"I believe that we respond most and best to work in any art form (and to other experience as well) if we are pluralistic, flexible, relative in our judgments, if we are eclectic," wrote Pauline Kael, the undisputed queen of journalistic... [more]
"I believe that we respond most and best to work in any art form (and to other experience as well) if we are pluralistic, flexible, relative in our judgments, if we are eclectic," wrote Pauline Kael, the undisputed queen of journalistic film criticism.
Born in tiny Petaluma, California, Kael went on to study philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley and to write for both Life Magazine and the New Yorker. Her tenure at the latter publication, which spanned from 1968 to 1991, established her as the most prolific and, at times, the most caustic critic around.
Her occasionally acerbic tone was not born of dismissiveness; on the contrary, her exacting standards arose from an absolute passion for film, and she was as capable of eloquent praise as of trenchant criticism. Add to the mix Kael's formidable scholarship and her seamless mastery of the American vernacular, and her product became as much that of a fine writer as that of a film buff.
Probably the most telling indicator of Kael's attitude was her voice, which verged on the dead-pan. Of the classic "Das Boot" she wrote: "If you want to experience the tedium of life in a German submarine, this is the movie that will give it to you." Summarizing in the flattest of terms, she left the reader to wonder: were these compliments or criticisms?
Below apparent accolades lurked a sly sense of humor, sometimes deeply buried, sometimes lying just beneath the surface. Of the impossibly dashing actor, Robert Redford, she hilariously pointed out, "He has turned almost alarmingly blond -- he's gone past platinum, he must be plutonium; his hair is coordinated with his teeth." Perhaps Kael's expectations of films, film criticism, and art in general are best summed up with her own clipped statement: "It's got to be too much or it's not enough." [show less]