September 5 ~  Measured Quantities Film Art

"Art doesn't come in measured quantities: it's got to be too much or it's not enough." ~ Pauline Kael

Pauline Kael

Influential film critic Pauline Kael (1919-2001) celebrated artistic quality in films and wrote with passion and brilliance.

"Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again," she said.

Born in Petaluma, California, the youngest of five children, she studied philosophy and law at UC Berkeley. She wrote her first review in 1953, panning Charlie Chaplin's performance in Limelight.

"I regard criticism as an art," she once said and cultivated a unique voice in film review.

A prolific columnist for The New Yorker's Current Cinema for 23 years, she wrote controversial reviews that shook the industry. She called The Sound of Music "a sugarcoated lie" and raged that Fatal Attraction was a "hostile version of feminism."

"The lowest action trash is preferable to wholesome family entertainment," she believed. "When you clean them up, when you make movies respectable, you kill them."

Kael's reviews made or broke careers. She was an advocate for the creative work of Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg when they first started as directors. She cited Barbra Streisand and Marlon Brando among her favorite actors.

"What she said seemed to matter," observed critic Leonard Maltin. "She provoked response, discussion, arguments. She was so passionate."

Kael shaped American film criticism for her generation and those to come. Of her craft, the outspoken writer said, "If you think it so easy to be a critic, so difficult to be a poet or a painter, may I suggest you try both? You may discover why there are so few critics, and so many poets."

Art abounds in passionate excess.