Review that ruined Lean


Let me state for the record that I am a great fan of Lean and his movies, and I think "Ryan's Daughter" is one of the most underrated films of all time.

After Zhivago's release in 1965, many critics disliked it, and took the liberty of saying nasty things against it. This prompted Lean to abandon filmmaking for over 5 years. But somehow he must have liked the story of Ryan's Daughter and so commited it to film. Despite the masterpiece that it was, critics and audiences alike did not appreciate it as they should. There were many bad reviews for this film, but I have heard that there was one review espesially that prompted Lean to retire for nearly 14 years! Now, I don't exactly know who wrote that review or where it was published, but to make a person like Lean lose faith in himself for 14 years it must have said some awful things.

Does anyone know what sort of review is this, who wrote it, and perhaps where I can find it?
I am rather curious to see how negative and personal a review can be.

Thanks a lot.


"Nothing is written"

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The review you are referring to sounds like the Pauline Kael review. I am relying on my memory, but I believe it is in the November 21, 1970 issue of the New Yorker. I have read so many times that her review caused him so much pain that he did not make another film for 14 years. Also there was a meeting at the Algonquin Hotel in which he was pretty much ambushed by a bunch of critics of which she was one. However if you read Kevin Brownlow's biography, he discusses Lean's plans during that 14 year period to make Mutiny on the Bounty which never came to fruition. So, I think people make too much of her review. It might have made him unhappy, but I can't believe that a mere mortal like Pauline Kael could deter such a genius as David Lean. It just does not make sense to me. He was driven to make films, and make films he did. I don't think anyone could have stood in his way. As for Ryan's Daughter, I love this film and I wish I could see it again on the big screen.

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That's so horrible. Critics should be tortured slowly and then shot... The idea that a great film maker would just give up because of some stupid critic. That's just horrible. I hate critics... Very sad.

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I would like to supplement my earlier reply by saying that I finally got around to going by the library this afternoon and looking up the Kael review in the New Yorker. Ouch! It is one of the most vitriolic review I have ever read of anything. It is not just that she did not like the film and said so, rather she sticks the knife in and twists it. In fact I get the distinct impression that she actually had some personal issues with both Lean and Bolt and took the opportunity to skewer them both. Instead of an impersonal discussion about what was good or bad about this film, she launches into an angry diatribe that seems to stem from a genuine anger at David Lean for daring to even make it. It is so vindictive that it loses its credibility for me as a film review, and leaves me asking the question, "Why does she seem to hate him so?" I can understand why her attacks would disturb David Lean, but at the same time, it is almost self destructive to take them seriously.

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I actually got the feeling she was offended by this film. Her review is so scathing that it makes me feel chastised for liking it myself. Maybe she was just filled with anger and took it out on everything around her. Did she ever like anything? What did you have to be to get her approval? Frankly, I loved this film and if that makes me a tiny brained creature in her eyes, well, so be it.

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CHITO, Kael liked Scorsese until Raiging bull, she hated that, she also hated GOODFELLAS, She liked Spielberg, until after ET. But when she wrote a bad review she wrote a bad review, now when Ebert writes a bad review he uses sarcastic humor, just read his review for ARMEGEDAN. But Kael woule be vicious. Yes Kale would have liked PULP FICTION, and Tarrintino was kissing her as after that, she hd just retired and he was saying tuff like how he wished she didn't so she could review it. She was unfair to Lean...

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I have read Pauline Kael's review of Ryan Daughter several times (it appears in her book "Deeper Into Movies" and there is nothing in it that would indicate a personal dislike of Lean or Bolt as some posters have suggested. This is utter nonsense. She was just never a fan of his style of filmmaking, his antiseptic-looking epics. But it's convenient for some people to assume it must be personal who can't take objective criticism of any kind.

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The review was originally in the New Yorker and ran several pages. Was the entire thing reproduced in the book? If only a portion was reprinted for the book, then perhaps the really vitriolic portions were left out. I read the entire review in the original and it was so angry and negative that I really did get a sense that it was personal at least on some level.

