Monday, June 1, 2009
Announcing Pauline Kael Week: June 15-19
[Update: Pauline Kael Week is under way, here!]
Though she lived long enough to see the blogosphere named in 1999, Pauline Kael stopped being a professional critic too soon to join the online circus of words and opinions that the term represents. Kael retired in 1991 after 40 years of celebrated (and sometimes resented) criticism, most famously at The New Yorker. In her wake, she left us with more than a dozen books anthologizing her criticism. She left us with “Paulettes,” critics who purposefully and devotedly seek to emulate her brand of criticism. And, to some degree, without ever trying, she left us with the blogosphere, which is largely populated by the kind of passionate, unbound, emotional writing that was at the core of Kael’s style.
To be clear: I’m not suggesting that most bloggers rival Kael. Not even close. But it isn’t ridiculous to suggest that most movie bloggers are influenced by Kael, even if they don’t realize it, even if they’ve never read a single thing she wrote. Her impact is hard to nail down (who hasn’t been labeled a Paulette, at this point?), but it’s also difficult to exaggerate. Kael wrote fervent essays that, instead of reading like term papers, sounded like the transcribed mad ramblings of a cinema diehard holding court in the theater lobby, challenging all-comers. Sound familiar? Kael did what most movie bloggers attempt to do; she just did it better. The shame of it is that she didn’t do it with us. On that note, not wanting to further bury the lead, I’d like to offer an opportunity to rectify that on a small scale:
I’m now announcing Pauline Kael Week, to unfold here at The Cooler from June 15-19, leading up to what would have been Kael’s 90th birthday. (Kael died in 2001.) What will Pauline Kael Week entail? The two main ingredients are Kael and you. Over the course of the five-day event (and we’ll spill into the following weekend, if everyone is having fun), I’ll post excerpts of Classic Kael. All you have to do is show up at The Cooler, read the excerpts and then react in the comments section. In some instances I might frame the excerpts with some questions to spark the discussion – but somehow I don’t think that will be necessary. This is Pauline Kael we’re talking about. One doesn’t need to fan the flames of an inferno.
Think of this as a five-day book club – the book in question being Kael’s For Keeps, from which I’ll draw excerpts. That said, I’m happy to also treat this as a traditional blog-a-thon. If you’d like to write a piece on Kael – about her career or influence, about her ethics, or about some essay she wrote decades ago that’s you’ve never forgotten (or forgiven) – do so! Pass me the link and I’ll feature it at The Cooler.
I think this has the potential to be an engaging event. Of course, if no one shows up, it’ll be an extremely lame party. So I’m asking you to please help spread the word (Web banner below), and then to participate enthusiastically over the course of the week. No preparation required. Just show up and be ready to argue about the critic who raved about Bonnie And Clyde, Nashville and Last Tango In Paris, and who took down West Side Story, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, A Clockwork Orange and movies on television. Be there!