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November 01, 2011


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I think if it wasn't for Pauline Kael and her acolytes (I refuse to use that other term) I don't think people would still be kicking around MISSION TO MARS quite so ruthlessly. Which is my way of saying "I kind of liked it."


MISSION TO MARS wouldn't be kicked around quite so ruthlessly by those who resist Kael and her teachings, I should have said.

Michael Adams

Back in the olden days, I read a newspaper article saying BLOW UP was the highest grossing movie in the history of Texas drive-ins. Them cowboys just love a glimpse of pubic hair. One can imagine their shouts to Vanessa to move her arms.

Glenn Kenny

Bill, I'll have to look at "Mission To Mars" again. My most vivid memory of it is the grave-like silence that fell on myself, Kent Jones and J. Hobermas as the credits rolled at the screening at which we were seated together. And it wasn't as if we had never enjoyed a DePalma film before.

And yes, MA, it's an inconvenient truth for the Antonioni-hating, "great cinema is popular cinema" Kaelites that "Blow-Up" was a HUGE hit back in the day. Shooing away that fact on account of pubic-hair appeal destroys their whole thesis in a sense, which is a pleasant bonus.


Well now, don't get your hopes up or anything. I *kind of* liked it, and it's more that I can't really understand the vitriol directed towards it. Hell, DePalma himself has done much worse!

jim emerson

ZS, I'm with you. Whatever somebody thinks is "pleasurable" or "fun" or "entertaining" is their business. I've always resented the presumptuousness of those who think they have the ability to project their definitions of those terms onto others -- whether they're reviewers or moviegoers who say, "Hey, enjoy it! It's mindless entertainment!" (As if those two terms should be synonymous.) Kael was ruled by her gut reactions, her taste. That was all that mattered to her. She couldn't write about directorial style or cinematic technique because she didn't recognize them and (therefore) didn't care about them. She had no vocabulary for addressing them. But those are the things that give ME the most pleasure -- in watching movies and writing about them.


Nothing wrong with gut reactions or finding something entertaining and it is certainly better to write about something that excites you. However, a good critic doesn't divorce feeling from systematic analysis. Perhaps more importantly, a good critic evolves his/ her own assumptions about pleasure, which is the opposite of what is implied by that whole Kois nonsense about "my taste remains stubbornly my taste" or Taylor’s deeply problematic notion that pleasure is to be contrasted to the “work” of watching movies. What kind of critic, who presumably watches more movies than the common person, doesn’t change his/her taste as his/her frame of reference expands? Is this the George Bush logic of film criticism: the populist every man you can have a beer with and he never changes his mind?

Any critic or historian of film should work to expand their taste and knowledge. Personally, discovering Andre De Toth’s Westerns have been a great source of cinematic pleasure to me but I had to work to “discover” them.

Tom Block

Certain movies really bring out the pseudo-Lawrentian bullshit in some critics. When "Bring It On" came out, I must've heard this line a thousand times: "Kirsten Dunst in a cheerleader's outfit? What's not to like!" That there was usually a defensive edge to it made sense--it was almost always a guy in his 40s or 50s who was saying it.


Hahaha. To be fair, that's about all I remember from "Bring it On".

Adam R.

@ bill: Agreed, De Palma has done worse, and I don't particularly dislike Mission To Mars either. I just think it's occasionally beautiful and occasionally clunky, and, like most films, a mixture of the successful and unsuccessful. It was more the mission from the Paulettes to christen it a misunderstood masterpiece that reeked of misguided effort.

When I go back and read Kael's rave for Dressed To Kill, the source of her enthusiasm can still (to my eyes) be found in the movie, which holds up brilliantly. I guess it's about picking the right movie or book or whatever to rally around. Every critic wants their big flag-planting moment, I guess. People still talk about Kael's opening paragraph of her Last Tango In Paris review. You've just got to make sure you don't pick a middling sci-fi film that can't carry the weight.

Glenn Kenny

One reason I'm slightly relieved that there's no digital archive of PREMIERE is that I chose "American Beauty" for my "flag-planting moment." Boy, did I fuck the monkey there, or what?


Just be lucky you don't have to grade papers on American Beauty. I'll be damned if I know why I encounter so many students who love that movie. I'm always tempted to scrawl "WATCH BIGGER THAN LIFE INSTEAD" in red-ink over every page.

Mack S

Glenn, you flag-planted for American Beauty? Man, that sounds like a monkeyfucking moment if ever there was one.