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The reviews in her books are uncut. You know it works both ways. After a (not terribly) negative review of NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, John Huston called Kael a *beep* (rhymes with "runt") in an interview that had the whole film world talking for weeks. Even after that, Kael occasionally filed reviews of Huston's films and stayed more or less objective. In fact some of her later Huston reviews were genuine raves (i.e. PRIZZI'S HONOR and THE DEAD.)

If Lean was so thin skinned that he couldn't handle bad reviews, he shouldn't have been in the business. Kael's negative reviews of Kubrick, Oliver Stone, Woody Allen never caused them to doubt their own worth.

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In fact some of her later Huston reviews were genuine raves (i.e. PRIZZI'S HONOR and THE DEAD.)


You've just named two of Huston's best movies, the Joyce adaptation being a masterpiece and a magnificent conclusion to a great career. Kael would have to be a pretty crappy film critic not to rave about them.

This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.

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... and surely the point is that she WASN'T, even after Huston had been unflattering about her. If she could remain impartial when it came to Huston's work, then there's no reason to believe that she couldn't have done the same for Lean, as well.






"Your mother puts license plates in your underwear? How do you sit?!"

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Kael was less known to the public as a film reviewer than as a cerebral writer who happened to focus on film (assuming they knew her at all; the average person has certainly never heard of her). She never had the impact on the moviegoing audience like Robert Ebert or David Denby in his prime. I think the film's unflinching look at adultery coupled with its bloated production may have scuttled this film's chances of ever being a winner. I saw it in the movies, as I did ZHIVAGO. I was impressed by the filmmaking, less so with the production excess. Not really a film to watch a second time, although God knows we all watched it when it finally arrived on TV and became a recurring epic flick like ZHIVAGO for awhile. I am a college-educated baby boomer and such massive productions simply did not hold the luster they held for our parents and grandparents or for our less-sophisticated brethren, who keep Las Vegas and reality TV in business to this day.

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You write:

I am a college-educated baby boomer and such massive productions simply did not hold the luster they held for our parents and grandparents or for our less-sophisticated brethren, who keep Las Vegas and reality TV in business to this day.

With all due respect, I find that last piece extremely condescending. I am also a (late) baby boomer, born in 1961, and so-called 'massive' productions hold a great deal of luster for me. I think that the more intimate movies of the 1970s have their place, and some are even masterpieces (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, for example) but to make such a bold and broad statement and skewer an entire demographic is extremely inappropriate.

And just so you know, I am an attorney, who absolutely hates Las Vegas AND reality TV, and to compare Lean's masterpieces to this sort of trash is inconceiveable.

Regards,

Christine from Philadelphia, PA

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Interesting. When I read her review, I sort of got the impression that she was actually of Irish descent. Why did I think that? Well the tone of the review was one of someone who was actually OFFENDED by the film, not someone who simply thought it was a bad film. She was actually angry about this film. And it was a vehement anger. An anger of one who had been maligned. I can understand how an Irish person would feel that way. The picture David Lean paints of the Irish is not a pretty one. If I were Irish I would be upset and offended. This is not a criticism of Lean or the film as it is one of my all time favorites. I know Irishmen who are not at all like the people in the film, also. In fact some of my best friends are Irish. (grin) (I will also note that she could be Irish and still be Jewish. Irish Jews are not common, but there must be some out there.)

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she launches into an angry diatribe that seems to stem from a genuine anger at David Lean for daring to even make it. It is so vindictive that it loses its credibility for me as a film review, and leaves me asking the question, "Why does she seem to hate him so?"

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The most unfortunate aspect was the timing of the movie, ie about 1916 but made in 1970 at the very onset of the small f feminist takeover of the Western World [leaving us IN the American Beauty].

The battle cry was the No 1 hit I am Woman Hear me Roar by Helen Reddy and the Bible was The Female Eunuch by Germain Greer and it is frightening to compare your comments on this "sister of the revolution" to those of Laura Miller re Greer.

"The Female Eunuch hit the bookstands in London in October 1970. By March 1971, it had nearly sold out its second printing and had been translated into 11 languages.

The main thesis of The Female Eunuch is that the "traditional" suburban, consumerist, nuclear family represses women sexually, and that this devitalizes them, rendering them eunuchs. It is a "fitful, passionate, scattered text, not cohesive enough to qualify as a manifesto," writes Laura Miller. "It's all over the place, impulsive, and fatally naive -- which is to say it is the quintessential product of its time.""

The offense to the sisterhood of course was that Rosie was NOT seen by "The Irish Beauty" as being completely JUSTIFIED in her adultery, same as Ms B in American Beauty 30 years after the total takeover with not one american testicle remaining to complain.

So the movie was seen as a Test Case by the sisterhood, even if it distorted history.









http://www.kindleflippages.com/ablog/

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It is interesting Kubrick also got the [anti] Royal Treatment from the same "lumpen literati", but probably dealt better with it than Lean


PLAYBOY: Some prominent critics -- including Renata Adler of The New
York Times, John Simon of The New Leader, Judith Crist of New York
magazine and Andrew Sarris of the Village Voice -- apparently felt that
2001 should be among those films still exempted from the category of
art; all four castigated it as dull, pretentious and overlong. [KAEL:
'It's a monumentally unimaginative movie'; ADLER: 'Incredibly boring';
SARRIS: 'A disaster' || from Ciment, p. 43 -- B.K.] How do you account
for their hostility?

KUBRICK: The four critics you mention all work for New York
publications. The reviews across America and around the world have been
95 percent enthusiastic. Some were more perceptive than others, of
course, but even those who praised the film on relatively superficial
grounds were able to get something of its message. New York was the
only really hostile city. Perhaps there is a certain element of the
lumpen literati that is so dogmatically atheist and materialist and
Earth-bound that it finds the grandeur of space and the myriad
mysteries of cosmic intelligence anathema, But film critics,
fortunately, rarely have any effect on the general public; houses
everywhere are packed and the film is well on its way to becoming the
greatest moneymaker in M-G-M's history. Perhaps this sounds like a
crass way to evaluate one's work, but I think that, especially with a
film that is so obviously different, record audience attendance means
people are saying the right things to one another after they see it --
and isn't this really what it's all about?

http://www.kindleflippages.com/ablog/

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I believe it was Beethoven's Third (Eroica) Symphony. Beethoven dedicated it to "An heroic man". It seemed kind of appropriate music for the two of them walking along the beach.

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As Rosy and Charles are walking along the beach, Charles mentiones that the British have forbidden the playing of German music. First thing when he gets home, Charles puts on Beethoven's Fifth. In this small act of defiance, we get a glimpse of what sort of man Charles is. A small act in itself, but it shows us that he does not care much what the British say, think or do. He is going to play German music if he wants to. Music by a Russian composer would not have been the same act of defiance, even if the music itself had fit the scene better. Why Beethoven's Fifth? Well I think it is a piece that everyone in the audience would most easily recognize. I mean he could have played Brahms, but many people would not have "gotten it". If one comes to this film with preconceived ideas about the music, then I can see how it may be spoiled for them. Many people were grossly offended by Robert Mitchum in the role of Charles because they could not conceive of him playing anyone other than a "tough guy." That was because they were so accustomed to seeing him in those roles. Fortunately, I had not seen him in many films, so having him cast as Charles did not spoil the film for me. People were critical of Christopher Jones' performance. They said he could not act and was "wooden". It looked to me like David Lean whipped every bit of his personality out of him and molded him back as a perfect upper class Englishman. It did not matter that he could not act. David Lean managed to beat a performance out of him.

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Anyway, back to the main topic. Anyone know where I can actually find this review by Pauline Kael? I've been searching all over the web for it, but I can't seem to find it. For those of you who have read it, can you please tell me where I can find it, or maybe paste it on this board?

Thanks.

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I can't find the complete review anywhere on the internet. I actually went to the local library and read it off the microfilm. It is in the November 21, 1970 issue of the New Yorker. The New Yorker has a web site, but there is no mention on it of being able to access an archive. It is a very long review, so I guess that no one has taken the time and trouble to type the whole thing into an document that could be accessed on the internet. (t would probably be a copyright infringement if they did anyway.) However most public libraries will have back issues of the New Yorker either in print or on microfilm. It would be worth the effort to go and dig it out and read it if you are at all curious about what she said. She really hated this film big time. I love it almost beyond reason. I guess one man's meat is another man's poison as they say.

