Pauline Kael

A biography, a collection of criticism and a memoir spark another round of discussion of Kael and her legacy.
David Hudson

"Armond White, doing a bang-up job as the new editor of CityArts, declares it 'Pauline Kael Week,' and who am I to disagree?" asks James Wolcott. I have to assume he's aiming this rhetorical question at the general notion of a "Pauline Kael Week" rather than issuing a blanket endorsement of every argument White makes in "Pauline Kael, Criticism's Last Icon." Surely.

At any rate, we might as well go ahead and call this October "Pauline Kael Month" since it began early with Todd McCarthy's review of Brian Kellow's forthcoming biography, Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark. Last week saw New York Times critics Manohla Dargis and AO Scott discussing Kael's legacy, taking into consideration not only Kellow's book ("queasily readable," writes Dargis, "but it reconfirms that Kael's work no longer speaks to me") but also the Library of America volume, The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael (for Scott, "the idea that [Andrew] Sarris and Kael represent opposed positions does not really stand up to scrutiny").

This week brings us Nathan Heller going long in the New Yorker itself on both books as well as on Wolcott's new memoir, Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York, which "gives a colorful account of one critic's experience circling Kael's flames. Wolcott, who is now a columnist for Vanity Fair, was part of Kael's innermost circle for nearly a quarter century, and his book is an attempt to feed her legend. This may strike some readers as ironic. Wolcott is best known among Kael fans for a scathing 1997 assault on her legend, mocking her disciples, or 'Paulettes,' for dogmatism. If Lucking Out is an attempt to renew his fan's credentials (at one point, he cheers on Kael for 'pinning the bony tail of Didion's pretensions'), his motives for the change of heart are never clear."

Regardless, Heller is best on Kael's response to the waning of the 60s, "when something cooled and hardened in American life." Heller also dusts off "Five Classic Pauline Kael Reviews," contextualizes them a bit and links to digital reproductions of the pages in the New Yorker as they originally appeared; in other words, they're not just fun to read (again or not, as the case may be) but also to look at.

Discussion of Kael and all three books will undoubtedly follow, and this'll be an entry for tracking it.

Updates, 10/18: The New Yorker's Richard Brody emphasizes "the prime importance of a major body of work that she left, the one in which she most fully set forth her canon with a sharp, thumbs-up/thumbs-down directness and that, perhaps more than any other, defines her critical and intellectual legacy. It's the book 5001 Nights at the Movies, featuring the capsule reviews that she wrote for the Goings On About Town section of the magazine. Some of these capsules are distillations of her longer reviews of contemporary films, but most are reviews of revivals — so it's here that she gives her most comprehensive overview of the history of cinema, or its canon, in the most literal sense." And he dips into the book to pull out a few examples; here's one: "Kael's long-lasting enmity to Nicholas Ray was documented, in all its shockingly insulting aggression, in David Denby's piece 'My Life as a Paulette,' which ran in the magazine in 2003; in the book, she calls In a Lonely Place 'an atmospheric but disappointingly hollow murder melodrama.” She says that Rebel Without a Cause 'had more emotional resonance for the teenagers of the time than many much better movies.' But she praised his first film, They Live By Night."

"Kael properly deduced that a huge part of going to the movies consisted of how the audience responded to the people on the screen, rather than simply basing her critique on the competence of the writing or the technical aspects of the cinematography. Her sentences in her radio and print reviews about the onscreen talent of the twentieth century rise to the level of expert observation of humanity in all its manifold variety." Back in November, This Recording editor Alex Carnevale presented "a few of my favorite descriptions." Today, he adds a few more.

Updates, 10/21: Richard Brody goes after Kael again, focusing at first (before attacking her record in full in a final note) on the rift between her and Clint Eastwood.

Viewing (10'06"). Sarris vs Kael, Xtranormalized.

Updates, 10/23: Jonathan Rosenbaum has posted "I Missed It at the Movies: Objections to 'Raising KANE'," from the Spring 1972 issue of Film Comment, "the first lengthy essay about film that I ever published. Recently I've been reading Brian Kellow's biography of Pauline Kael, and I'm very pleased that he's up front about the serious flaws of 'Raising KANE,' factual and otherwise — but also disappointed that Kellow is unaware that 'The Kane Mutiny' — signed by Peter Bogdanovich, and the best riposte to Kael's essay ever published by anyone — was mainly written by Welles himself. (See This is Orson Welles and Discovering Orson Welles for more about this extraordinary act of impersonation.) It appears that the main source of this doubtful assumption in Kellow's book is Bogdanovich himself. Of course, Peter knows far better than I or Kellow do who wrote what, but one fact worthy of consideration in this matter is that he's never reprinted 'The Kane Mutiny' in any of his books (apart from the portions of his interview with Welles from that piece that I recycled in This is Orson Welles). I also happen to think that this essay is superior, as prose and as argument, to anything else ever published under Peter's name."

