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The quest for frisson

The French word frisson describes something English has no better word for: a brief intense reaction, usually a feeling of excitement, recognition, or terror. It's often accompanied by a physical shudder, but not so much when you're web surfing.

You know how it happens. You're clicking here or clicking there, and suddenly you have the OMG moment. In recent days, for example, I felt frissons when learning that Gary Coleman had died, that most of the spilled oil was underwater, that Joe McGinness had moved in next to the Palins, that a group of priests' mistresses had started their own Facebook group, and that Bill Nye the Science Guy says "to prevent Computer Vision Syndrome, every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds looking 20 feet away."


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. [...]