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Pauline Kael
The Critic Who Made You Fall in Love With Movies

audio Listen to All Things Considered's look back at Kael.

audio Listen to film historian David Thomson discuss Kael on Morning Edition.

audio Weekend Edition entertainment critic Elvis Mitchell remembers Pauline Kael

Sept. 4, 2001 -- To Pauline Kael, the legendary film critic who died Monday, a good movie "makes me feel great. I think good movies do that for people." All Things Considered looks back on Kael's wordcraft Tuesday.

Pauline Kael

Pauline Kael, in an undated photo
Photo: Associated Press

Kael, who had Parkinson's disease, was 82 years old when she died. During her career, Kael's witty, passionate and often acerbic film reviews changed the way Americans went to the movies.

"A good movie can take you out of your dull funk and the hopelessness that so often goes with slipping into a theater," she told Weekend Edition's Scott Simon in a 1995 interview. "A good movie can make you feel alive again in contact, not just lost in another city. Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again. If somewhere in the Hollywood entertainment world, someone has managed to break through with something that speaks to you, then it isn't all corruption."

Pauline Kael on NPR

audio March 18, 1995
Weekend Edition interview

audio June 8, 1984
Morning Edition interview

audio Feb. 4, 1986
Fresh Air interview

Kael was a movie critic for The New Yorker from 1967 to 1991. Her best reviews were collected into books and they are studied in film schools and in writing classes. It was once said that her film reviews were often more entertaining than the movies themselves.

Known for her strong opinions and her cantankerous personality, Kael pushed the envelope with her movie reviews. She dismissed Dances With Wolves as a "nature boy movie," and called Rain Man a "wet piece of kitsch."

Kael was a passionate fan of films like The Godfather, Bonnie & Clyde and Mean Streets, and called Last Tango in Paris possibly the most liberating movie ever made.

Of the sequel to The Godfather, Kael told Simon in 1995: "I think Godfather II is simply one of the great American movies. Particularly, if you take it together with Godfather I. But even by itself, those scenes of early New York with DeNiro as the young godfather have never really been matched, I think, for emotional substance."

But Kael also found redeeming qualities in bad movies as well. "The good movies, everything is generally presented to us because they work at all cylinders. Whereas, the bad movies we have personal, oddball relations to and if someone else has noticed some obscure little point that was ludicrous or that was wonderful, we feel an attraction to them. I think one of the great things about growing up is learning which friends you can go to movies with and which ones you can't; and which fellows you date you can go to movies with, and which ones you can't."


Other Resources

Read Pauline Kael's 1985 New Yorker review of A Passage to India.

Read a 1998 interview with Kael in AARP's Modern Maturity magazine.

Read a 1999 article about Kael on Salon.com.