Pauline Kael on Fear of Movies (1978)

“Discriminating moviegoers want the placidity of nice art – of movies tamed so that they are no more arousing than what used to be called polite theatre. So we’ve been getting a new cultural puritanism – people go to the innocuous hoping for the charming, or they settle for imported sobriety, and the press is full of snide references to Coppola’s huge film in progress, and a new film by Peckinpah is greeted with derision, as if it went without saying that Bloody Sam couldn’t do anything but blow up bodies in slow motion, and with the most squalid commercial intentions.

This is, of course, a rejection of the particular greatness of movies: their power to effect us on so many sensory levels that we become emotionally accessible, in spite of our thinking selves. Movies get around our cleverness and our wariness; that’s what used to draw us to the picture show. Movies – and they don’t even have to be first-rate, much less great – can invade our sensibilities in the way that Dickens did when we were children, and later, perhaps, George Eliot and Dostoevski, and later still, perhaps, Dickens again. They can go down even deeper – to the primitive levels on which we experience fairy tales. And if people resist this invasion by going only to movies that they’ve been assured have nothing upsetting in them, they’re not showing higher, more refined taste; they’re just acting out of fear, masked as taste. If you’re afraid of movies that excite your senses, you’re afraid of movies.”

(Excerpted from The Age of Movies)

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