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Can't find it either. She did publish collections of her reviews so I guess if you can't find it on microfiche then try amazon.

Its sad that her apparently ruthless review gimmick put Lean into semi-retirement. I guess she had to make a buck somehow.

2 examples of her review style
http://p197.ezboard.com/fflyingomelettespalacefrm13.showMessage?topicID=242.topic

She died in 2001. Parkinsons disease

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"She had to make a buck somehow". You know she was considered the best critic of her generation. Major publishers don't publish old movie reviews of just any critic in book form. I have to say her review of Ryan's Daughter was right on the money.

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..And now Kael is dead...what a pity.

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Lean DIDN'T abandon filmmaking for 5 years. Critics aside, Dr. Zhivago was a pot of gold for MGM, and Lean spent the years after Zhivago making Ryan's Daughter. It took years to plan, build the sets, and film this (over)long movie.
Also, there ARE several collections of Pauline Kael's reviews. The one for Ryan's Daughter appears in DEEPER INTO MOVIES. Kael was not the only critic who found fault with Ryan's Daughter.


Here are a few excerpts from her review which echo similiar sentiments from critics and audiences alike.

"Ryan's Daughter is an expensive movie, but it's a cheap romance"
"Everything in Ryan's Daughter is familiar, but it was previously on a smaller scale."
"The camera swoops in on people from a heroic distance, but the characers are small..."
"...gush made respectable by millions of dollars TASTEFULLY wasted."
"In this movie everybody is trying to be something he isn't..."
"Everyone is cast against his natural appearance and apptitudes, so one is always aware of the acting."
"Christopher Jones has been drained of all vitality and remade into a synthesis of exhausted romantic cliches"
"The big sequences are just unrelated set pieces that don't function in the story."


AND here's John Simon:
"...who needs the puny people and trite plot...to clutter up the Panavision."

"The villagers are shadowy, the minor characters dimensionless, and the pricipals seemed to be carved from used celluloid (B-movie variety)."

"...the film ends, leaving me as unconcerned with its outcome as with its 189 minutes of preceeding hokum."

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As many of you have viewed on the new DVD, Richard Schickel of Time Magazine, talks about the meeting between the NY Film Critics and Mr. Lean. It was pretty brutal apparently and then Schickel goes on to renig some of what he said. Actually just one word. Sorta. It's all very unfair in my mind, then and now. Schickel leans toward he-man movies. He goes ape sh!t over Eastwood, Peckinpah, and Sam Fuller, etc. At least he showed up on the DVD to explain himself. I'll give him that even though I didn't like what he said.

I assume the other NY critics are dead or near dead but it doesn't matter because the film speaks for itself. They were wrong.

They changed their tune.
I posted the NY Times DVD review here:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066319/board/nest/35650621

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After viewing the DVD, I have become curious about Richard Schickel. and others like him, who have positions on respected journals from where they write their own opinions about the creative work of others. It is, after all. only their personal opinion. How does their opinion become so influential in deciding the fate of a movie, its cast and director? What credentials would a person like Richard Schickel have to become a critic? Why should I care about his opinion? Why should David Lean have been treated so badly at that infamous meeting? Has Richard Schickel ever presented a work of art in any field that is subject to the judgement of his peers? If anyone can enlighten me, please feel free.As a student I was told, "Those that can, do, those who can't, teach. (or in this case, those who can't, become critics.)

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What you are saying is true. Who cares what critics think? In fact most works of true greatness are misunderstood and criticized when they are new. The fact that 35 years later people are rediscovering this film is just another case of that happening. It is my opinion that Pauline Kael and other critics were so hard on this film because it touched something in them that they did not want to face. I don't know what it was, but it was something. Otherwise why get so worked up over a film? If you don't like a film, you are free to dislike it, but why get so worked up over it? Anyway, this film is a true classic and I love that it is being rediscovered and appreciated for the great work that it is. Of course some people will still hate it because they still don't "get it".

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People can and do criticize the critics; they criticize their reviews. Over time the critics who last build up a substantial body of work. They reveal their prejudices, yes, for good and for ill; but if they are good observers and writers to start with—and play fair—they can be a great help to the casual moviegoer and the more serious student. Having read much of Kael's work over time, I do not think she always played fair.

