losing it at the movies: la notte (michelangelo antonioni, 1961)

kael at 100

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the woman who is quoted at the top of every page on this blog. Here is something I wrote for an anthology about Kael:

It was her insistence on the individual, sometimes even the willful viewer, that makes any concept of the “Paulettes” problematic. For the critic who truly wanted to follow in Kael’s footsteps, subjectivity would necessarily be crucial, and that subjectivity would ensure that the critic wasn’t merely parroting Kael. To a question in an excellent 1994 interview from Conversations with Kael by Hal Espen about what she called “saphead objectivity”, she said:

"Our responses to a movie grow out of our experience, knowledge, temperament – maybe even our biochemistry…. I tried to put my background and predilections right out on top, so that the reader could know what my responses came from."

Ideally, criticism is a matter of your intelligence and all your intuitions coming into play…. but you can’t make an objective judgment in any of the arts. Kael’s influence hardly relies on our agreeing with her opinions. Her lasting resonance comes from her perspective to writing criticism, what I would call an “expansive subjectivity”. It is easy enough to reduce Pauline Kael to her pronouncements, and indeed, those of us who remember her with passion will often find ourselves slipping into the Paulette mode of wondering “what would Pauline think?” However, I am writing this essay in an attempt at some explanation for the ineffability, the magic, the lasting power of her voice.