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Kael, Pauline


KAEL, PAULINE (1919–2001), U.S. film critic. Probably the most influential film critic of her time, Kael, who was born in Petaluma, Calif., did not write movie criticism until she was 35. She reviewed movies for The New Yorker magazine from 1968 to 1979 and, after working in the film industry, again from 1980 to 1991. Enchanting her fans and infuriating her foes, she was rarely dull and often sharp and funny, with an intellectual bent. She was outspoken, sometimes to a fault, promoting her favorite films (Last Tango in Paris), actors and directors and dismissing some sacred cows. Always provocative, her writing style bred a legion of acolytes, known as Paulettes. Kael's appetite for movies began in childhood as the daughter of immigrants from Poland. Her father was a gentleman farmer and moviegoer, and her own trips to see films began early. Among her early favorites were the *Marx Brothers comedies Monkey Business of 1931 and Duck Soup of 1933. In 1936 she enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, where she majored in philosophy. However, she went to New York with a friend, the poet Robert Horan, for about three years. She returned to California, tried writing plays and helped make experimental films. Married and divorced three times, she supported herself and her daughter by writing advertising copy, clerking in a bookstore, and working as a cook, a seamstress, and a textbook writer. In 1953, while she was in a coffee shop in the San Francisco area, the editor of City Lights magazine asked her and a friend with whom she was arguing about a movie to review the Charlie Chaplin film Limelight. The friend turned in nothing. Kael's review called the film "slimelight," and a career was born. Kael began being published in magazines like Sight and Sound and Partisan Review, and her criticism was broadcast on a Berkeley listener-supported radio station. While managing an art theater, she wrote funny, feisty reviews for the programs and she began lecturing on film at universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She was 46 when her essays in Partisan Review led to an offer to publish her first book, I Lost It at the Movies, a collection of her articles and broadcasts. It became a bestseller. In it she praised movies like Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion, Vittorio de Sica's Shoeshine, and Martin Ritt's Hud. She attacked other critics, derided materialistic movie magnates, and attacked the pretensions of Alan Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad, calling it "the snow job in the ice palace." In 1968 she was invited to review for The New Yorker. Her first review was virtually the only rave that Bonnie and Clyde received in New York, but it compelled other critics to reconsider their assessments. Her favorite actors included Marlon Brando, Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Paul Newman, Diane Keaton, Anjelica Huston, Jessica Lange, and Debra Winger. She championed films of the 1970s like Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather and Godfather, Part ii, and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. Her reviews and essays were assembled in a series of books whose double-entendre titles suggested the intimacy of her love affair with movies: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Going Steady, Deeper into Movies, Reeling, When the Lights Go Down, Movie Love, Hooked and For Keeps. In 1991, at 71, after 22 years at the magazine, Kael retired from regular reviewing.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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