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Quotes of the day: Pauline Kael

Published Tuesday, September 03, 2013 @ 2:45 AM EDT
Sep 03 2013

Pauline Kael (June 19, 1919 – September 3, 2001) was an American film critic who wrote for The New Yorker magazine from 1968 to 1991. Earlier in her career, her work appeared in City Lights, McCall's and The New Republic. Kael was known for her "witty, biting, highly opinionated, and sharply focused" reviews, her opinions often contrary to those of her contemporaries. She is often regarded as the most influential American film critic of her day. She left a lasting impression on many major critics, including Armond White, whose reviews are similarly non-conformist, and Roger Ebert, who has said that Kael "had a more positive influence on the climate for film in America than any other single person over the last three decades." Owen Gleiberman said she "was more than a great critic. She re-invented the form, and pioneered an entire aesthetic of writing. She was like the Elvis or the Beatles of film criticism." (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


A mistake in judgment isn't fatal, but too much anxiety about judgment is.

De Mille's bang-them-on-the-head-with-wild-orgies-and-imperilled-virginity style is at its ripest; the film is just about irresistible.

Earlier generations went to see what was forbidden in life and developed a real excitement about the movies. Today's rating system keeps kids out of the good ones. I wouldn't want them to see movies like Natural Born Killers, but my tendency is you're better off seeing things than not. That glazed indifference kids develop can be worse than over-excitement.

Genre movies are often just what we want and all we want.

Her only flair is in her nostrils.

How can people go on talking about the dazzling brilliance of movies and not notice that the directors are sucking up to the thugs in the audience?

I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them.

I loved writing about things when I was excited about them. It's not fun writing about bad movies. I used to think it was bad for my skin.

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.

I've been told I've influenced some people to become directors. Unfortunately, most of them are lousy.

If I never saw another fistfight or car chase or Doberman attack, I wouldn't have any feeling of loss. And that goes for Rottweilers, too.

If there is any test that can be applied to movies, it's that the good ones never make you feel virtuous.

If we make any kind of decent, useful life for ourselves we have less need to run from it to those diminishing pleasures of the movies.

If you can't make fun of bad movies on serious subjects, what's the point?

In movies, the balance between art and business has always been precarious, with business outweighing art, but (in the past) the business was, at least, in the hands of businessmen who loved movies.

In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising.

In this country we encourage 'creativity' among the mediocre, but real bursting creativity appalls us. We put it down as undisciplined, as somehow 'too much.'

Irresponsibility is part of the pleasure of all art; it is the part the schools cannot recognize.

It seems likely that many of the young who don't wait for others to call them artists, but simply announce that they are, don't have the patience to make art.

It's painful writing about the bad things in an art form, particularly when young kids are going to be enthusiastic about those things, because they haven't seen anything better, or anything different.

It's sometimes discouraging to see all of a director's movies, because there's so much repetition. The auteurists took this to be a sign of a director's artistry, that you could recognize his movies. But it can also be a sign that he's a hack.

Kicked in the ribs, the press says 'art' when 'ouch' would be more appropriate.

McLuhanism and the media have broken the back of the book business; they've freed people from the shame of not reading. They've rationalized becoming stupid and watching television.

Men are now beginning their careers as directors by working on commercials- which, if one cares to speculate on it, may be almost a one-sentence résumé of the future of American motion pictures.

Moviegoers like to believe that those they have made stars are great actors. People used to say that Gary Cooper was a fine actor- probably because when they looked in his face they were ready to give him their power of attorney.

Moviemaking is so male-dominated now that they think they're being pro-feminine when they have women punching each other out.

Moviemaking is so male-dominated now that they think they're being pro-feminine when they have women punching each other out.

Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them.

Movies make hash of the schoolmarm's approach of how well the artist fulfilled his intentions.

Patrons of burlesque applaud politely for the graceful erotic dancer but go wild for the lewd lummox who bangs her big hips around. That's what they go to burlesque for.

People are cynical about advertising, of course, but their cynicism is so all-inclusive now that they're indifferent, and so they're more susceptible to advertising than ever.

People who are just getting 'seriously interested' in film always ask a critic, 'Why don't you talk about technique and 'the visuals' more?' The answer is that American movie technique is generally more like technology and it usually isn't very interesting.

Regrettably, one of the surest signs of the Philistine is his reverence for the superior tastes of those who put him down.

The craftsmanship that Hollywood has always used as a selling point not only doesn't have much to do with art- the expressive use of techniques- it probably doesn't have very much to do with actual box-office appeal, either.

The critical task is necessarily comparative, and younger people do not truly know what is new.

The first prerogative of an artist in any medium is to make a fool of himself.

The past has a terror and fascination and a beauty beyond almost anything else.

The words 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,' which I saw on an Italian movie poster, are perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. This appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this.

There are so many kinds of innocence to be lost at the movies.

There is a standard answer to this old idiocy of if-you-know-so-much-about-the-art-of-the-film-why-don't-you-make-moviess. You don't have to lay an egg to know if it tastes good.

Trash has given us an appetite for art.

TV executives think that the programs with the highest ratings are what TV viewers want, rather than what they settle for.

Watching old movies is like spending an evening with those people next door. They bore us, and we wouldn't go out of our way to see them; we drop in on them because they're so close.

When you clean them up, when you make movies respectable, you kill them. The wellspring of their art, their greatness, is in not being respectable.

Categories: Pauline Kael, Quotes of the day


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