Quentin Tarantino’s 10th and (supposedly) final film has been named: The Movie Critic. Plot details indicate that the film will likely revolve around a particular critic with an immeasurable influence over Quentin’s, and likely many other creatives’, work.
Uncompromising. Brilliant. Unignorable. Pauline Kael stands as perhaps the most important voice in film criticism, a fact which may still be true 30 years on from her passing. Her placement on the pantheon in that capacity is more than secure, despite a spate of controversial opinions, but her value to those in the film industry she would cut down to size? That is harder to define, but more than likely larger than many may presume.
Kael’s writing had an intensely personal slant, her critique was robust and intelligent, but not necessarily instructional. However, her books and critical theories reinterpret, rebuke, invent or otherwise outline plenty of the movies’ most fundamental preconceptions. What can we learn from them, and how can they then be applied?
Kael’s most famous contribution to the critical lexicon was her ardent distaste for the auteur theory as first outlined by Andrew Sarris, that being the conception that a film’s director is its primary author, and therefore just about the only crew member worth paying any attention to when examining the work. Kael championed the contributions of the writer, and would make a finer point of this idea with her novel length essay: Raising Kane.
Kael’s essay asserted that Citizen Kane, the most revered work in the history of filmmaking, was not chiefly a product of boy genius Orson Welles, who was involved in nearly every facet of the film’s production, but primarily the accomplishment of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Raising Kane was then, as it remains, a deeply divisive report of the creation of that film, and Kael’s account has been heavily criticised in the years since its publication, most especially since Welles’ contributions to the script have been better documented in time.
All the same, Mankiewicz’s work at last being considered fundamental, Kael reframed the cultural perception of this collaboration so that these days our view of the process is at least a little bit more impartial. There is no way that David Fincher’s Mank would’ve existed without this essay, and consider: How many movies about directors and actors have we seen? How many about screenwriters? Who gets all the figgy pudding in this exchange?
The contributions of the writer are very often trampled and overlooked, an unfortunate truth which compounds their lack of power in the Hollywood system, and so too any avenue of film production. For a critic to admonish this reality, and through the power of her writing alone enact revisionism, that is truly something.