We generally become interested in movies because we enjoy them and what we enjoy them for has little to do with what we think of as art. The movies we respond to, even in childhood, don't have the same values as the official culture supported at school and in the middle-class home. At the movies we get low life and high life, while David Susskind and the moralistic reviewers chastise us for not patronizing what they think we should, “realistic” movies that would be good for us--like A Raisin in the Sun, where we could learn the lesson that a Negro family can be as dreary as a white family. Movie audiences will take a lot of garbage, but it's pretty hard to make us queue up for pedagogy. At the movies we want a different kind of truth, something that surprises us and registers with us as funny or accurate or maybe amazing, maybe even amazingly beautiful. We get little things even in mediocre and terrible movies--Jose Ferrer sipping his booze through a straw in Enter Laughing. Scott Wilson's hard scary all-American-boy-you-can't-reach face cutting through the pretensions of In Cold Blood with all its fancy bleak cinematography. We got, and still have embedded in memory Tony Randall's surprising depth of feeling in The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, Keenan Wynn and Moyna Macgill in the lunch-counter sequence of The Clock, John W. Bubbles on the dance floor in Cabin in the Sky, the inflection Gene Kelly gave to the line, “I'm a rising young man” in DuBarry was a Lady, Tony Curtis saying “avidly” in Sweet Smell of Success. Though the director may have been responsible for releasing it, it's the human material we react to most and remember longest. The art of the performers stays fresh for us, their beauty as beautiful as ever. There are so many kinds of things we get--the hangover sequence wittily designed for the CinemaScope screen in The Tender Trap, the atmosphere of the newspaper offices in The Luck of Ginger Coffey, the automat gone mad in Easy Living. Do we need to lie and shift things to false terms--like those who have to say Sophia Loren is a great actress as if her acting had made her a star? Wouldn't we rather watch her than better actresses because she's so incredibly charming and because she's probably the greatest model the world has ever known? There are great moments--Angela Lansbury singing “Little Yellow Bird” in Dorian Gray. (I don't think I've ever had a friend who didn't also treasure that girl and that song.) And there are absurdly right little moments--in Saratoga Trunk when Curt Bois says to Ingrid Bergman, “You're very beautiful,” and she says, “Yes, isn't it lucky?” And those things have closer relationships to art than what the schoolteachers told us was true and beautiful. Not that the works we studied in school weren't often great (as we discovered later) but that what the teachers told us to admire them for (and if current texts are any indication, are still telling students to admire them for) was generally so false and prettified and moralistic that what might have been moments of pleasure in them, and what might have been cleansing in them, and subversive, too, had been coated over.However, this: “Not long before she died, Pauline Kael remarked to a friend, 'When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture.' Who did?”
Friday, October 17, 2008
Pauline Kael. Whew.
She knew her stuff, and while she wasn't always right, man, could she write. From “Trash, Art, and the Movies:”