Pauline Kael and the Paulettes


As chief film critic for the New Yorker from 1968 to 1991, sometimes alternating for six months of the year with Penelope Gilliatt, Kael had one of the best pulpits in the world during some of the greatest decades of international film. Phenomenally productive, she published twelve books of film criticism, many of them bestsellers, and one, Deeper into Movies, the winner of the National Book Award in 1974. Over her career, she wrote over 11,000 reviews, most of them reprinted in 5001 Nights at the Movies (1982). Her career coincided with the rise of film studies, and she received honorary degrees from Haverford, Reed, Smith and Kalamazoo colleges, Columbia University, and Berkeley. The archive of her manuscripts and letters is held at the Lilly Library of Indiana University. It’s difficult to imagine another film critic with both such a popular audience and such high-culture respect – at least in America. British readers, I think, have not been as much in her thrall. Although she was an early admirer of British cinema, a perceptive and bold critic of British acting (see her candid review of Laurence Olivier as Othello in 1966: “What Negro actor at this stage in the world’s history could dare bring to the role the effrontery that Olivier does?”), and a devoted follower of British film criticism in both newspapers and journals, she was not as widely read outside the US, or as significant.

more from Elaine Showalter at the TLS here.