fiercely convincing on Midnight Express). As always, her vocabulary is grand and her aphoristic powers are impressive (Kubrick's Barry Lyndon is ""oracular and doomy. . . a masterpiece in every insignificant detail""); her feel for the dynamic of how a movie works on an audience, how faces register on screen--unrivaled. Also as always: her blindspot allegiances--to Sam Peckinpah and Barbra Streisand, for example, even while recognizing their errors and excesses. And the in-group-y tendencies that led (temporarily) to Kael's attempt at a Hollywood career are here too. But like her or not, even in this hulking form she's the best--the one critic who always persuades us that movies are fun and that they really matter.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1980
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston