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Knocked up at the movies

Above all it was her personality. Pauline Kael had an overwhelming presence in a conversation. There will no doubt be many discussions of Kael's work and influence and with the publication of Brian Kellow's new biography Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, and the Library of America's forthcoming collection of her work.

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. She was quite a dame.


Pauline and Renata Go Showboating

Pauline Kael by David Levine, for NYRoB.

This is a continuation of the discussion about the legacy of critic Pauline Kael, five-plus years after her death (Art and Trash: Critics on/of Pauline Kael). It's particularly for those who don't remember or have never read Renata Adler's 7,646-word massive attack on Kael in the New York Review of Books, which was ostensibly a review of Kael's 1980 collection "When the Lights Go Down."

Lots to consider -- and I say that as a kid who originally got into film criticism (and "deeper into movies," as her National Book Award-winning anthology put it) in no small part because of Kael. Some excerpts from Adler (who for a time alternated with Kael as the New Yorker's film critic in the late 1960s) -- followed by samples from letters the piece generated:

From Renata Adler, "The Perils of Pauline":

Movies seem to invite particularly broad critical discussion: to begin with, alone among the arts, they count as their audience, their art consumer, everyone. (Television, in this respect, is clearly not an art but an appliance, through which reviewable material is sometimes played.) The staff movie critic's job thus tends to have less in common with the art, or book, or theater critic's, whose audiences are relatively specialized and discrete, than with the work of the political columnist—writing, that is, of daily events in the public domain, in which almost everyone's interest is to some degree engaged, and about which everyone seems inclined to have a view. Film reviewing has always had an ingredient of reportage. Since the Forties, The New York Times has reviewed almost every movie that opened in New York[1] —as it would not consider reviewing every book, exhibit, or other cultural event, or even every account filed from the UN or City Hall. For a long time it seemed conceivable that movies could sustain, if not a great critic, at least a distinguished commentator-critic, on the order, say, of Robert Warshow, with the frequency of Walter Lippmann. In the late Fifties and early Sixties, it seemed likely that such a critic might be Pauline Kael. [...]