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Ghost Canyon

'What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael'
(Woody Allen, Lili Anolik, Alec Baldwin, et al / DVD / NR / (2018) 2020 / MVD Visual)

Overview: 'What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael' is a portrait of the work and life of controversial film critic Pauline Kael, and her battle to achieve success and influence in the 20th century movie business.

DVD Verdict: As one who has always preferred reading an opinionated and retrospective - as opposed to a generic and preview-like - movie review, I myself truly appreciate Ms. Kael's approach to film criticism.

There are those who feel a reviewer ought to keep their personality out of the picture, but what are movies but shared dreams in a sense and, in the end, ultimately subjective experiences?

Roger Ebert was my favorite film critic, for the primary reason that he wrote more in the spirit of an intimist than as an emotionally detached summarist.

Although the celebrated Ms. Kael was before my time, I have perused "5001 Nights At The Movies," not so as to read any plot descriptions, but as a literary pastime.

Which is to say, Ms. Kael was more of a writer than she was a movie reviewer. And to think that had she taken up, say, investigative journalism instead (an arguably more worthwhile pursuit), that she just may have been even more of an influential writer than she was.

Ergo, 'What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael' is a good enough portrait of the late doyenne of film criticism. I most enjoyed hearing from the subject herself, as well as from her daughter, Gina James.

I suppose there isn't much else worth noting about Kael the person other than what is mentioned in this film, but suffice to say that a top-loaded amount of talking heads are also featured here throughout.

Professionally, Pauline Kael was well-known for often being textually sardonic, yet what I noticed is that she seemed like an average everywoman in interviews, as if the shtick was limited to the page.

We learn on the one hand how she was supposedly not uppity when it came to her choice in movies, apparently embracing many a big grosser and even some camp, yet on the other preferred specific auteurs of the artsy French New Wave and would sometimes alienate readers whenever she would pan a well-liked and mainstream production (as with "The Sound Of Music").

The most astonishing revelation for me is when the daughter informs us of how her mother never knew how to type. Insert interrobang. (This would be the equivalent of a gourmet chef who can't dice.)

That her job as a film critic did not earn her a livable wage I also found to be quite surprising -- and a little contradictory, considering the sprawling country home we see her having inhabited.

Then there was the part about her occasionally trying to persuade other film critics to join her in giving a movie a favorable review, with some of these even admitting to their fondness for being a part of such a claque. I found this to be quite uncool, if not intellectually shameful.

This woman lived what for many would be a dream life. Ms. Kael, herself, talks about how wonderful it is/was to be a paid film critic.

Ya think?! Here was someone who rose from obscurity to celebrity by simply commenting upon flicks, by prolifically reflecting upon a medium of mere make-believe.

An argument could also be made that Ms. Kael took movies, what with all the (essayistic) ink she spilled over them, far too seriously - and, at times, to an almost pretentious extent.

Here was a lady who had screened thousands of motion-pictures in her lifetime, yet who probably never once questioned why hundreds of them are churned out year after year, from a vantage point outside of the cinematic microcosm. (TTD) This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

Quentin Tarantino - Interview Excerpts
Paul Schrader - Interview Excerpts
Deleted Scenes - including "Pauline's Youth," "Blue Velvet," and an excerpt from her never-aired interview with Alfred Hitchcock.