Or, ZS, you could scrawl "WATCH 'THE ICE STORM' INSTEAD", and persuade them by saying it counts (ever-so-slightly) as a superhero movie.


Unfortunately, THE ICE STORM also counts as an Ang Lee movie.

David Ehrenstein

And as Ang Lee movies go it's ININITELY better than "He Broke His Back Mounting Him."


Auteurist alert!

Bill C

Did anyone else read this re-posting of Martin Scorsese's 1993 letter to the New York Times? Especially, sadly, prudent.



From the Criterion Collection essay accompanying 'The Ice Storm' DVD:

"Asked by French journalists in a 2001 interview what recent films he most admired, Brian De Palma named Ang Lee’s 1997 'The Ice Storm'. It was surprising to hear one of the leaders of a filmmaking revolution that aimed at transforming American cinema in the sixties single out as exemplary a work by a Taiwanese-born director whose first three films were in Mandarin, but De Palma was right."


Thanks a million for that link Bill!

Tom Block

Holy shit...here's the Bruce Weber column that Scorsese was responding to.


Scorsese was probably right to focus on the Fellini factor--it *is* a sad fucking statement that the Times would run this a week after he died (or *ever*, for that matter). But as was once said of somebody else's work, it's line for line worthless, and it makes Dan Kois look like Andre Gregory.

Glenn Kenny

"Makes Dan Kois look like Andre Gregory," pretty funny. Well, as Kent Jones, I think, pointed out in one thread, and Luc Sante pointed out on another on my Facebook page, this sorta thing tends to pop up in the Times almost every six months or so. I imagine Kois might be a little surprised that his iteration got all that attention, really. And yeah, Weber WAS a feisty little drip back in the day. But you know, it's not easy being an in-house or even regular freelance philistine for the Paper of Record; you need good weather-vane reading skills AND rear-view-mirror scanning chops. One decade you get to piss all over Fellini, then years later your Style section is breathlessly expressing its admiration for a SUNY coed whose tortoise-shell specs were chosen in homage to Mastroianni in "La Dolce Vita." You gotta figure that in his cultural vegetables piece Kois held off on going full retard over Derek Jarman not out of any genuine aesthetic impulse or conscience but from an intuition that it mightn't be wise to institutionally piss off Tilda Swinton.


Weber's characterization of Fellini's work leads me to believe he never saw anything the man made prior to, say, SATYRICON.

Part of Weber's thesis seems to be something like "it's okay to be middlebrow if you have ADD."


And now Kois is pimping Clint Eastwood for the Razzie he so richly "deserves." As if I needed another reason to be annoyed by this guy (Kois, not Clint): http://www.grantland.com/blog/hollywood-prospectus/post/_/id/36767/razziewatch-clint-eastwood-is-due

The Fanciful Norwegian

"If I recall correctly, [Taylor said] that people who disliked Mission to Mars and The Dreamers were utterly incapable of enjoying cinema."

Taylor did say this, more or less, but he was actually quoting Armond White: http://www.salon.com/2000/09/29/mission_mars/singleton/

The Fanciful Norwegian

(at least with respect to Mission to Mars)


Fanciful Norwegian: Now that I took a few seconds to look up that Dreamers thing (it was a Top Ten capsule from 2004), I notice that he attributed the remark to a close friend there, as well. He (the friend) said that anyone who doesn't like The Dreamers doesn't "deserve" movies. Maybe that was also White?

Glenn Kenny

Must be a weird way to live, believing that anyone who doesn't share your pleasure has earned your absolute scorn. On the other hand, you know, google-goggle, google-goggle, one of us, etcetera.

And, @jbryant: Yeah, I hear ya, but on the other hand, that whole Kois "Razzie Watch" thing is so sad it's difficult to get agitated about. Even taking Klosterman into account, seeing it on Grantland is like spotting the "Booger" character from "Revenge of the Nerds" playing triangle with the New York Philharmonic. And on yet another hand, I suppose it...wait for it...PAYS THA DOCTAS BOI!!!!


Given that I winced throughout 'Mission to Mars', found 'Marnie' a substantial disappointment and haven't even seen 'The Dreamers', I figure I must hate cinema enough to make Mullah Mohammed Omar look like Henri Langois!


I need to learn how to make these "you must hate cinema if you don't like X arguments."

If you don't like "The Garbage Pail Kids Movie then you don't understand cinema."

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