Peter Bradshaw on Pauline Kael: ‘She Was a Heroic, Live-Ammo Critic’

Labor News, Industry News

Pauline Kael. Photograph: Erin Combs/Toronto Star via Getty The New Yorker’s legendary reviewer would have been 100 this year. Here, fans of her work assess her essential contribution to film journalism.

Reprinted from The Guardian by on June 13, 2019.

“Kael’s legendary essay-review about Bonnie and Clyde was published in 1967 in The New Yorker,” writes Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. “For a movie critic to read it now is to experience a mix of emotions: glee, euphoria, fascination, exhilaration and shame that you are not doing anything like as passionate and glorious in your own work.

“It is one of the greatest pieces of journalism or criticism; perhaps the greatest I have ever read. This is heroic criticism, warrior criticism, live-ammo criticism that boldly intervenes in culture and unapologetically takes on everything: the movie, the movies, the audience, the other critics, history, society, politics, love and death. This isn’t simply a demonstration of reviewing in all its habitual simpering passivity – that type of criticism which is, paradoxically, entirely uncritical, because it eats up whatever film is put on its plate every week and then obediently raises a thumb up or down or at some angle.

“This is criticism that doesn’t wait to be asked, Kael’s criticism isn’t happy with the demurely submissive ‘handmaiden to the arts’ tag; she is more like Joan of Arc at the Battle of Orléans. …

“Elsewhere in the piece, she has a shrewd and valuable comment on what is right and wrong with the movie’s editing – something modern criticism too often passes over in silence – and she returns to what became a keynote of her critical career: the importance of writers and the importance of understanding cinema as a collaborative art …

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Guardian UK 6/13

About Jeffrey Burman 5303 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at

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