The Legend of Pauline Kael Challenged
As you made note, Pauline Kael is gone (MM
#45, Vol. 9). Along with your piece on her in your latest issue,
there have been many obituaries elsewhere, all also in high praise
My experience with Ms. Kael is quite different and
not atypical. Apparently Ms. Kael, so desperate to appear clever
(and The New Yorker and the press so impressed with her eloquence),
the public never got to know that very much of her brilliance
relied on faked-up forgeries.
Please read her review of Gimme Shelter and my response
to it. Then ask how did she get away with it? At the time, just
after the article came out in 1970, my brother and I had a meeting
with Mr. Shawn, the “saintly” editor of The New Yorker, and presented
him with our written response to her article.
He should have fired her on the spot. Instead, he
let stand all of what he knew to be false: no letter to the editor,
no corrections, no retractions.
Someone should check it out: the many other filmmakers
who, like us, can tell you the damning falsities that made fascinating
reading and assured her of a brilliant professional career only
because the public never got word of her gravely deceitful character
assassinations. It behooves documentarians especially to distinguish
fact from fiction.
Her falsifications struck a low blow at the very
essentials of our integrity.
? Albert Maysles, Maysles Films, Inc., New York,
[The following is an excerpt from the makers
of Gimme Shelter to the editors of The New Yorker, 1970]
The directors would like to point out the following
errors in Pauline Kael’s review of Gimme Shelter, a film about
the Rolling Stones tour of the United States which ended with
a free concert at Altamont, where a young, black man was stabbed
to death by a member of the Hell’s Angels.
Miss Kael seems to be implying that we, as filmmakers,
are responsible for the events we film by suggesting that we set
them up or helped to stage them. In referring to our previous
film, Salesman, Miss Kael says “the Maysles brothers recruited
Paul Brennan, who was in the roof-and-siding business, to play
a Bible salesman.” Paul Brennan had been selling Bibles for eight
years prior to the making of our film and was selling Bibles when
we met him. No actors were used in Salesman. The men were asked
to simply go on doing what they normally did while we filmed.
This misstatement of fact is used in a paragraph
which associates us with a number of other filmmakers who Miss
Kael implies filmed staged events in such a way that they would
appear to be a documentary. At the top of the list is Leni Riefenstahl,
who was hired by Hitler to film the Nazi Party Rally at Nuremberg
in 1934. These filmmakers may or may not have manufactured events
for the cinema. We did not.
Miss Kael further implies that the makers of Gimme
Shelter are responsible for what happened at Altamont (presumably
the killing). She does not make the direct statement that the
filmmakers arranged the events at Altamont, but she discusses
the film in the following ways: “when facts are manufactured for
the cinema,” “if events are created to be photographed,” “arranging
events to be caught,” “it doesn’t look so fraudulent if a director
excites people to commit violent acts on camera.” She goes on
to suggest that the filmmakers were involved in producing the
concert and consequently involved in hiring the Hell’s Angels
as security guards.
The facts are: We were involved in producing a film
of the Rolling Stones’ tour of the United States, not in producing
concerts. To the best of our knowledge, the free concert was produced
by Rock Scully, Sam Cutler and Mike Lang with the help of the
people from the Grateful Dead organization and many volunteers
from the San Francisco area.
We did not produce the event. It’s our understanding
that the Rolling Stones agreed to play for nothing and to pay
some of the costs of production. The above mentioned producers
of the concert said they did not hire the Angels. The Angels told
the filmmakers that they were not hired. Since we could not establish
that they were hired, we did not say so in the film.
Miss Kael calls the film a whitewash of the Stones
and a cinema verit? sham. If that is the case, then how can it
also be the film which provides the grounds for Miss Kael’s discussion
of the deeply ambiguous nature of the Stones’ appeal? All the
evidence she uses in her analysis of their disturbing relationship
to their audience is evidence supplied by the film, by the structure
of the film which tries to render in its maximum complexity the
very problems of Jagger’s double self, of his insolent appeal
and the fury it can and in fact does provoke, and even the pathos
of his final powerlessness. These are the filmmakers’ insights
and Miss Kael serves them up as if they were her own discovery.
Rather than giving the audience what it wants to believe, the
film forces the audience to see things as they are.
We don’t know where Miss Kael got her facts. We
do know that her researcher phoned Paul Brennan, one of the Bible
salesmen, and told him that The New Yorker was interested in doing
an article about him. He made it quite clear to her that he was
a Bible salesman and not a roof-and-siding salesman when we made
the film about him. Aside from his own statement, this could easily
have been checked out by contacting his employers, the Mid-American
Bible Company. Miss Kael’s researcher also contacted Porter Bibb
(who is identified in the review as the producer of Salesman when
in fact he had nothing to do with producing Salesman) and asked
him how much the Maysles had made on Gimme Shelter. When Mr. Bibb
suggested that she call the Maysles, she replied that she didn’t
think the Maysles would want to talk to her.
We don’t know why she would feel that way since
she had called and we had talked to her. She asked us if the free
concert had been staged and lighted to be photographed and we
told her that it had not. In her review, Miss Kael states that
“the free concert was staged and lighted to be photographed.”
In fact, the filmmakers were not consulted and had
no control over the staging or the lighting at Altamont. All of
the cameramen will verify that the lighting was poor and totally
These errors are crucial to her argument that Gimme
Shelter is a cinema verit? sham and a whitewash of the Rolling
Stones. Miss Kael’s argument is not supported by the facts. It
can only be supported by her errors.