We’ve moved!
Visit the new Library of America blog at our new website: www.loa.org/news-and-views

Friday, October 28, 2011

Frank Rich, Roger Ebert, Nathan Heller, Camille Paglia on Pauline Kael

No one would have more thoroughly enjoyed reviewers’ recent efforts to characterize what was so compelling and distinctive about film critic Pauline Kael’s writing than “the grande dame” (in Roger Ebert’s phrasing) herself. What has prompted these endeavors is the coincidence of two companionable books being published this month: Brian Kellow’s biography Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark and The Library of America’s new anthology The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael.

Now on to the fun:

Frank Rich, “Roaring at the Screen,” in the front-page review of this Sunday's issue of The New York Times Book Review
She upended journalistic criticism the way contemporaneous New Journalists like Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson revolutionized reportage. Her essays, fiercely present in the moment and epic in length, buttonholed readers so they’d feel as if they were sitting next to her in the dark, seeing everything she saw. She fired up her exultantly vernacular American prose as if she were writing high-octane fiction, not passing judgment on “Cabaret.” . . . You could disagree with her judgments, as I did at least half the time, and still find her an invigorating, inspired and entertaining connector of culture’s dots whatever the bottom-line verdict on the film at hand. . . If you want to understand what it was like to be in the audience during America’s thrilling, now vanished age of movies, you must begin with Kael.
Nathan Heller, “What She Said,” The New Yorker
From the moment Kael began as a film critic at The New Yorker, at the start of 1968, she presided over the movies in the manner of Béla Károlyi watching a gymnast on the balance beam—shouting directives, excoriating every flub, and cheering uncontrollably when a filmmaker stuck his landing. . . . Her kinetic passion, her chatty-seatmate prose, and her detail-heckling made her a pop-culture oracle in an era that desperately needed one. . . . At inspired moments, she performed her criticism like a driver cruising down a familiar mountain road: braking rarely, speeding around the tricky turns, and swerving, with the faith of instinct, through a maze of potholes. It’s an approach that accounts for a lot of paradoxes and self-contradictions in her taste. It also made for a thrilling, inimitable ride.
Roger Ebert, “Knocked Up at the Movies,” The Chicago Sun-Times
She wrote with slangy, jazzy prose, always pepped up, spinning on the edge of a whirlpool. . . . Reading her was like running into her right after a movie and having her start in on you. . . . She's accused of being inconsistent and contradicting herself. Directors would fall in and out of favor. With her there was no possibility of inconsistency, because she always wrote about what she felt right now. What was the purpose tilting that emotion to reflect something she wrote earlier? I sat next to her once in a New York screening room. She responded audibly. "Oh, oh, oh!" she'd say, in praise or disapproval. Talking like that would get her in trouble in Chicago. Pauline had--or took--license. You sensed something physical was happening as she watched.
Andrew O’Hehir and Matt Zoller Seitz, “Pauline Kael: Hero or Hack?” Salon
Seitz: That prose style is so engaging—so powerful and seductive in some ways because it’s like a heightened version of everyday conversation with a really smart person—that it does sink into your mind, whether you’re a regular filmgoer of somebody who writes criticism for a living. . . . Even if you choose to define yourself against Kael, you’re acknowledging her influence. It’s like deciding to become a jazz trumpeter and not be influenced by Miles Davis, or becoming and actor and trying not to be influenced by Brando. She has that kind of effect, an elemental effect, transformative and deep. 
O’Hehir: Yeah, the uninhibited quality of her voice is something I largely admire, partly because anybody who’s written a lot of reviews understands how much work was required to make it sound artless. . . . anyone who tries to write about movies in a direct and colloquial voice but also with erudition and style, anyone who seeks to combine personal observations and social or political criticism in a movie review, anyone who is working to situate this peculiar and seductive art form in relation to the world and to human life owes an enormous debt to Pauline Kael.
Camille Paglia, responding to “Million Dollar Movie," BronxBanterBlog
Browsing through the Library of America’s massive new collection of her writing (called The Age of Movies), I was stunned at Kael’s range and power. Her voice, shaped by the American idiom, is still utterly fresh and dynamic. She is a superb role model for young writers. She has a keen eye for crisp detail and a lust for both attack and celebration. . . What excited me anew about Kael’s work is that, even though she was writing solely about movies, she was constantly inventing fascinating paradigms and templates for talking about the creative process as well as the audience’s imaginative experience of performance.
City Lights interview with Pauline Kael, 1982:

See all four parts on YouTube.

Related LOA works: The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauling Kael; American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now (includes four pieces by Pauline Kael)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wikio - Top Blogs - Literature