Rob Garver’s beautifully crafted documentary channels the timeless headiness of Pauline Kael, arguably the greatest film critic who ever lived.
In What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael, an exquisitely crafted documentary about the woman who was arguably the greatest movie critic who ever lived, Greil Marcus, the venerable rock writer who was a friend of Kael’s, talks about the effect that her review of Bonnie and Clyde had – not its effect on the film’s fortunes (which has, in fact, been overstated), but its effect on readers. “Even if you’ve seen the movie,” recalls Marcus, “it’s like you haven’t seen the movie. You’re seeing it for the first time as you’re reading the review.” That was the effect she had – the Kael transcendence.
Kael was a stimulation machine, and the documentary, directed and edited by Rob Garver, honors that by bringing off something that looks simple but is, in fact, quite tricky. The movie offers telling bits and pieces of Kael’s life story: her upbringing on a farm in Northern California, her immersion in the smoky cocktail bohemia of Berkeley in the ’50s, her failed attempt to become a playwright, the daughter she raised out of wedlock (I phrase it that way because in 1948 it was a far more radical thing to do). But What She Said is, first and foremost, a biography of Pauline Kael’s writing.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety