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Pauline Kael

(1919 - 2001)


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Pauline Kael was a Jewish American film critic who wrote for prominently for The New Yorker magazine who has been said to have "re-invented the form."

Kael (born June 19, 1919; died September 3, 2001) was born in Petaluma, California to Polish immigrant parents who originally came to Manhattan but quickly moved to the west coast to become farmers. Though her parents were described as "happy-go-lucky," they eventually lost everything during the Great Depression and the family moved again to San Francisco. Kael later attended the University of California, Berkeley where she studied philosophy, literature and the arts, but she dropped out of school before graduating.

Though she intended to apply to law school, Kael eventually moved to New York City and become mates with a number of performing artists. When she returned to the west coast a few years later she began writing plays and working in experimental film. After being asked to review a Charlie Chaplin film in 1953, Kael began publishing film criticism regularly in magazines. In 1965 she published her first book - I Lost It At The Movies - that included a collection of her criticisms and became a surprise best seller.

In 1965, Kael published a stinging criticism of "The Sound of Music" and was eventually fired from her job at McCall's magazine. She would work briefly for The New Republic before quiting in 1967 and taking a job as one of the lead film critics at The New Yorker. Her colloquial, brash writing style turned many off but Kael was never deterred by her detractors. By 1968, Time magazine was referring to her as "one of the country's top movie critics."

Though not religious, Kael was inspired in a complex way by her Jewish roots and she never forgot her heritage. In her writing, she would regularly defend Jews when few others even perceived that a slight or an attack was made against them. She criticized movies such as "All the President's Men" for what she called "ethical prejudice" and was not shy about calling out actors who supposedly viewed Jews or portrayed Jews in a stereotypically negative way.

In commemoration of the 10th anniversary of her death in 2011, three separate books were published that highlighted her life, her work and her career.


Sources: The Forward (Nov 18, 2011); Wikipedia; The New Yorker (January 1972); Bright Lights Film Journal

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