The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael

by Pauline Kael

Other authorsSanford Schwartz (Editor)
Hardcover, 2011




Library of America, (2011)


A collection of signature writings by the former "The New Yorker" critic offers insight into her ability to capture cinematic details and includes appraisals of such works as "Bonnie and Clyde", "The Godfather", and "Last Tango in Paris."

Media reviews

Post Script
Kael was surely right to note in her foreword to Going Steady that her writing did indeed encompass an aesthetics, which she hoped would become less ‘elusive’ than one writer had deemed it (“Foreword” 1970, viii). It did so in the sort of theoretical reflection that jutted up explicitly in shorter passages, in paragraphs (the one on ‘the inverse equivalent of the Don Juan’ in Truffaut’s Story of Adele H. (“All for love” 57), for instance), in pregnant sentences or two here and there, showing that a theory does not require a treatise to be fruitful, and may be even more so when suggestive. Only the lack of spacing hides the extent to which Kael’s work is aphoristic (and this too is Adornian). It is as if at times the dark matter of theory can be transported only in the dark belly of a Trojan horse, disguised as one-liners...

Kael’s mixed, carefully-crafted high-low style, despite the mixed style of Shakespeare, would have offended British norms as much as it did William Shawn. Among British columnists only Clive James—with an Australian’s license, and even (at the time) contrarian requirement, to differ—was making the case for such a style. Such a style suggested a tonic subversion of just those divisions of labor, as did the extensive deep awareness of other arts she had accumulated by the time of occupation of her New Yorker berth: something that rendered her so well-qualified to write meaningfully of that arts-amalgam, film.
2 more
Browsing through the Library of America’s massive new collection of her writing (called "The Age of Movies"), I was stunned at Kael’s range and power. Her voice, shaped by the American idiom, is still utterly fresh and dynamic. She is a superb role model for young writers. She has a keen eye for crisp detail and a lust for both attack and celebration. ...

What excited me anew about Kael’s work is that, even though she was writing solely about movies, she was constantly inventing fascinating paradigms and templates for talking about the creative process as well as the audience’s imaginative experience of performance. Because most of my career in the classroom has been at art schools (beginning at Bennington in the 1970s), I am hyper-aware of the often grotesque disconnect between commentary on the arts and the actual practice or production of the arts. Kael had phenomenal intuition and gut instinct about so many things—the inner lives of directors and actors, the tangible world of a given film, the energy of film editing.
Nobody will ever again reign supreme over the movie world, because the movies don’t now reign supreme over anyone. All their secrets are known. People know so much about the movies that they know when to laugh when they watch Star Wars Uncut, possibly (to borrow her signature verbal device for one last time) the most sensational $10 pastiche-homage since Milton’s Garden of Eden. The grammar of the movies got into their heads as if it had been planted there by Noam Chomsky with a long needle. But it was a great age, and now, as part of its aftermath, it has produced a great book.


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