Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Kommendable Kael Kakophany

I should apologise for the paucity of posts, and film-related posts in particular, of late. The irony is that a big part of the reason is film-related thesis work (it will be a shame when I lose that all-purpose, reasonable-sounding excuse for not writing more often.)

I did want to briefly break my silence, however, to highlight the slew of good writing that has been appearing online about Pauline Kael. The publication this week of a new anthology of Kael’s work (The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael) as well as a new biography (Brian Kellow’s A Life in the Dark) has lead to a flood of re-evaluatiuons of the critic. The first I saw was this one by Nathan Heller at the New Yorker, but then followed Camille Paglia and Jim Emerson and Frank Rich and Dan Callahan and Armond White and “The Siren” and Andrew O’Hehir and Matt Soller Zeits.

It’s an embarassment of riches, and the there is, predictably, a lot of overlap in these pieces. Nevertheless, I urge you to have a look at them if you are at all interested in film criticism. I wrote my own piece on Kael a few years ago – here – and not having read the two new books don’t have much to add to what I wrote back then. And most of what I would add has been said better somewhere else by one or other of these writers. (It is hard, however, to imagine that the new anthology is better than the incredible For Keeps, published back in 1996).

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A Mixed Bag: Two Exhibitions at ACMI

Star Voyager: Exploring Space on Screen (ACMI, 22 September 2011 – 29 January 2012)

Margaret and David: 25 Years Talking Movies (ACMI, 17 August – 4 December 2011)

I am really reluctant to criticise anything about new shows at ACMI. Having written quite a nasty review of their Setting the Scene exhibition and then nit-picked at the much better Dreams Come True, I don’t want to seem like I have it in for them. I can also appreciate that we in Melbourne are fortunate to have the place at all: film fans in other Australian cities would love to have such a resource. So I don’t want to seem ungrateful for their new exhibition Star Voyager: Exploring Space on Screen. Once again, though, if I am honest I have to say I came away a little under-whelmed. I’ll keep this brief because as I said I don’t want to harp.

As with Dreams Come True, this is not nearly as problematic as Setting the Scene, avoiding many of that exhibition’s truly debilitating issues: things like layout and presentation of items are generally fine this time around. The big issue that remains, though, is one I have a nagging feeling might be inherent to the kind of moving-image gallery ACMI is trying to be: the oddity of presenting films in a gallery setting. A large part of the best content in this exhibition is film and video footage: there’s Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) and other early silent films about space exploration; a great Fleischer Koko the Clown cartoon; some interesting contrasts of real launch footage with Hollywood recreations such as Apollo 13; a blistering attack by Tom Lehrer (embedded below) on rocket scientist Wernher von Braun; and so on. It’s good stuff, but it’s inherently problematic to present this kind of thing on wall-mounted screens in a gallery setting. There’s probably several hours of footage in the exhibition, which means it takes considerable stamina to sample a significant portion of it. Aside from a few genuine “installations,” most of it would be best enjoyed sitting down, in a theatre or at home on a couch, edited together into a documentary film or television show. So I worry that ACMI may never get around the fundamental problem that films are not best appreciated while walking around an exhibition space.


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