Lyttle, John, The Independent (London, England)
Sometimes life is like the most banal movie cliche. There are moments that change your life . . .
I remember: the heat of the sun on my neck (I burn better than Joan of Arc) and the noises rising up from the bottom of Primrose Hill. A couple half-heartedly arguing, a lawnmower's buzz, Elton John's "Island Girl" on a distant radio. . . summer sounds.
And I remember how swiftly these everyday things blurred and faded (another corny movie effect) as I opened Pauline Kael's Reeling, a collection of film criticism culled from her New Yorker columns. The pages swallowed me up. Only now as I write do I realise how aptly the book was titled.
Here's how Kael's most famous review begins: "Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris was presented for the first time on the closing night of the New York Film Festival, October 14, 1972; that date should become a landmark in movie history comparable to May 29, 1913 - the night Le Sacre du printemps was first performed - in music history." Here's how it ends: "For adults, it's like seeing pieces of our life, and so, of course, you can't resolve your feelings about it - our feelings about life are never resolved."
Exhilarated, I flick ahead to The Abdication. I am not disappointed: "We're sustained by the hope that Christina (Liv Ullmann), who makes off for the Vatican and then faces an examination by a cardinal (Peter Finch), is going to confess to a wildly licentious past and we'll get to see choice bits in flashbacks. When it turns out she has never `given herself' to a man, we sit in a stupor."
And she gets right to the bottom of Papillon, an action flick bucking for prestige status: "Dustin Hoffman's counterfeiter goes through most of the picture subsidising Steve McQueen's escape attempts with a fortune he carries in a tube in his colon, and as the years pass and he keeps paying and paying, you can't help wondering how much money he can be carrying there. The picture is so sedate it never satisfies our curiosity; is that because when a star costs as much as Dustin Hoffman you don't make jokes about the bank roll he's sitting on?"
When I finally look up it's almost dark, the park is nearly deserted and I've completely unreeled Reeling. The evening air is chilly, but me, I feel warm.
Yes, yes, I know: get a grip. She's only a film critic. But to a Shankill Road boy on the loose in London, Pauline Kael's shiny, slangy, straightforward prose was a revelation. I wanted to write about movies, but I'd left school at 15 and Belfast at 17; not the best start. Besides, the way I wanted to write - the same way I talked - wasn't the done thing. Even with the advent of Time Out, British movie criticism was still a formal practice: polite, patronising, middlebrow. It wasn't bad; just safe and fitfully flat, the occasional passionate outpourings of C A Lejeune, Dilys Powell, Derek Malcolm and Alexander Walker notwithstanding. No …
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Publication information: Article title: Turning Point. Contributors: Lyttle, John - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: May 26, 1994. Page number: Not available. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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