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Pauline Kael

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To the Editor:

I wish to respond to Daniel J. Silver’s article on Pauline Kael [“She Lost It at the Movies,” April]. While I am no uncritical admirer of Kael’s criticism, Mr. Silver’s turning her into a champion of the 1960′s counterculture is not convincing.

It would never occur to me, for instance, to associate Kael’s advocacy of what Mr. Silver calls “simple aesthetic delights” with the counterculture. Indeed, I would think this criterion particularly anathema to the avant-garde filmmakers of the era. But then, Kael’s impatience with the Left and the ethos of the counterculture is everywhere to be found in For Keeps. I will cite just one example. Her 1971 put-down of Alexandro Jodorowsky’s nihilistic El Topo is hardly the work of a critic who flirts “with nihilism,” to use Mr. Silver’s words, much less someone who esteems the counterculture. The review is peppered with stabs at the pot-heads who raced to the theaters to see El Topo in the early 1970′s and proceeded to declare the Chilean filmmaker (he is actually of Russian-Jewish descent) a prophet. The movie’s countless butcherings, mutilations, and castrations of cripples, dwarfs, and the legless and armless (real deformed people, as Kael reminds us, who display their stumps)—not to mention the footage of every imaginable act of fetishism and perversion—is as redolent of the counterculture as a movie can be, yet Kael condemns the film in no uncertain terms: “The counterculture is buying mystical violence,” she writes in her review, and “the violence [in El Topo] is what blows [the pot-heads'] minds.”

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