Friday, September 30, 2011

K and K


Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times reviews books like the smartest kid for a junior college bi-weekly student newspaper, which is to say that her insights, her scorn, her depth of field would be amazing for an eighteen year old in any decade. What is amazing for an eighteen year old, though, seldom amazes anyone when the same level of aptitude and attitude are displayed in mature adults; you think  experience along the way to one's thirties and beyond would have seasoned the fact-obsessed certitude with a personality and a weariness of making statements that are applied like nails to a coffin.  This, of course, sets up those who continue to read her to have expectations that she will someday come into her own and develop the qualities one desires in a critic--real passion, a lively, unstrained prose style reflective of a personality that wants to talk to you, and, if it's not asking too much, insights, conclusions and judgments that break away from the clich├ęs and tropes that often, too often pass for commentary. This blossoming is not forthcoming for Kakutani, who remains an underachiever  in the assessment of of other people's work. Her views are so frail in presentation,so inch-deep in investigation that she does not seem that could withstand a conversation with someone wo politely disagreed with. Kakutani seems like she would sulk, cast her eyes down, puzzled about why she is being attacked. She does not sound as if she cares about the books she's tasked with giving an opinion on, and there is mechanical movement to her columns, a method she's seemingly developed in order to dispatch her obligations as soon as possible.She gives you the feeling that she looks forward to getting away from the computer and easing into bunny slippers , cocoa and a dvd she is finally getting around to watching. Pauline Kael cared about the movies she wrote about, and though she faltered toward career's end with messy pronouncements and idol worship, at her best she convinced you that movies were important and had you talking about the issues she's raised.Hers was a passion that would bring you to a tavern after a movie where you would argue with her until the late night about the merits or demerits of a particular director's work. Kael was the sort you thought would continue the argument you just hung up with the first person to come to her door--the mailman,the landlord, homicide detectives--or with whoever chanced to give call at home; her engine was always goined, revving itself for another contest of who had the quickest wit.  Kakutani  just makes you wonder again and again how any reviewer could make reading books or writing reviews about them seem like such a joyless way to spend one's time.