“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.”