"It's hard to believe now just how angry people got at her," writes Lee Sandlin in the Wall Street Journal. "When I was in college in the mid-1970s, my film-major roommate made a weekly habit of reading Kael, and about halfway through each review he'd be spluttering with so much rage he could barely speak…. Any reviewer who writes for long enough is bound to make foolish judgments, but Kael was unmercifully slagged for it while more decorous male reviewers were excused. James Agee, the revered critic for the Nation in the 1940s, simply couldn't understand what anybody saw in Casablanca — readers shrugged this off as a harmless blind spot. Kael defended Brian De Palma movies, and people thought she was clinically insane. Still, there was something else behind the hostility. Kael's prose could make her judgments seem unnaturally lurid. She herself referred to her 'crowbar style.'… Yet she was uniquely good at describing the peculiar intimacy of the moviegoing experience. She took it for granted that watching movies was fundamentally erotic." As for Brian Kellow's biography, the "trouble is, Kael doesn't appear to have had a private life outside of her own head." And "the real problem with The Age of Movies is simply that Kael doesn't lend herself to abridgment."

Update, 10/24: "Pauline Kael famously once said that people keep asking her to write a memoir, but she had to stress to them that she already had — her life was in her work, in her vivid, long-form essays and critiques," writes Drew Taylor at the Playlist. "As Brian Kellow's new biography, thrillingly written and exhaustively researched shows, there was a whole lot more to Kael that what was in her reviews."

Updates, 10/26: Farran Nehme's must-read entry on Wolcott's Lucking Out and Kellow's biography will have to be the organizing principle behind today's batch of updates. I'd love to blockquote the whole damn thing, but let's try this: First, "Lucking Out is built of five parts and a coda. The first deals with Wolcott's arrival in New York to work at the Village Voice, after being granted a wish by the world's most unlikely fairy godmother, Norman Mailer. The third covers his years on the punk scene at CBGB's and sundry other downtown crawlspaces. The fourth examines (a carefully chosen verb) his encounters with the hyperventilating world of 70s porn, and the fifth circles back to the writing scene. The second section, and the coda, focus on his long friendship with Kael; those sections are the heart of the book." And she argues that "the Kael sections are the centerpiece, written as they are with affection undimmed by more than thirty years. Reading the book, I thought, god, no wonder the woman drew so many writers into her orbit: She was fun."

Having to select just a couple of snippets from the Kellow section of the entry almost physically hurts, but here goes. "The volume of things for which Kael is faulted begins to approach the size of her own output…. She palled around with filmmakers, tuts Dargis, as though friendships with Woody Allen and Robert Altman kept Kael from hating Stardust Memories or 3 Women — the latter judgment prompting Altman to scream at her in the middle of an airport. (Altman got over it; Allen did not.) Others fault her for lack of loyalty to directors we now idolize. She never expounded 'a theory, a system, or even a consistent set of principles,' points out AO Scott. And my response is, 'well, thank god for that.' But the question also arises, is that the highest goal of criticism? Start Your Own -Ism?" And as for a string of comments following one of Brody's many attacks, she writes, "When I read threads of this sort, I consider dropping by to say, 'I wonder why Andrew Sarris and Manny Farber — both of whom had some blind spots and occasionally reversed themselves — don't inspire certain people to call them irrational, or psychotic, or to speculate about their sexual fixations.' But I don't comment, because I don't really wonder why. I don't wonder at all."

Tom Shone recommends Lucking Out today, too, and Wolcott himself gathers a round of early reviews. Back to Shone, though, who, in a separate entry, takes a quick shot at Brody's weird assertion that Kael dismissed Eastwood's directorial career: "What kind of cinematic prophet can Kael really be counted if she allowed such minor inconveniences as her own demise to interfere with the sacred task of reviewing movies."

In another of today's recommended reads, Jim Emerson suggests that "Kael may have been the Velvet Underground of movie critics (she inspired so many to take up criticism). She's also the quintessential example of a generalization I like to make about all critics, which is that whether they like or don't like something, that had better be the least interesting thing they have to say about it, or they're not worth reading in the first place. Kael was hailed for her snappy, conversational style (though I got awfully tired of her endless references to 'kitsch' and 'trash'; she reinforced outmoded distinctions between 'high' and 'low' culture even as she pretended to transcend them), her infections enthusiasms, and her refusal to adhere to some all-encompassing Theory. And she was (just as accurately) criticized for her sloppiness, her over-reliance on generalizations, her claim that she wouldn't see movies more than once (except, occasionally, to double-check for inaccuracies before a review went to press), and her temperamental inconsistency, which comes with a reliance on spontaneous reactions. (Renata Adler's 1980 massive attack on Kael in the New York Review of Books was both accurate and irrelevant to what made her reputation.) … That Kael positioned herself as an anti-auteurist [is] ludicrous. Like so many writing for print and web today, she never displayed an understanding of what auteurism is. Next to Sarris, no American critic's work placed greater emphasis on the director as author of a film than hers."

Jim also points out that Roger Ebert has weighed in recently: "She was the most powerful, loved and hated film critic of her time, but her work cannot be discussed objectively by simply reading it. She challenges you on every page, she's always in your face, and she functioned as the arbiter of any social group she joined…. We met often. There was a night of drinking during the festival in my hotel room, with Scorsese and me sitting on the floor at her feet. (It was circa 1970, and sitting on the floor was commonplace, I suppose as some kind of statement, just as wearing blue jeans everywhere had become). When she was on the jury at Cannes, I was invited to a little bistro where she introduced Agnès Varda and Jacques Demy. When she briefly took leave of the New Yorker to accept a job offer from Warren Beatty at Paramount, she invited me to a dinner at an Italian restaurant with such as Ray Bradbury, Toback and Robert Towne. 'Honey,' she confided, 'I can't stay out here. They're all whores.' Not including present company, it was implied."

Lili Anolik looks back to 1972, when Deep Throat "turned into a national phenomenon, grossing over $600 million and kicking off the era known as porno chic, upwardly-mobile, squeaky-clean types getting down and very, very dirty. How then did it happen that the critic who lost it at the movies failed to pick up the scent of the movie that taught America there was more than one orifice to lose it in? The answer is, she didn't. Pauline Kael's nose was too keen, Deep Throat's musk too potent for their encounter to be other than inevitable. No, the two had locked gazes across a crowded room, were circling each other, about to connect, when an outside party intervened, bringing the seduction to a halt. Bliss denied by The New Yorker magazine." But that, suggests Anolik, is not the end of the story.

Also in the New York Observer today, Lawrence Levi reviews Kellow's biography, noting that "as Hollywood shifted to action blockbusters, her hopes for movies began to waver. If George Lucas 'weren't hooked on the crap of his childhood — if he brought his resources to bear on some projects with human beings in them — there's no imagining the result,' she wrote in her review of Raiders of the Lost Ark. 'Pauline's biggest professional disappointment,' Mr Kellow writes, 'was that she lived to see the infantilization of the great moviegoing audience she had always dreamed of and believed in.'" At his own site, Levi adds, "I end my review of the biography with a jaw-dropping quote from Gina James, Kael's daughter, at Kael's memorial service in 2001. Here's another quote from the memorial service, one that makes me love her all the more: 'She was funny and lethal right up to the end,' said Craig Seligman. 'One day when she was near death and I was trying to divert her with chatter about working as an editor, I said, "It never ceases to amaze me how many people who call themselves writers actually can't write." And she said, very weakly, "Yes — they say things like 'It never ceases to amaze me.'"' Fun fact: At Berkeley in the late 1930s, Kael befriended a painter and poet named Virginia Admiral, and in the 40s babysat Admiral's son, Robert De Niro."

"She was the most subjective of writers," writes Dan Callahan in the L, "but she often used 'you' instead of 'I' because she so much wanted us to share her enthusiasms. It’s impossible to pigeonhole her on just about any issue because she was always restlessly, even furiously making her points and then moving forward; her positions were forever in flux and alive, shifting even as she wrote. She became obsessed with sensations, sex and the impudent laughter of sheer survival and was deeply suspicious of anything that smacked of over-solemnity, so that Robert Bresson and Michelangelo Antonioni usually didn’t make her cut, but Jean Renoir did, and Max Ophüls…. The later Kael is easy to parody, but she herself predicted that in her writing on what happened to major actors like John Barrymore, Bette Davis and Marlon Brando as they aged and started to caricature themselves. What she wrote about Brando can also be applied to her: 'even when he mocks himself, the self he mocks is more prodigious than anybody else around.'"

Updates, 10/27: Lucking Out is "is so inextricably linked to Kael that she looms as its second most important character," writes Janet Maslin in the NYT. "The devotion seems to have been mutual. When another Kael protégé made the mistake of announcing that she had just been hired by The Village Voice, Kael was silent on the other end of the phone line. 'Well,' she finally said. 'They didn't ask me.' If they had, she added, she would have recommended Mr Wolcott for the job." Further in: "Mr Kellow's clear, independent view of his subject is his book's most valuable surprise. She had 'both a distaste for sycophancy and a need for a certain degree of obeisance,' and she sends very mixed signals, even now. It is possible to be dazzled by the bravura authority of her writing without remotely agreeing with her, and this biography fully captures such contradictions. Kael liked to disparage what she called 'sapped objectivity.' But Mr Kellow is no saphead, and he makes objectivity a great virtue."

Meantime, Camille Paglia is still around: "This is a perfect moment for the release of the Kellow and Library of America books. Cultural criticism is in the dumps. Nothing important is coming out of academe, and the 'serious' general magazines are insular and verbose. Film criticism has waned, and the Web is overrun with gassy, sniggering, solipsistic snark."

"Like it or lump it, if you write about movies in America today (and in the age of the Internet, who doesn't?), you define yourself at least in part in relation to Kael," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "And like Walt Whitman — another great American runner-off-at-the-mouth — if she contradicted herself, very well then, she contradicted herself."

IndieWIRE runs an excerpt from the Kellow biography.

Updates, 10/28: Frank Rich goes long for the NYT Book Review, and here's how he begins: "In his introduction to The Age of Movies, the Library of America anthology canonizing Pauline Kael, Sanford Schwartz writes that she was 'undoubtedly the most fervently read American critic of any art' during her two-­decade tenure at The New Yorker. That's not hyperbole. Such was the power of Kael's voluminous writing about movies that she transformed the sensibility and standards of mainstream pop culture criticism in America — mostly for the better, despite her bullying personality (in print and in life), her sloppy professional ethics and her at times careerist escapades in self-dramatizing contrarianism…. It's also true, as Schwartz writes, that Kael's retirement, in 1991 at age 71, was a national news story. But her death, at 82 in 2001, was not…. We no longer live in the age of movies, and ambitious professional arts criticism is an increasingly arcane calling in a digital world where the old maxim, everyone's a critic, is literally true."

Andrew O'Hehir and Matt Zoller Seitz discuss Kael in Salon. AOH: "Now it would be ludicrous to suggest that Hou Hsiao-hsien or Alexander Sokurov or Kelly Reichardt or whoever you want to pick from world cinema remains totally obscure because of Pauline Kael’s ghost. But I see her populism — which she meant as a rebuke to the wealthy and powerful — increasingly employed after her death as a weapon of reverse snobbery that makes common cause between critics, moviegoers and major media corporations, a weapon used to support a very limited and mainstream vision of cinema and drive all others ever further into the margins. Convince me that I’m wrong." MZS: "I don’t think you’re entirely wrong. Kael said near the end of her life that, in effect, that the war described in her piece 'Trash, Art and the Movies' ended at some point, and trash won, and that maybe she felt guilty that trash won, and wondered if she’d played a part in that victory." But: "There is no correct way to review a movie as long as the writer has a moral compass and a firm grasp of film history and aesthetics — which Kael definitely had — and is honest." In the comments, David Ehrenstein chimes in: "She was loads of fun — in person. So much so that the contrast between the lively funny woman chatting with you and the sometimes shrill anti-intellectual scold on the page was quite severe. Adding to this paradox is the fact that I found myself disagreeing with her about films we both liked. The tendency today is to see her as the High Priestess of a particular period — the wildly overrated 1970s. Yes a lot of good films were made back then, but a lot of dreck too — and she often praised the dreck."

Todd McCarthy interviews Kellow for the Hollywood Reporter, which is also running an excerpt from his biography they've provocatively headlined "How Hollywood Seduced and Abandoned Critic Pauline Kael."

Updates, 10/30: Dennis Cozzalio revisits an entry from February 2008, "In Defense of The Perils of Pauline."

Jonathan Rosenbaum prefaces a rerun of a piece on The Godfather from 2008: "One aspect of recent journalism about Kael that seems to confirm the provinciality of American film criticism in general is the tacit assumption that 'the world of film' in the US is somehow (and automatically) coterminous and equivalent to global film culture — unless the assumption is simply that global film culture is too esoteric and inconsequential a subject to be worthy of discussion in the US. But it's worth stressing that outside the English-speaking world, Kael's critical status was and is pretty limited. And it's also worth arguing that de Filmkrant's 'Slow Criticism' is a good indication of the vanguard of a more international form of film criticism in the English language, conceivably more pertinent to that discourse than Kael's writing has ever been."

Update, 11/1: Evan Hughes in the Awl on the "Cordial Enmity of Joan Didion and Pauline Kael": "The rivalry missed its chance to rise to the level of the great ones, despite the titans involved. Kael and Didion didn't tussle often enough, for one, but they also didn't fight over the right things. When a leading critical mind takes Didion's work as a cue to pull out the cudgel that a rich person doesn't get to be depressed, we all lose. And does Didion still feel that Kael needed 'vocational guidance'? If only they had fought about the movies and what they meant to the culture during Kael's heyday, one of cinema's golden ages. And I'd love to see Didion assess Kael's legacy now in more than a one-line zinger. She would do it as no one else could."

Update, 11/2: In Time, Mary Pols recalls a "dinner party for Manny Farber, another famous critic now gone. One of the other guests mentioned he'd known Kael. He seemed disposed to brag about his inside knowledge and had been drinking, a winning combination where journalists are concerned, so I encouraged him by asking what she was like. 'Well of course she was very ugly,' he said. 'No one wanted to sleep with her.' That was the lead in his Kael story? That she was undesirable? Kael sold 150,000 copies of her first collection of criticism, I Lost It at the Movies, before she'd even joined the New Yorker. She excited and engaged readers like no other critic. She was exceptional. She remains exceptional. But how natural it was for him to reduce this woman to her sex."

Updates, 11/9: Kellow "has done his research and interviewed just about everyone who knew her (including me)," writes Phillip Lopate for Film Comment. "If there is finally something muffled or unsatisfying about the result, it may have less to do with the biographer's shortcomings than with the difficulties posed by this particular subject…. The problem for Kellow is that, after a certain point, Kael seemed to have had no private life. By the time she was 40 she had given up on men, and even her friendships seemed limited to one topic. 'Her existence revolved around going to movies, talking about movies, lecturing on movies, being interviewed about movies.' Anyone who has hung around film critic circles will know that narrowing human thinness and provincialism that can set in when there is no other focus but movie talk."

"The book's most fascinating parts involve Kael's leave from the New Yorker in 1979 for a sojourn in Hollywood, at Warren Beatty's behest," writes Michaelangelo Matos at the AV Club (and, as noted above, the Hollywood Reporter has run an excerpt from this chapter). "Kellow's telling of the tale is comparable to a miniature version of Final Cut, Steven Bach's behind-the-scenes tale of the notoriously disastrous production of Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, as Kael winds up adrift in shark-infested waters."

Update, 11/10: "Howard Suber is the biggest revelation in Brian Kellow's new biography," writes Brent Lang. "Suber was an up-and-coming assistant professor of film at UCLA 40 years ago, when the famed New Yorker critic filched his research for Raising Kane, her acclaimed in-depth examination of Citizen Kane. Suber never took legal action or went public about the plagiarism. But on the heels of the book's publication, he finally has broken his silence, telling TheWrap exclusively that after all these years, Kael's betrayal still stings."

Updates, 11/12: Glenn Kenny interviews Kellow, who recalls meeting Andrew Sarris: "I interviewed him for the book, very nice man. And I felt that I'd been keeping him maybe a little too long. And I finally said, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I just have a few more questions, do you mind if we just continue for 10 more minutes?' He said, 'No, no, no; let's get it done. I don't want to have a conversation about her again!'"