Pauline Kael wrote about the movies for over 40 years. She had the luxury of being on a long deadline at the New Yorker and had a very lenient word limit. Kael's commentaries fill about a dozen 400-500 page books. Anyone who writes weekly columns for magazines or newspapers generates millions of words. People pick their words apart and use them to bolster their own points or smash them into the ground. Never more so than with Kael.

A good critic can change his opinion over time. This is not being wishy-washy; it's called being a mature human being. Kael rarely, if ever, acknowledged that she was being too harsh. She could be stubborn and brutal. She made a lot of superficial, personal attacks on actors' looks, etc. That kind of talk has no place in serious film commentary, IMO. (See her reviews from 1970-72 for example, a period in which she seems to have been at her most vitriolic.)

Sometimes saying "at least you know where someone stands" isn't a compliment!

Yes, Kael was mean to Lean. I doubt Kael's review of Ryan's Daughter was the sole reason for Lean's self-imposed exile. But for someone whose skin wasn't as thick as hers, it could have been reason enough for a few extra sessions on the pyschiatrist's couch.

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not Pauline Kael.

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The National Society of Film Critics, of which Pauline Kael and Richard Schickel were members , invited Lean to what was to be an informal discussion – Schickel is believed to have said – “can you please explain how the man who directed Brief Encounter can have directed this load of *beep* you call Ryan’s Daughter?”..then the rest of the group laid into Lean. Lean commented to Kael that she wouldn’t be “content until you’ve reduced me to making a film in black and white on 16mm.”
Kael responded: “we’ll give you color.”
Extreme bunch of pompous a-holes.




"Wars are not won by killing children"- General Ramírez (Vera Cruz)

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And since Kael is dead, we can forget about her useless reviews.

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I don't know that that's necessarily true. Many long-dead critics are still mentioned and their assessments of movies from days gone by are discussed in film classes and serious film histories. Gilbert Seldes, James Agee, Stanley Kauffmann and Bosley Crowther come to mind. Negative reviews -- particularly when time has shown the critic missed the boat -- are recalled more often than the glowing reviews, but insights can be gained from both. IMO

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"Inside Every Lean Film Is A Fat Film Trying to Escape"

Andrew Sarris

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That's true. He also referred to films by a certain director as having "Antonionennui." :)

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I know of another film that ruined a director due to bad reviews.

And Mitchum was in it also! Maybe his best. "Night of the Hunter," director Charles Laughton. Brilliant film. Very dark. Received such horrible reviews he never made another. Well, Charles, and Lean, don't listen to the idiot reviewers. PLEASE MAKE MORE!

:^)

Too bad reviewers can have such awesome power over SOME directors. Maybe not over others.

"Night of the Hunter" was simply too strange and nasty for audiences of the day to understand. Maybe it still is. But one great film.

I did not know Zhivago was not liked. What's not to like? Lean did some really great films that obviously critics lacked the intelligence to review.

Hey, if it's on TCM, it passes the test! :^) Actually, TCM has been showing some really strange stuff lately. But all the old old old folks and kids have no business in front of the TV at this time of night anyway.
OR CRITICS.

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Pauline Kael's review is printed at least in part in Brownlow's Lean bio, and it is rather nasty. Basically it says Lean is a technician who cares more about his films looking pretty than having substance - a point which has been and can be argued about his films, but with which I take great umbrage.

And, as someone else has probably said, Lean didn't "abandon" filmmaking after "Zhivago"; it took him that time to recuperate, plan, and shoot this one. Even after "Ryan's Daughter", Lean tried to get several projects off the ground in the '70s (namely "The Bounty"), they just didn't come to fruition.

"My dear Norfolk, this isn't Spain - this is England!"

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I doubt film critics actually enjoy watching films, they enjoy picking them apart. They think they are authorities on good taste. I used to be a major in Film studies but the degree to which we had to pick apart films and analyze them to death completely took away the escapism and pure enjoyment I got from them. I love movies but I would NEVER want to be a film critic, yuck. I'm pretty sure most critics, especially those like that witch Pauline Kael, have long lost their ability to actually sit back and enjoy a movie. Those who can't do, critique.

