Pauline Kael’s TRASH, ART, AND THE MOVIES is an essay I want to hand out to everyone.
Kael simmers about being bored with films, about how she luxuriates in the garbage nowadays as opposed to the ‘prestige’ pictures, such as 2001 (a film she deftly eviscerates, an unpopular opinion around here, but one I respect given how she backs it up).
Ultimately, it’s Kael saying: stop trying to preach, give me something new, something interesting, take big swings! Trash with a glint of charm is far more intriguing than most art, and stop pawning off all film as art, because so many works are born of a simple consumerist need.
It’s a timeless piece, one that holds up over fifty years later, one that is still provocative.
Instead of blathering on about it, I’ll simply send you along to read her words. The entirety of TRASH, ART, AND THE MOVIES is available here:
As someone who attended film school explicitly for film criticism and analysis (before I realized ‘oh I’ve made a huge mistake I love this but this is not a viable career’ and changed minors), and as someone who has followed longform film criticism since then, despite all of that, I had no idea that James Baldwin had penned this three-part essay on being Black and watching and disseminating American film via films from the silent era (you know Baldwin has a lot to say about THE BIRTH OF A NATION), the 30s (including Fritz Lang’s YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE and William Wyler’s DEAD END) to the 60s (IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) to the 70s with THE EXORCIST.
Everyone knows that Baldwin was an amazing essayist, but with THE DEVIL FINDS WORK, he’s exceptional at interweaving his personal life, the films he’s examining, and the American cultural climate in an effortlessly gorgeous manner. This essay is certainly necessary reading for any writer, doubly so for anyone writing about media.
Again, while I’m frustrated I didn’t read it in my youth along with Chicago’s own Jonathan Rosenbaum, Kracauer’s FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER, and Lotte Eisner’s THE HAUNTED SCREEN, reading it now as someone who is familiar with many of the texts and films he references and examines — as opposed to myself as a blinkered teen who was largely unfamiliar with most of the works he discusses — makes me appreciate it in a way I doubt I would have then.
You can buy it, and many other amazing books that disseminate media, at the illustrious critic Matt Zoller Seitz’s personal storefront: