More P. Kael from “The Age of Movies. ”
From the essay, “Fear of Movies” (September 25, 1978):
In his new book The Films in My Life, Francois Truffaut writes, “I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not all interested in anything in between; I am not interested in all those films that do not pulse.” Truffaut’s dictum may exclude films that some of us enjoy. You couldn’t claim that National Lampoon’s Animal House expresses either the joy or the agony of making cinema. It’s like the deliberately dumb college-football comedies of the thirties–the ones with Joan Davis or Martha Ray–only more so; it’s a growly, rambunctious cartoon, and its id anarchy triumphs over the wet-fuse pacing, the botchy lighting, and the many other ineptitudes. In its own half-flubbed way, it has a style. And you don’t go to a film like Animal House for cinema, you go for roughhousing disreputability; it makes you laugh by restoring you to the slobby infant in yourself. (If it were more artistic, it couldn’t do that.)
But that sort of movie is a special case. Essentially, I agree with Truffaut. I can enjoy movies that don’t have that moviemaking fever in them, but it’s enjoyment on a different level, without the special aphrodisia of movies–the kinetic responsiveness, the all-out submission to pleasure. That “pulse” leaves you with all your senses quickened. When you see a movie such as Convoy, which has this vibrancy and yet doesn’t hold together, you still feel clearheaded. But when you’ve seen a series of movies without it, whether proficient soft-core porn like The Deep or klutzburgers like Grease, you feel poleaxed by apathy. If a movie doesn’t “pulse”–if the director isn’t talented, and if he doesn’t become fervently obsessed with the possibilities that subject offers him to explore moviemaking itself–it’s dead and it deadens you. Your heart goes cold. The world is a dishrag. (Isn’t the same thing true for a novel, a piece of music, a painting?)
The pressing against the bounds of the medium doesn’t necessarily result in a good movie (John Boorman’s debauch Exorcist II: The Heretic is proof of that), but it generally results in a live one–a movie there’s some reason to see–and it’s the only way great movies get made…there’s enough visual magic in [Exorcist II] for a dozen good movies; what the picture lacks is judgment–the first casualty of the moviemaking obsession.
…There’s no way I could make the case that Animal House is a better picture than Heaven Can Wait, yet on some sort of emotional-aesthetic level I prefer it. One returns you to the slobbiness of infancy, the other to the security of childhood, and I’d rather stand with the slobs.
I love this.