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I agree with several of these comments about the fact that Miss P. had a personal vendetta against, well, in my opinion, something in her own past, or her own experiences with men. This is the kind of film that really would bring out the nasty, evil feelings and bad experiences that may have happened to her, and she used the film to fight back against her own paranoid feelings about love and sex. And obviously, seeing lovely young Sarah Miles with that gorgeous actor making love in such a beautiful, passionate way, probably just made her jealous. Most people never have that kind of passion and it offends them. And the film is sort of a moral commentary in a way, passion vs moral committment, etc. It's just too real and most people can't handle the truth, which is, marriage and a respectable life can be dull, and passion comes along when you least expect it, and it can be beautiful. Most people don't want to accept that.

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Colleen Pale is one of the worst humans ever. She's the "critic's critic" and was so full of herself. She said Orson Welles didnt direct CITIZEN KANE and... I just can't stand her. Although... I do think this movie is only half good, the first half.

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Apparently, he did not spend the next 14 years doing nothing: during much of it, before he turned to Passage to India, he was trying to get his two-part epic version of The Bounty off the ground. It was written by Robert Bolt and to be produced by Dino De Laurentiis, then others, and the whole thing imploded because of its monster budget. Eventually that film became Roger Donaldson's The Bounty with Anthony Hopkins, Mel Gibson, Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson. Not a bad film at all by the way...

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It's Pauline Kael, not Colleen Pale.

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So many nested comments that I'm replying to the original ...

I just read the first couple of pages of PK's review; that much did not leave me wanting to read more. I found it supercilious and unfocused. Here's a few samples.

probably he doesn't have anything he really wants to do in movies except to command the technology. He probably enjoys working in his gentleman-technician's tasteful-colossal style.

That's in the very first paragraph. Already she is claiming to know Lean's motivations, and seems to be in love with the big words she uses. She's reviewing her perception of the director's motives rather than the movie. (Some have said that at least she's a brilliant writer. To me this is not brilliant writing. The New Yorker's current film critics, primarily Anthony Lane and David Denby, are much better.)

The sex-starved colleen falls for the shell-shocked hero

Did PK really think sex was what Rosy was starved for? It was obvious to me that she was starved for the excitement of new ideas.

Of Sarah Miles: This girl simply does not move the heavens

Well, she moved me. She and the scenery and cinematography were probably the best things about the film. Maybe that's because I'm male, but I don't think that's all -- Rosy's desire for ideas came through. (It may be apparent that I didn't exactly love the film. Some of my reasons are even mentioned in the PK review. But most of what she wrote, I find beside the point or just wrong.)

Her orgasms are recorded in glinting star-shaped patterns

I had almost forgotten that there even was a sex scene. It just wasn't important in the movie. It was the adventure in the forest that drew, and drove, Rosy's desire. PK could not see this? How sad for her.

the picture puts Lady Chatterley's lover back into the pseudo-aristocratic pulp romanticism from which D. H. Lawrence wrested him.

I can barely follow that sentence. Not even sure if I did. I think that basically she's saying that the sentiments are expressed too directly and openly, but I'm not sure. To me this is academic writing enamored with its own barbs.

looks as if he'd been rushed and hadn't had time to complete the editing ... (A constable is murdered in the beginning and his body is hidden, but apparently he isn't missed, because he isn't mentioned again.)

I have to wonder how carefully PK watched the film! In the first place, it isn't clear where this event takes place. The constable probably was missed, but in another town. The point of the scene is to show Tim O'Leary, to show his character, early on, even though he doesn't appear again until much later. It's called foreshadowing, PK. A barb like that makes me wonder just how carefully she watched any movie. Maybe she knows what's wrong with them, but does she know what's right with them? Does she understand that drama and reality are very different?

Well, that's enough, I don't want to read the rest. Though skimming it, it appears she never even mentions my biggest dislike, which is the musical score, shimmering bad romantic music which does not evoke Ireland in any shape or form. I'm certainly no great fan of the film, but much more so than of PK.

BTW, someone mentioned eight pages. It's spread out over nine pages, but that includes ads. It's actually only six columns -- two full pages.

Edward

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Very insightful commentary, paleolith. I agree with much of what you said.

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