I'd like to take a moment to second some remarks made by Flickhead regarding the lasting effect of Pauline Kael and the pleasures to be had from reading her criticism. He writes, in his latest post:
"If it weren’t for her, I seriously doubt that I’d be writing at all: this blog entry, this blog, my website…anything. Kael showed me that personality and opinion needn’t be stifled by rules or popular opinion. As someone with aspirations of being a writer, reading her work was perhaps the most liberating and educational experience I’ve ever had."
This is certainly true for me as well. When I first picked up a copy of Reeling in the Koobdooga (read it backwards) Bookstore in Eugene, Oregon in 1977, I was aware of who Pauline Kael was. I'd seen her name blurbed in some movie newspaper ads and actually saw her appear sometime in the early '70s as a guest on The Mike Douglas Show, of all things. But that night, thumbing through the film section, I was just looking for some easy reading and thought this might be the way to go. Funny how life-changing experiences spring themselves on you, isn't it? Kael shook my perceptions and presumptions to their foundations. (And I had quite a few presumptions, being a fairly snotty, emboldened college freshman who was sure he knew pretty much everything there was to know already, especially about movies.) She addicted me to her writing and her ability to make me re-view (that is, re-see) the movie through her eyes. It's a measure of just how good she is that I've probably read (and reread) most of her pieces on individual films more often than I've actually seen the works in question. And I, like Flickhead, largely credit her with the inspiration for trying to forge ahead, in my own voice, with the challenge of writing perceptively and entertainingly about film, or about anything else, for that matter.
I never met Pauline Kael; I never communicated with her; I never heard her speak in person, only on some recordings of her Pacifica radio show that I obtained 15 or so years ago. But she still connects to me through her writing, even that which dates back the furthest, constantly challenging me to think independently, to argue with her stubborn persuasiveness, to express my own responses. But now, thanks to the gatekeepers at If Charlie Parker Were A Gunslinger, we can all listen to a nearly hour-long MP3 recording of Kael speaking circa 1963, which means that Andrew Sarris and "Circles and Squares" are front and center on the list of topics. This is a rare and wonderful opportunity to actually hear one of the great film critics just as she was beginning to climb to the heights of her profession. Thanks to Tom Sutpen and Stephen Cooke for making it available, and to Pauline Kael for leaving a body of work still worth experiencing after all these years.