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Watch: Trailer for Pauline Kael Documentary ‘What She Said’

Watch: Trailer for Pauline Kael Documentary 'What She Said'

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael,” a documentary about the great New Yorker film critic, has finished principal photography and is scheduled to be completed later this year, with a crowdfunding campaign to help finish postproduction coming as soon as next month. Director Rob Garver, who is making his feature debut, says the focus will be on Kael’s work rather than her life, perhaps as a way of distinguishing the film from the Roger Ebert profile “Life Itself.” He interviewed more than 40 subjects, including filmmakers Alec Baldwin, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Schrader, John Boorman, Robert Towne, James Toback and critics Greil Marcus, Camille Paglia, Stephanie Zacharek, David Edelstein, James Wolcott, Philip Lopate, Molly Haskell, Carrie Rickey and Joe Morgenstern.

“What She Said” comes at an important juncture, as Kael’s stock seems to have fallen in recent years, or at least her name is no longer spoken with the same reverence. But the live-wire crackle of her prose has not diminished with time, and her ability to break from the herd without (usually) descending into petty squabbling is sorely missed. As Kent Jones wrote in the comments (remember them?) to this 2008 post:

I think that the feeling of sitting in the dark and being overwhelmed by movies was her true subject, more than the individual movies themselves (as Menand points out in his admiring piece, she found her rapture in some questionable items right before she retired). In essence, she didn’t actually lead that national conversation, because it happened between the audiences, the theaters (most of which are now gone and replaced with uninviting multiplexes in which you’re constantly reminded of your status as a consumer), and, of course, the movies. Rather, she chronicled the sensation of taking part in the conversation, with devotion and care, and that was her great achievement. As a critic, however, I think that she assured her audience that they could take a pass on way too many movies — movies that necessarily disrupted the conversation, movies that were finally the inconvenient guests at the party. None of which tarnishes her extraordinary writing on Welles (despite that crazy essay), early Godard, or so many others.

Here’s the trailer for “What She Said.”

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Sorry to hurt your feelings, DiDi, but the facts are the facts are irrefutable. So, you’re a Paulette. It must hurt to know some of the ugly truths about Kael, her lying and her backstabbing and her ruthless interference with the careers of others. Truth is not malice. Malice is somebody like yourself who is presented with facts and lacks the decency or intellectual capacity to write a coherent response. Kael was a drunk and lair and malicious to Carrie Rickey, Veronica Geng, so many other people, that your lack of education of film history and criticism is nothing puerile. Best of look looking through primrose glasses. Kael was manipulative liar, and William Shawn hated her. Kael’s criticism is now the object of scorn among many, because they her true story and because of her infantilized hyperbole. DiDi, back to the books and movies for you. You don’t even know how much you have to learn. As for your calling me a liar, tells me everything I need to know about your parents. Decent people don’t behave the way you do in a written debate.

Didi Cheeka

@Terry, your sincere malice functions on two levels: indirectly, it reveals Kael’s importance (even if grudgingly, reluctantly admitted; on the other it assures your guilt of the same crime you accuse Kael of – just that yours is worse, because you’re a liar…


Shawn did NOT want to take Kael back after her disaster in Hollywood. He refused, loathed her, and was only convinced to take her back because he told her before she left she could come back if she wanted to. Over a series of days, Shawn was finally convinced to take Kael back. Her work when she returned was a caricature of her best writing and she became something of a national laughing stock. Gilliatt left the magazine because of severe alcoholism. The piece about Graham Greene was written when she was so ill she according to her editor, did not seem to know where she even was. Which can do nothing to diminish the brilliant film criticism she wrote in THe London Observer and The New Yorker. She was also a brilliant writer of short stories, novels, the script of Sunday Bloody Sunday, profiler, playwright, etc. Kael wanted to be all those things but couldn’t. She didn’t have the talent and she certainly lacked the intelligence of Penelope Gilliatt. Kael went behind Gilliatt’s back, lying about her to Shawn and conspiring with fact checkers, whom she groomed, to let her know anything amiss with Gilliatt. Kael stabbed Carrie Rickey through the back, as well as Veronica Geng, David Denby, and so many others. She was dishonest, a mediocre reviewer of pure hyperbolic nonsense, and she is outclassed by Gilliatt, Stanley Kauffmann, Dwight McDonald, Agee, Warshow, Potamkin, etc. The truth about Kael’s backstabbing and disloyalty is still pouring out. So, if one loves nonsensical hyperbole, Kael’s your critic.


I’m not sure that’s accurate. I believe Gilliatt was let go from TNY partly because she plagiarized in writing a Graham Greene profile. Shawn actually hired Kael not once but twice, after she left to work on the west coast, and then returned to New York.


Will the film go into her lying, her backstabbing of friends, her malicious campaign, which she lied about, to get Penelope Gilliatt’s job. Interesting, Gilliatt’s work is now being taken more seriously than Kael’s. Gilliatt was not, as William Shawn said of Kael, totally corrupted. She was a brilliant critic who saved the New Yorker from reviewing only American junk. Kael became a caricature of herself. Her cruelty in her personal life towards those who believed they were her friends is legendary. She lied and backstabbed from start to finish. If you meaningless hyperbolic nonsense, Kael’s your critic. If you want substantive writing, you must go to Stanley Kauffmann, Penelope Gilliatt, Andrew Sarris, Dwight McDonald, Agee, Warshow. Not the deceitful Kael.

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