Described by Francis Davis as the “Queen bee of American movie critics,” Pauline Kael sure had a unique voice and set new standards for film critic. She wrote beyond mere technical aspects, and this style of analysis broadened the spectrum and definition of what criticism was and is.
Being a critic for The New Yorker magazine for 23 years, she had followers –also fellow writers known as “Paulettes”- and haters, but both would listen to what she had to say. “I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people.” Sometimes those dissertations were not shared by many. But she was not afraid to run contrary to the established critical opinion. “If you write critically, you have to do something besides get excited. You have to examine what’s in front of you,” she said. Pauline had very clear ideas which she backed up with strong arguments, an extended background on cinema and the gift of speech.
She praised when it was necessary and well deserved, and so she did with the pans. Pauline was different from other critics in the sense that many have a monotonous voice; she was far from that. Pauline never watched a movie twice, so when writing, she went with her gut. Her approach to reviewing was “to write about the movies the way people actually talked about them on leaving the theater.” That made her more relatable and enjoyable. You feel her close when you read her and in Afterglow we get the image of a down-to-Earth woman who loved writing and loved life. A woman who had a strong sense of balance and criticism and knew how to share it with the world.
Sometimes her topic choices were controversial or she would write out of the expected line of an article. In her review of Funny Girl she analyzes the moral behind the plot, a discussion on whether talent is beauty. She wanted the readers to expand their minds and reasoning, she wanted to make us think.
“It’s difficult to be a critic of mass culture,” she admitted. But she made it so gracefully and still firmly. It is just so easy to get lost among so many people and opinions. But Pauline did her own thing her own way and she will be remembered for that.