5001 Nights at the Movies
Pauline Kael’s 5001 Nights At The Movies is not meant to be a complete guide to movies, but rather an overview of what cinema can do. Containing over 2800 reviews originally written for the Goings On About Town section of The New Yorker, it tackles all manner of movies including silent films, talkies, foreign and American productions, as well as shorts and documentaries.
This is a fairly heavy book to lug around. I originally started this out as my bathroom book, where I could digest a few reviews each visit. The reading was compelling enough that I soon graduated it to the bedside table where I could read more without making frequent trips to the commode.
5001 Nights offers much more than light reading and entertainment. The short and snappy reviews make excellent, extra-cirrucular reading for screenwriters. Many readers complain that just about every review is a bad one. Pauline sure doesn’t mince her words when she’s trashing something that has been passed down to us as a classic. But as mentioned by William Shawn in the foreword: “when she thinks that a picture has failed, she becomes so intent on getting to the bottom of what went wrong.”
That’s the rewarding part of this book. After a short 2 or 3 paragraphs, you know what the story is about, who starred in it, how it was made and what significance the film has. Personally, I’ve found reading and re-reading this book has helped me avoid many storytelling traps. It has also helped me get better at summing up my own writing in a few sentences. After all, when someone asks you what you’re writing, you only have about 3 or 4 sentences to get your idea across before their eyes start glazing over and they wish they hadn’t asked.
This is a great book of short film criticisms. It illustrates that the role of the critic is not to tear down films, but help future filmmakers and writers learn from the mistakes others have already made.