DK: Oh, boy. Nobody's coming to mind. Almost what's happened, it seems to me, is that American films have all become about nerve-end stimulation—pardon some insane generalizations. At the same time, art house films have become about the opposite, the fish-bowl mise-en-scene, camera never moves, there's very little cutting, these repressive compositions, people just kind of standing around and looking at each other. Which is a way of saying "This is an Art film, God damn it!" As opposed to that vulgar Hollywood stuff. And I don't care for either of those extremes, really.

NP: That sense of self-defining in opposition…

DK: Yeah, it's just not a useful thing. Pedro Costa I think is some kind of a genius but there’s a bunch of guys who are doing that style who are not. Just dropping the camera down and having your actors stand around in a field or something is not inherently interesting, but is a way of saying, "We're not Hollywood. We're artists, we're serious. We're in Portugal, we got money from the government"… The director I like most right now is David Fincher. He passed through that kind of sensorial-overload phase and then with Zodiac I think he just entered into something completely different which reminds me most of [Otto] Preminger just… distanced, cool, he's not making too many judgments for you, he's amassing data that you can then sift through, very similar camera style, these beautiful long takes. He's probably the contemporary guy who appeals most to my calcified sensibility.

NP: Another piece I was caught up on was on John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King, which is a—not reconsideration, but a piece where you're giving kudos to someone whose previous work you hadn't responded to, somebody who either you've come around to or who's come around to you…

DK: I don't think he'd want to hear that! He happened to evolve in a direction I appreciated…Yeah, there's a piece on Fedora, the Billy Wilder film, in the book too. Huston and Wilder being two directors I just never liked at all, and yet these late films seemed to be hitting on… finding a new level, a new kind of serenity, getting past the nastiness that defined so much of their work for me. Will the Coen Brothers eventually reach that plateau? I hope so. I don't think [Robert] Altman ever did, really… The directors who really rub me the wrong way right now are people like Tony Scott and Michael Bay. "The Shooters," as they call them, these kind of macho guys who go out there and do a million shots and beat up the audience with them. I don't see a second act in those careers somehow. I don't see anything much of interest coming out of Michael Bay. I have seen some people defending Tony Scott, like the CinemaScope guys have kind of adopted him as their favorite Hollywood director, I think just out of sheer perversity, because… I don't see anything in those. It's just trash to me, one shot after another, it's just nonsense. But he does have his little following.

NP: I saw you at the Museum of the Moving Image presenting Sailor's Luck, and in conversation afterwards you were asked about the critical lions around during your early writing years, and a phrase that you brought up with regards to Manny Farber and Pauline Kael, who you didn't mark as influences, was "personality critics." If they're "personality critics" what are you?

DK: Oh, I don't think I have much of a personality like they did. I'm not that kind of a writer. I don't like to use the first person really much at all. Very sparingly. I don't know… There are certain people who are just vivid, large personalities, and that's what makes them fun to read. I don't think I'm one of those people, but I'm someone who's seen a lot of movies and has put a lot of things together, and maybe I've got something to say because I've had these experiences. But I don’t think I'm inherently a fascinating person, that I need to display my wonderfulness in front of a large audience. Pauline and Farber—I never knew Farber at all, I knew Pauline pretty well… I mean she was just a larger-than-life, charismatic person. I didn't like her reviews very much but as a dinner companion, she was fantastic, she was just a great conversationalist, very funny, always had the latest gossip and was dishing everybody left and right, and she was just one of those "big" people. I think in her work it too often came over as bullying and a little shallow… and I can understand the appeal of that kind of writing, I just don't think I'm that kind of writer, it's not what I'm drawn to, I guess.

NP: Is the general idea, perhaps, to reduce one's self so that the text being discussed shows more clearly?

DK: Well, I always think the movie's more interesting than I am. I guess that's just a product of growing up in the Midwest, I don't know. But I never thought I was there to write about me, my experiences, how this made me feel while I was sitting in the chair watching. It was always more about "How is this movie working? What's this guy trying to do? What are the animating tensions behind this thing? Is it asking a question and is it answering it?" External stuff… what can I say?


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2 comments
Michael Guillen
Michael Guillen

Great job, Nick. Though conversing with Dave Kehr might always be construed as a great job. As much as he claims he's not a big personality, I found conversing with him to be a singularly unique experience. I love talking to these guys who have such a deep reservoir of knowledge regarding film and I respect his passing the baton to a new generation of film critics, as he turns to fine tuning his appreciation of films past.

 

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