Kellow & Kael IV [updated]

And the hits kust keep on coming…

Tom Carson: “Unlike those sturdy adolescents whose sexual initiation (‘Tante Alice wasn’t a blood relative’) or political primal scene (‘The Pinkertons shot Pops at noon’) made their fifteenth birthdays memorable, the most transformative event of mine was neither erotic nor radicalizing. Except, perhaps, in totally figurative senses of both words. Having noticed I liked movies, my parents gave me a Bantam paperback called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. If either cake or a baseball bat was in the picture, they’ve both ended up on memory’s cutting-room floor.

“Published the year before she turned fifty, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was Kael’s second collection of criticism. Her first had been 1965’s I Lost It at the Movies, which I quickly devoured as well. Mind, lots of the time, I didn’t know what she was talking about, from her demolitions of my adolescent canon — why wasn’t The Longest Day even in the index? Who were François Truffaut, Akira Kurosawa, Joe McCarthy, Bertrand Russell? — to the aphorism that led off her killer job on West Side Story: ‘Sex is the great leveler, taste the great divider.’ I just knew I wanted to think like that, live like that. (Write like that, too — and fat chance.) Though it wouldn’t be released until later, I fear the most appropriate movie for me to have watched in Pauline’s company just then would have been Truffaut’s The Wild Child.”

Roger Ebert: “That was her influence, and you can see it reflected all over the web, probably by some critics who have never read her. It is all first person. Before the auteurists, when France was already the center of film criticism and theory, the critics of the important newspapers and magazines reflected the policies of the publication. In America, reviews were usually more sedate and removed (Manny Farber here being the exception, as he was to everything). Pauline Kael blew those attitudes out of the water. In my reviews and those of a great many others you are going to find, for better or worse, my feelings. I feel a responsibility to provide some notion of what you’re getting yourself in for, but after that it’s all subjective.”

Camille Paglia: “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. Because most of my career in the classroom has been at art schools (beginning at Bennington in the 1970s), I am hyper-aware of the often grotesque disconnect between commentary on the arts and the actual practice or production of the arts. Kael had phenomenal intuition and gut instinct about so many things—the inner lives of directors and actors, the tangible world of a given film, the energy of film editing.”

Self-Styled Siren (on Kael and James Wolcott): “Reading Lucking Out before A Life in the Dark is a good idea. You go from Wolcott’s time when ‘there was no happier calling than making Pauline laugh,’ to a view of her whole life. I was familiar with Kellow’s calm, meticulous writing and research from his biography of the Bennett sisters, which I also recommend. It’s good to see Kellow bring his determined ‘on one hand…on the other hand’ approach to Kael in this excellent biography. Because with Kael, there is always another hand. She was controversial from the moment she picked up a pencil.”

Tomorrow: Jesus H. Christ weighs in on Kael.


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