STATE OF THE ART by Pauline Kael


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The first of Kael's compilations of New Yorker movie reviews not to sport a titillating title (I Lost It as the Movies, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and so on), State of the Art finds her in good form but generally with less interesting films to review. In a way that hardly matters, since the attraction of her compilations rests less on timeliness than on their being first-class reference guides. And now that video stores are so widespread, the reference value should zoom ever higher. Few moviegoers will feel the need to read a Kael volume straight through, whereas they might read entire ones of John Simon's waspishly antagonizing collections (assembled from hither and yon). There's no new Pauline Kael herein, only new movies with vastly advanced special effects. Even Woody Allen's marvelous Zelig (""perfection once, at something so silly I wasn't sure why it got to me"") is a special-effects masterpiece, with Allen/Zelig amazingly transported into old newsreels. But in its own way so is Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (""I watched this movie all but purring with pleasure. It's a delicate classic comedy. It's not a picture to go to with huge expectations; it doesn't have the daring or excitement of a great work. But it has a small, rapt quality, and I think it's Woody Allen's finest creation. It's scaled to Mia Farrow's cheekbones. And it has a surprising warmth"") a special-effects triumph, with characters in a movie-within-the-movie reacting to characters in the movie proper. Often Kael trounces a popular favorite--but justly so--while pointing out its small or large successes (among the battered: The Big Chill, Terms of Endearment, Amadeus). From oblivion she plucks Alan Rudolph's Choose Me (""pleasantly bananas"") and Dianne Wiest and Kathleen Quinlan's knockout performance in Robert Mandel's forgotten Independence Day (Kael caught it on HBO). Among state-of-the-art biggies she clobbers David Lynch's Dune but falls for Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (flawed only by its overactive score). Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club has some moments but fails big, fluffing its beautiful subject (""Yes, the Cotton Club was a racist institution, but it was something more, too. It was part of a liberating social upheaval. . ."") while Coppola emotionally ""seems to have shrunk. The way he directs the cast here, people exist to reflect light."" The outstanding review in this set is of venerable director Kon Ichikawa's The Makioka Sisters, which really needs Kael's incisive eye to tie up Japanese themes which the viewer who has already seen the picture may well have missed. Here both the review and the picture gain by their association.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1985
Publisher: Dutton