01 November 2012

Raiders of a Lost Art

Brian Kellow's recent biography of Pauline Kael is workmanlike, but for the past couple of weeks any pre-1991 film watched at home is followed by a book coming down from the shelf to wallow in her reaction. Her life was at its richest when watching a film or sitting at a typewriter to release her response, so in lieu of personal information, Kellow leans heavily on prĂ©cis of her reviews. Her reaction to the impact of the Jaws/Star Wars blockbuster successes in the mid-1970s on the future of the film business - and independent films - was prescient.

Discussing Kael's response to Raiders of the Lost Ark, the George Lucas-Steven Spielberg 1981 tribute to the old movie serials, Kellow's summary encapsulates the disappointment so many feel when watching talented filmmakers waste their time on action-packed but emotionally empty epics. Raiders, writes Kellow,  
... appealed to an incredibly wide base, but Pauline regarded it as a perfect symbol of the rise of the marketing executives; in her review of the picture, she pointed out that marketing budgets often surpass total production budgets, a practice that "could become commonplace." She found Raiders didn't allow you "time to breathe - or to enjoy yourself much, either. It's an encyclopedia of high spots from the old serials, run through at top speed and edited like a great trailer - for flash." At last, she could see the direction in which Jaws had led. Its excesses were especially a pity, she thought, because both Lucas and Spielberg were loaded with movie-making talent. She observed that if Lucas "[wasn't] hooked on the crap of his childhood - if he brought his resources to bear on some projects with human beings in them - there's no imagining the result." But it's doubtful that Lucas paid attention to her admonishment - not in the face of the $230 million gross racked up by Raiders.
Brian Kellow, Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark (Viking, 2012), p295.
In response to Disney's purchase this week of the Lucas/Star Wars empire, Richard Brody, the New Yorker's film blogger (is he too geekish to be an actual columnist?), has just written a positive post about US independent filmmaking.

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