TAKING IT ALL IN by Pauline Kael
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One approaches a seventh large collection of Pauline Kael movie reviews with more than a little deja-vu non-enthusiasm--only to find that the Kael virtues are as infectious as ever, that her energy remains awesome, that her film criticism continues to stand up to time better than anyone else's. Admittedly, some of the Kael drawbacks also show no sign of fading: a weakness for a certain brand of showy titillation (Diva, Blow Out, Personal Best); excessive subjectivity about certain actresses (the devotion to Streisand, the antipathy towards Streep); excessive loyalty to certain directors; a tendency to be far more exuberant when damning (often comically) than praising. But the most familiar cavil against Kael's work--that the voluptuous length and detail of the reviews is self-indulgent--seems more wrongheaded than ever in this collection, where every word counts and economical phrasings abound. (""Best Friends is a Velveeta comedy. . . Seeing Raiders is like being put through a Cuisinart"" . . .And Nine to Five is ""strong-arm whimsy."") As usual, Kael is unsurpassed at evoking the physical, emotional presences of screen actors: in Author! Author!, Al Pacino's face is ""pasty, as if he'd vacated it""; Jack Lemmon playing anxiety is ""sweaty, loyal, and hollow""; there's a convincing glimpse of Shelley Duvall in Popeye as a female Keaton. The emotional impact of film techniques and tricks is always a concern in these audience-conscious pieces. (""In Urban Cowboy, the more hollow the scene, the closer the camera gets; the director tries to bludgeon his way past the unmotivated actions. . ."") And, above all, Kael is the supreme dissector of earnest and/or manipulative movies, the ones that grab an audience in superficial or specious ways: e.g., Ordinary People, Sophie's Choice, or--in a piece which shrewdly devastates both novel and film--The World According to Carp. The opening essay here is a solid, unsurprising consideration of ""Why Are Movies So Bad?""--blaming ""cool managerial sharks"" and the numbers game. But the rest of the book repeatedly flares with distinction: about 150 reviews, not all of them on-target, but none of them without some special, Kael-esque perception of how movies work on moviegoers.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1984
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston