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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

Snatching shoes from a cricket: why didn't Kael get Cassavetes?

Filmbrain contrasts the respective legacies of film cricket and filmmaker in a ditty entitled John Cassavetes and the Shoes of Pauline Kael.” The piece begins by quoting Kael: “The acting that is so PK27_347.jpg bad it’s embarrassing sometimes seems also to have revealed something, so we’re forced to reconsider our notions of good and bad acting… Faces has the kind of seriousness that a serious artist couldn’t take seriously—the kind of seriousness that rejects art as lies and superficiality. And this lumpen-artists’ anti-intellectualism, this actors’ unformulated attack on art may be what much of the public also believes—that there is a real thing that ‘art’ hides…”Of which Cassavetes once said to cinematographer Frederick Elmes: “The way I figure it, if Pauline Kael ever liked one of my movies, I’d give up.” Writes FB, “[T]he reasons behind my veneration have changed tremendously over the years. What grabbed me back in the 80s was just how different his films were[, a] sense of immediacy combined with a seemingly ‘fuck you’ attitude towards Hollywood was terribly exciting… [N]ow that I’ve reached the age of Archie, Harry and Gus (the infernal trio from Husbands), I find myself looking at Cassavetes’ films through an entirely new set of eyes. The modes of behavior seem less foreign to me, as do the intricate subtleties of the various relationships—be it between friends, lovers, spouses, or parent and child. The desperation, the loneliness and longing, the inability to communicate, and the overall tragic nature of many of his characters speaks to me in a way not possible back then… jc_35_67.jpg Cassavetes’ work wasn’t fully appreciated during his lifetime, and his relationship with film critics was tumultuous at best. For every critic that praised him, there was a Vincent Canby, John Simon, or Stanley Kauffmann ready to cut him down. Yet the harshest of all his detractors was New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, whose distaste for Cassavetes was nearly as strong as [hers for] Kubrick.” Re-reading Kael on Cassavetes “reveals that she spends as much time rebuking the audience as she does the film itself. That the realism in Cassavetes’ films is not her liking is acceptable, but her attitude towards those genuinely moved by them is nothing short of condescending…” [Always a danger when a cricket’s pique reveals more of themselves than of the art/artist on view.]


“I think embarrassment is not a quality of art but our reaction to failed art, yet many members of the audience apparently feel that embarrassment is a sign of flinching before the painful truth, and hence they accept what is going on as deeper and truer because they have been embarrassed by it.” … Cassavetes was no doubt bothered by Kael’s opinion of him, and his various run-ins with [her] certainly didn’t help… He tried to ban her from a screening of Husbands, but Ben Gazzara intervened on her behalf.” FB quotes Marshall Fine’s bio, “Accidental Genius”: “Cassel recalled a taxi ride to a bar after a screening that he had been to with Cassavetes and Kael. Kael was talking about the film they’d just seen and Cassavetes looked at her with a suspicious grin. “Pauline, you don’t know what you’re saying,” he said. Before she knew what was happening, he reached down and snatched the shoes off her feet. Even as she squawked in protest, Cassavetes hurled the shoes out the taxi window. Once they arrived at the bar, Cassavetes and Cassel chivalrously offered to carry the diminutive Kael into the bar. She walked in her stocking feet instead.” An immature gesture… but one that seems so in character for Cassavetes I’ve always been curious if the Paulettes toed the party line on Cassavetes. As far as I know, über-Paulette Armond White hasn’t reviewed any of his films, but references to Cassavetes in other reviews have always been positive. I’m not sure what Denby, Edelstein, Powers, et al. think about him. Regardless, Kael’s scorn towards the films of John Cassavetes has always been a bitter pill to swallow, for she was the first critic I read religiously, and who opened my eyes to so much about cinema. But as my opinion of Cassavetes continues to grow, so does my assertion that Kael just didn’t get it.”

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