“A smart and eminently readable examination of the life and career of one of the twentieth century’s most influential movie critics.”—Los Angeles Times
“Engrossing and thoroughly researched.”—Entertainment Weekly
• A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2011 •
The first major biography of the most influential, powerful, and controversial film critic of the twentieth century
Pauline Kael was, in the words of Entertainment Weekly's movie reviewer Owen Gleiberman, "the Elvis or Beatles of film criticism." During her tenure at The New Yorker from 1968 to 1991, she was the most widely read and, often enough, the most provocative critic in America. In this first full-length biography of the legend who changed the face of film criticism, acclaimed author Brian Kellow (author of Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood's First Superagent) gives readers a richly detailed view of Kael's remarkable life—from her youth in rural California to her early struggles to establish her writing career to her peak years at The New Yorker.
Relentlessly outspoken, unafraid of challenging idols and embracing the lowbrow and the overlooked, New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, who died in 2001, proves a formidable, however natural, subject for Opera News columnist Kellow (Ethel Merman). He handles this difficult, unsympathetic personality with an admirable evenhandedness, considering that Kael cultivated as many detractors as admirers with her honest, gut-provoked reviewing. Born in 19TK to Polish Jewish immigrants who tried their luck running a chicken farm in Petaluma, Calif., before moving to San Francisco, Pauline was a crack student, deep reader, and eventual philosophy student at Berkeley, her early critical skills honed in the fledgling Berkeley Renaissance of the 1940s, with critics R.P. Blackmur and James Agee as early influences. From a stint as codirector of the Berkeley Cinema Guild with her then husband, Edward Landberg, Kael segued naturally into radio (KPFA) and freelance journalism, championing the New Wave and attacking the fashionable "auteur theory." Her first book, I Lost It at the Movies (1965), established her reputation as the "saltiest" reviewer around, leading to her opening salvo at the New Yorker with an enthusiastic review of Bonnie and Clyde (1968). The old guard, like editor William Shawn, never warmed to her, but the young and iconoclastic loved her. In his fluent, immensely readable study, Kellow fairly represents Kael's tendency to hyperbole (writing of Barbra Streisand or Last Tango in Paris) as well as hurtful ad hominem (George Cukor's Rich and Famous; Shoah).
A well-written book about a wonderful writer
I devoured Pauline Kael's New Yorker movie reviews for years. Many times, her reviews were more entertaining than the films themselves. What I like about this biography is the way it humanizes Pauline. I had put her on such a pedestal. It's heartening to know how much she struggled to achieve her lofty position in the literary world, and how much she sacrificed in the process. Well worth reading.