What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Brody's Misinterpretation of Kael

Richard Brody, in his “Sontag On Movies: For Interpretation” (“The Front Row,”, May 23, 2012), says, “Sontag ghettoized much of classic Hollywood under the rubric of “camp” (famously, in her “Notes on ‘Camp’”), just as, around the same time, Pauline Kael ghettoized the same movies by calling them “kitsch.” I question the accuracy of his statement about Kael. In “Notes on ‘Camp,’” Sontag identified Trouble in Paradise and The Maltese Falcon as “among the greatest Camp movies ever made.” Kael, in her brilliant 1991 collection 5001 Nights at the Movies, praises Trouble in Paradise as “Perhaps the most shimmering of the romantic comedy collaborations of the director Ernst Lubitsch and the writer Samson Raphaelson.” She says it’s “full of suave maneuvers and magical switcheroos; in its light-as-a-feather way, it’s perfection.” Regarding The Maltese Falcon, she writes, “This film is an almost perfect visual equivalent of the Dashiell Hammett thriller” (5001 Nights at the Movies). She says, “It is (and this is rare in American films) a work of entertainment that is yet so skillfully constructed that after many years and many viewings it has the same brittle explosiveness – and even some of the same surprise – that it had in its first run.” Kael’s admiration for these two movies is obvious. It’s difficult to comprehend how Brody concluded that she “ghettoized” them as “kitsch.” Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Credit: The above portrait of Pauline Kael is by Eda Akaltun.

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