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Movie Criticism

The Case of Pauline Kael
A non fiction book by

A Life in the Dark, a biography of Pauline Kael by Brian Kellow has just been published. Library of America has published an anthology of her writing. Both books are worthy and have been widely and seriously reviewed. In 1980, Renata Adler, at the time a New Yorker writer --- author of two novels, and five books of essays and reporting, including, as it happens, A Year in The Dark, an anthology of her own pieces as former chief film critic of The New York Times--- reviewed Kael's When the Lights Go Down for The New York Review of Books. That review stirred an enormous fuss, consternation, taking sides.
The review itself was reviewed and discussed, as though it were news, in newspapers and magazines. It has somehow remained an occasional subject of controversy to this day.
There were rumors: a committee had collaborated to write it; Mr. Shawn, editor of The New Yorker had secretly commissioned it; Adler was pursuing a vendetta generated by some incident or series of incidents years before. None of this, as it happened, was true.
Kellow, in his biography, writes that Adler, at a meeting of the New York Film Critics, "stormed out," saying she "had to see her analyst immediately." Adler had no analyst; she had not "stormed out." When she did, in fact, quietly walk out, several other critics, including Stefan Kanfer of Time (later, author of distinguished books), walked out with her. As they left, Kael said, "Do you realize how offensive you're being?" That tone and that question were provoked by the departing critics' (including Vincent Canby's) courteous disagreement with a consensus which Kael was trying to create and enforce. Adler was relatively young, chief film critic of The New York Times - a position widely thought to be so self-evidently desirable that advertisements for a department store began "Some people think Renata Adler's job is like being paid to eat bonbons.") Adler had no reason to be hostile to Kael,
and was not. In fact, until she was asked to review Kael's collection, Adler had thought fairly highly of Kael's work.
Renata Adler's "Pauline Kael piece" has been mentioned so often through the years, in articles about Kael, including interviews and virtually all obituaries, that people who had never read the piece had the strongest possible views of what they thought it said. Reviews of the two recent books refer to it. What follows is the piece itself.

Used availability for Renata Adler's Movie Criticism

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Kindle Editions

November 2011 : USA, Canada, UK Kindle edition
thumbTitle: Movie Criticism: The Case of Pauline Kael
Author(s): Renata Adler
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

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