Watching Lawrence of Arabia the movie the other night I could see that I was partaking of the golden age of film, when filmmakers took writing seriously and actually attempted to match cinematic imagery to original narrative, and that such a golden age would never occur again.
I adore movies—I wanted to subtitle my last novel “The Classical World”, A Novel of a Film but was persuaded not to by my amanuensis—as a good movie is a type of serious entertainment in a medium all its own, a medium where art and artifice, craft and commerce, business and pleasure can come together in the sort of way I hope my novels might one day be read. But the truth of movies is the truth of all serious entertainments, of which novels are the most serious: that there are very few good ones.
As I watched Lawrence of Arabia, a good movie, not a great movie but good when good now appears better than ever, I remembered how I used to read Pauline Kael in the college library between classes, and how I marveled at her expectations for movies, how excited her prose could be when she approved of a movie and how she could maintain that level of excitement when she was disappointed. I believed Pauline Kael was a great critic then—her investment in movies was complete immersion, she never tried to hide her intellect or her emotion—and she wrote well, her writing was equal to her emotion and intellect, directed to her principal passion, helping a reader like me understand what makes a movie good or bad.
In a decidedly offshore, indirect way Pauline Kael led me to Longinus and then to Matthew Arnold and now to Walter Benjamin. I seem to remember that Longinus and Arnold were included in a college textbook for a class I was taking in critical thinking, and that I was reading Pauline Kael at that time on my own time, as I’m reading Walter Benjamin now.