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PAULINE KAEL by Brian Kellow Kirkus Star

PAULINE KAEL

A Life in the Dark

By Brian Kellow

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02312-7
Publisher: Viking

The first biography of arguably the most influential and controversial film critic at a turning point in cinema history.

Pauline Kael (1919–2001) was a study in contradictions: a farm girl (albeit from an unusual community of Eastern European Jews in Petaluma, Calif.) and proud Westerner who became film critic for the most urbane of Eastern magazines, the New Yorker; an outspoken critic of the auteur theory who faithfully championed several auteurs of the 1970s, including Peckinpah, Altman, Scorsese, Coppola and de Palma; and an acolyte of high art who wrote most passionately about “trash” that hit her in the gut. A generous nurturer of younger writers, she could turn cold or even brutal if they didn’t act according to her plans for them. With her daughter Gina (who declined to participate in the book), Kael was dependent to the point of being an obstacle to her career and romances. But Kael’s life outside of the movies is background to the narrative, as it seems to have been for Kael herself as she lived it. “For Pauline,” writes Opera News features editor Kellow (Ethel Merman: A Life, 2007 etc.) writes, “being a spectator continued to be the best thing life could offer.” She first came to some prominence as a movie maven in San Francisco, where she selected programs for an art house and opined on films for listener-supported radio. She was already 50 when she began writing for the New Yorker, but those two decades of her life take up roughly 75 percent of Kellow’s book. Her influence owes probably most to her intensely personal writing style and her identification with and advocacy for the movie audience. Kellow performs biographical magic, telling her story mostly through her most famous (and notorious) reviews of some of the landmark films of the ’60s and ’70s: Bonnie and ClydeM*A*S*HLast Tango in ParisNashvilleJaws and Star Wars to name a few.

Like Kael’s own books, this bio is a page-turner.