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Pauline Kael

A Life in the Dark

Brian Kellow

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year
The first biography of The New Yorker's influential, powerful, and controversial film critic.

A decade after her death, Pauline Kael remains the most important figure in film criticism today, in part due to her own inimitable style and power within the film community and in part due to the enormous influence she has exerted over an entire subsequent generation of film critics. During her tenure at the New Yorker from 1967 to 1991 she was a tastemaker, a career maker, and a career breaker. Her brash, vernacular writing style often made for an odd fit at the stately New Yorker.

Brian Kellow gives us a richly detailed look at one of the most astonishing bursts of creativity in film history and a rounded portrait of this remarkable (and often relentlessly driven) woman. Pauline Kael is a book that will be welcomed by the same audience that made Mark Harris's Pictures at a Revolution and Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls bestsellers, and by anyone who is curious about the power of criticism in the arts.

Publishers Weekly Review

Sep 05, 2011 – 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).

Customer Reviews

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.

Pauline Kael
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  • $14.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
  • Published: Oct 27, 2011
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
  • Print Length: 432 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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