Kael gets a shout-out

John Semley in The Tribune writes a little piece on the great Pauline Kael, whom he calls “the cure for film criticism.” The American director Jonathan Demme once said,

If you’re a filmmaker, you read what Pauline Kael says about you, and you read it in a certain way. I’ve had my mind changed on several occasions by her. She has a point of view, an artistry that’s extraordinary for a film enthusiast [to read]. When The New Yorker comes out and you see that, by God, she likes your movie, it’s a spectacular feeling, and you read it over and over. When she doesn’t like your movie, you read that one only once.

Kael was also responsible for a general change in writing style at The New Yorker, which in turn helped to expand the possibilities of culture writing at other major publications.

Semley quotes Kael about the role of the critic. I wish I could find this interview I remember in which she spoke directly about that, but if I can expand on Semley’s quote from her essay Circles & Squares, which she wrote to compare well to the formal film criticism the essay was discussing:

The role of the critic is to help people see what is in the work, what is in it that shouldn’t be, what is not in it that could be. He is a good critic if he helps people understand more about the work than they could see for themselves; he is a great critic, if by his understanding and feeling for the work, by his passion, he can excite people so that they want to experience more of the art that is there, waiting to be seized. The art of the critic is to transmit his knowledge of and enthusiasm for art to others.

Semley mentions A.O. Scott, David Edelstein and Stephanie Zacharek, as her critical prodigy, although the list could go on (especially if you’re not buzzed by those reviewers), and includes Roger Ebert, the most commercially influential movie reviewer today. Among directors, she was friends with both Jean Renoir and Sam Peckinpah, two great directors almost as different as you can get. It’s a good piece by Semley and nice to see in a university newspaper toward the end of a year.


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