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Pauline Kael: A Life in the Darkby Brian Kellow
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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)." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The first major biography of the most influential, powerful, and controversial film critic of the twentieth century
Pauline Kael was, in the words of Entertainment Weekly's movie reviewer Owen Gleiberman, "the Elvis or Beatles of film criticism." During her tenure at The New Yorker from 1968 to 1991, she was the most widely read and, often enough, the most provocative critic in America. In this first full-length biography of the legend who changed the face of film criticism, acclaimed author Brian Kellow gives readers a richly detailed view of Kael's remarkable life—from her youth in rural California to her early struggles to establish her writing career to her peak years at The New Yorker.
About the Author
Brian Kellow is the features editor of Opera News, where his column, “On the Beat,” appears monthly. He is the author of The Bennetts: An Acting Family and the coauthor of Can’t Help Singing: The Life of Eileen Farrell. A classically trained pianist, Kellow has also written for Opera and Playbill, among others. He lives in New York City.
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