"Reading the [NYT's] immensely long explications of the two new books, I'm struck by how seriously all the players in Kael's orbit took themselves, whether they were actually reviewing films or just howling from the sidelines," writes William Zinsser for the American Scholar. "They were cineastes endlessly squabbling over ur-texts and the auteur theory, critics pummeling each other with pugilistic glee…. I, too, was once a movie critic. As the New York Herald Tribune's chief critic in the late 1950s, before movies became film, I reviewed more than 500 movies, many of them very good, and I don't recall that my fellow critics and I considered ourselves hot. We were not the story; the movies were the story."

Update, 11/15: Jim Emerson takes a good long look "into how the term(s) 'technical' and 'technique' are used by Kael."

Update, 11/20: In a long but fun entry, Phil Nugent reviews the biography, the collection and Wolcott's memoir, so it's hard to know where to snip a quote, but: "[A]nyone who thinks that Kael's personal connections to filmmakers and time spent away from her writing desk count that much against her, and who would argue that this has nothing to do with her being a woman, had better have a solid explanation for why there's never been much of a movement for driving Edmund Wilson's reputation underground after he rewarded Anaïs Nin for some time in the sack with an insincerely flattering review, or why it doesn't matter so much that James Agee, who was the first film critic to get his own volume in the Library of America, wrote film scripts, including one for a director, John Huston, he'd praised as practically the only real director in Hollywood, or why nobody much minds Roger Ebert having written scripts for Russ Meyer. Or is it less of a conflict of interest in their cases because they actually got something on the screen, and the credits to go with them? In a crowd of reviewers, an actual credit on a major theatrical release, whether it's The African Queen or Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, might do as much to legitimize one's status as possession of a penis."

Update, 12/1: Kael "was, in fact, an unacknowledged auteurist herself," argues Richard Schickel, "although one with far less of a rationale than Sarris and his brethren, among whom I count myself in a limited way. There was no rhyme or reason to directors she favored. What do Robert Altman and Sam Peckinpah have in common? Or Brian De Palma and Irvin Kershner (Irvin Kershner?) Just this: All of them (the hapless Kershner excepted) exhibited in their work, most of the time, a kind of free-floating exuberance — a loose, improvisatory, even anarchical manner, that, for Kael, was the opposite of the formalism of a Stanley Kubrick, or her greatest bête noir, Clint Eastwood. She liked things shaggy."

This is a long piece, covering a lot of ground (and ending so: "She worked in a time when movies were at last understood as a major art form, but when movie criticism was misunderstood as a pipsqueak form of commentary, fun to practice (and it was, I cheerfully admit), but of small value to anyone who was not writing it.") — but there's more on that same page in the Los Angeles Review of Books from Laurie Winer: "In a way Kael remained always the 8th grader cracking wise in the back row while the teachers droned piously at the blackboard. For those of us who cherish the high of communal, illicit laughter — because it rejects tedium as a requirement of living — Kael remains a constant comrade in arms."

Update, 12/8: "Michał Oleszczyk is just days away from defending his Ph.D dissertation on Pauline Kael," notes Fandor editor Kevin B Lee. "He has spent the last five years poring over every item of Kaeliana he could find." Oleszczyk not only reviews Kellow's book, already in its second printing, but also selects "Kael's Five Best Writings" and "Worst Reviews."

Update, 12/12: In a conversation about his new book, The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, Greil Marcus tells Eric Been of the Atlantic about the influence of Manny Farber on his own work and then there's quite a digression into his close friendship with Kael and his reading of hers.

Update, 12/18: "Kellow has managed to somehow humanize Kael without diminishing her legend," writes Chuck Bowen at the House Next Door, "and that's the kind of tonal somersault that Kael herself might've admired. This slim book is humane and intelligent. It doesn't have Kael's passionate reckless verve and ballsiness, but, in these times of turmoil in which grounded, well-considered writing of all kinds is seemingly in danger, it doesn't really need to."

Update, 3/20: "[I]f there is an enduring principle in her criticism it is that we must guard against the sentimental, the moralizing, and, most important, the pretentious," writes Graham Daseler in Senses of Cinema. "She heaped more scorn on Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966) than The Planet of the Apes (Franklin J Schaffner, 1968) not because its execution was less skillful but because, in its undeniably skillful way, it revealed the aspirations of a filmmaker desperately straining for profundity. While the former was meant to be edifying, the latter was unashamedly frivolous, a more forgivable sin in Kael's eyes. By enforcing her artistic strictures so mercilessly she was not only sticking up for the lowbrow but also defending high art from what she considered its most insidious internal threats: dullness and pomposity."

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