“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” …
March 12th, 1992, Boston. Model for Karin Models, Fenton Model Management and Script Supervisor of the documentary about Pauline Kael entitled “What She Said”.
You told us that you are working with your team on this doc which shows motion picture history through the eyes of famed movie critic Pauline Kael. Coming in late 2016: this job gave you the chance to meet a lot of interesting people. Would you tell us about the most exciting experiences you lived so far?
The film’s director, Rob Garver, has interviewed 44 people for this film, and I’ve met some wonderfully interesting and inspiring filmmakers, actors, authors and critics (you can find a full list of participants on our website www.whatshesaidmovie.com). Besides breathing the same air as some serious movie legends, I think the most exciting experience for me has been watching a film, and then reading Pauline’s review of that film right afterwards. It’s something that anyone can do at home because a lot of Pauline’s reviews are online, as well as in her collections, and it’s really special. In the past I never felt the need to read a piece of criticism after watching a movie that I either loved or hated, but now I think it enhances the filmgoing experience. I recommend watching a movie by Altman, De Palma, Coppola or Scorsese (some of Pauline’s favorite directors) and then reading her review of the movie afterwards. You’ll see what I mean.
You interviewed the One and Only Quentin Tarantino, how was he and what did you bring home from that experience?
Quentin Tarantino was warm, friendly and very enthusiastic. I think he knows more about film than anyone I’ve ever met. He seems to have an encyclopedic cinematic knowledge that can probably only be matched by a few people (ahem, Pauline Kael). His zeal was infectious, but the most compelling thing that I took away from his interview was that you can’t let a lack of resources get in the way of your passion. Tarantino wasn’t able to go to film school. He couldn’t even afford to buy books about film. He told us a story about how, as a teenager, he saw Pauline on a late night television show, then went to a B. Dalton bookstore in Los Angeles and read her When the Lights Go Down in the aisle. He went on to read all 12 of her books.
“Pauline Kael (1919-2001) was likely the most powerful, and divisive, movie critic of the 20th century. Her love of movies was revealed in her ruthless pursuit of what made a movie or an actor’s performance work, or not, and why — which made her both admired and despised amongst her readers. The latter golden age of movies of the 1960s and 1970s are the focus of this film that pursues the question of what made Pauline Kael’s work so individual, so influential — and so damned good.” There are any words you would like to describe the doc and to add about Pauline Kael?
Pauline Kael was a remarkable critic and writer, and our film will show how she found her distinctive voice, and her struggle to make a living as a writer and to be widely read. It’ll also pair Pauline’s voice with the movies of her era, and show 20th century films through her eye. The film is about this one woman’s obsession with the movies and her impact — 15 years after her death, it’s still felt in the way people see and talk about movies.
I hope this film brings her work to the attention of people my age. She was extraordinarily influential, and honesty was of paramount importance to her- she could be brutally honest, but she was just trying to do right by the movies she watched. When Pauline loved a film, it really meant something. Some films that we consider classics today, like Bonnie and Clyde, were dismissed by other critics and then given new life by her rave review. She championed directors like Scorsese and Spielberg at crucial points in their careers. I think film as we know it today could have looked very different without her influence.
How did your passion for cinema start and what has been the best way to follow your dream in this industry?
My passion for cinema started on the small screen at home when I was a little kid. I treasured my VHS tapes and watched them over and over again. I spent so much time in front of the tv as a kid that my parents had to take the tv away one summer, hide it in a closet and make me play outside.
I guess I convinced them to bring it back at some point. When I was 10 or 11 I started catching old movies on public television. I remember being particularly taken with Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, and I began making my way through Hitchcock’s hits. I watched whatever I could find at my local library – Spellbound, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window. At some point my family got Netflix and I ordered lots of DVDs to watch (remember when that was how Netflix worked?) A few years later my family got cable, and I watched tons of movies on the Sundance Channel, IFC and Movieplex.
When I got to college I decided to take a film class just out of curiosity, but soon I switched my major from anthropology to film studies. I’d been passionate about cinema my whole life, but taking the passion seriously and making the choice to change my major was an important step for me.
What challenges have you faced so far in order to pursue your dream and your career?
I think one of the difficult things about the film industry is that there’s no tried and true path to success. There’s no guidebook that says ‘if you take these steps and work hard you will succeed.’ People come to the film industry from so many different angles, and working on this documentary really underlined that for me. A lot of the people we interviewed didn’t go to film school, or they worked in one facet of the film industry and then found success doing something else. Pauline didn’t earn a living writing about film until middle age- she supported herself and her daughter by doing odd jobs for a long time, and only truly became financially stable when she was hired by the New Yorker in 1968. I’ve learned that you need to be tenacious if you’re serious about film.
How do you combine your modeling work around the world with your job in New York?
A lot of the work I do with the documentary can be done from anywhere – I’ve worked on this doc in New York, Milan and Paris. So long as I have my laptop on hand and some internet access I can transcribe interviews, make social media posts, edit documents etc. Recently I’ve been doing some research at the New Yorker archives at the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan. A lot of my castings take place nearby in the Garment District, so sometimes I head to the library after a casting or a job. I’ve shown up to the library in sleek model-y outfits on several occasions, and I don’t think the librarians know what my deal is. They must think I’m a real piece of work, getting so dressed up for the manuscripts and archives room.
What is New York offering you? Why have you decided to move to this city?
After I graduated from college I didn’t know where I wanted to move. I thought that I might live in London or LA. Then a spot opened up in a friends’ apartment in New York, and I moved in. I personally think that New York is the best city in the world for modeling, and it’s probably only second to Los Angeles for film and television.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Geographically, I don’t know, but as long as I’m working in film or television in some capacity, I’ll be happy.
Follow The Documentary starring Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, Alec Baldwin, David O. Russell:
Follow Helen here: Helen Henderson Instagram Profile