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People shouldn’t be fat

Zachary Leader, 3 October 1996

Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu 
by Simon Callow.
Cape, 640 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 224 03852 4
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Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 460 pp., £20, September 1996, 0 316 91437 1
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... Citizen Kane, ‘it is at least possible that this is the very point that Welles wants to make.’ Pauline Kael seems to have had something like this in mind when she described the film as ‘a shallow masterpiece’ (Thomson thinks of cinema as shallow in any case, and Welles’s masterpiece as ‘the first movie to reveal that’). Despite the verve and ...

Bow. Wow

James Wolcott: Gore Vidal, 3 February 2000

Gore Vidal 
by Fred Kaplan.
Bloomsbury, 850 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 7475 4671 1
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... presiding over her own prospective talkshow. Taking part in the pilot were Vidal, the movie critic Pauline Kael, the actor Ed Asner (TV’s Lou Grant), and myself. Before the taping, Vidal and I chatted about the then-hot slander suit involving Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy. ‘When you get to a certain age,’ Vidal said almost wistfully, ‘a juicy ...

That’s democracy

Theo Tait: Dalton Trumbo, 2 March 2000

Johnny Got His Gun 
by Dalton Trumbo.
Prion, 222 pp., £5.99, May 1999, 1 85375 324 6
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... was broken. So Trumbo entered Hollywood legend as ‘The Man who Broke the Blacklist’. As Pauline Kael put it, he became ‘the leading exponent of the dictates-of-conscience and the dignity-and-indomitable-spirit-of-man school of screenwriter’ and is probably best remembered for the series of ‘message’ epics that he scripted during this ...

Mad Monk

Jenny Diski: Not going to the movies, 6 February 2003

The New Biographical Dictionary of Film 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 963 pp., £25, November 2002, 0 316 85905 2
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Nobody’s Perfect: Writings from the ‘New Yorker’ 
by Anthony Lane.
Picador, 752 pp., £15.99, November 2002, 0 330 49182 2
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Paris Hollywood: Writings on Film 
by Peter Wollen.
Verso, 314 pp., £13, December 2002, 1 85984 391 3
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... Perfect, Thomson, aged sixtyish, compares a non-exhaustive list of the movies available for Pauline Kael to review in the 1970s with those reviewed in the New Yorker by Lane, aged between 30 and 40. Here’s his 1970s list: Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather (1 & 2), The Conversation, McCabe and Mrs Miller, California Split, Nashville, Chinatown, The ...

Before They Met

Michael Wood: Dr Zhivago, 17 February 2011

Doctor Zhivago 
by Boris Pasternak, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Harvill, 513 pp., £20, October 2011, 978 1 84655 379 0
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... Pauline Kael took against the rainbow at the end of David Lean’s film Doctor Zhivago. It was a ‘disgraceful effect’, she said, ‘a coarse gesture of condescension and appeasement to the Russians’, and she asked if Lean and Robert Bolt would have placed a rainbow ‘over the future of England ...

What does a chicken know of bombs?

David Thomson: A Key to Brando, 5 December 2019

The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando 
by William J. Mann.
HarperCollins, 718 pp., £22, November 2019, 978 0 06 242764 9
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... It’s another kind of exercise. If Last Tango in Paris was startling in 1972, and reminded Pauline Kael of The Rite of Spring, it has dated badly. A venture that was to have a man and woman as raw as figures from Francis Bacon, even doing it on screen, turned into a naked Maria Schneider and a Brando too shy to take his coat off. He looked at his ...

Use Use Use

Robert Baird: Robert Duncan’s Dream, 24 October 2013

Robert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus 
by Lisa Jarnot.
California, 509 pp., £27.95, August 2013, 978 0 520 23416 1
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... His extracurricular education continued at Berkeley, where a circle of female friends including Pauline Kael taught him the byways of modernist poetry and leftist politics. He joined the campus literary magazine and discovered there ‘a stubbornness that should’ve told me I was going to be able to hold out for the rest of my life’. Poor grades, a ...

How Do You Pay?

Bee Wilson: Falling for Michael Moore, 1 November 2007

Citizen Moore: An American Maverick 
by Roger Rapoport.
Methuen, 361 pp., £8.99, July 2007, 978 0 413 77649 5
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Manufacturing Dissent 
directed by Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk.
October 2007
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directed by Michael Moore.
October 2007
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... extent to which we are happy to surrender to the bear-like embrace of Moore’s onscreen persona. Pauline Kael wasn’t. In her New Yorker review of Roger and Me, she called it ‘a piece of gonzo demagoguery that made me feel cheap for laughing’. Uncharmed by this ‘big shambling joker in windbreaker and baseball cap’, she complained: ‘I had ...


Gilberto Perez: Godard’s Method, 1 April 2004

Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at 70 
by Colin MacCabe.
Bloomsbury, 432 pp., £25, November 2003, 0 7475 6318 7
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... a reverie of a gangster movie as students in an espresso bar might remember it or plan it’, Pauline Kael wrote in her review, which describes the film well: The two heroes . . . begin by play-acting crime and violence movies, then really act them out in their lives. Their girl, wanting to be accepted, tells them there is money in the villa where ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides, 24 October 2019

Sontag: Her Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... added up the totals of aesthetic apparatus, there is still no affective centre in the work.’ Pauline Kael thought much the same: ‘Miss Sontag is often a thoughtful writer, but she has never had much dramatic sense – it’s hard to think of an American writer with less dramatic sense.’ Moser himself, fidgeting around for something useful ...

Operation Barbarella

Rick Perlstein: Hanoi Jane, 17 November 2005

Jane Fonda’s War: A Political Biography of an Anti-war Icon 
by Mary Hershberger.
New Press, 228 pp., £13.99, September 2005, 1 56584 988 4
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... to think.’ Anyone familiar with the films of Henry Fonda will recognise this way of thinking. Pauline Kael called it ‘liberal masochism’ – the fantasy of perfectly reasonable liberals, besieged on all sides by perfectly bigoted conservatives. Its purest form is the redemption narrative in which the pure-hearted liberal converts the bigots by ...

The Eerie One

Bee Wilson: Peter Lorre, 23 March 2006

The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre 
by Stephen Youngkin.
Kentucky, 613 pp., $39.95, September 2005, 0 8131 2360 7
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... Lorre is distressingly human – ‘a small fat man, sweating in his uncomfortable clothes’, as Pauline Kael wrote. You can almost smell the goulash on his breath, and taste his all too ordinary greed as he sits at a café and gulps down two cognacs, after a mother’s timely arrival has thwarted his intention to kidnap yet another girl outside a ...

Nothing he hasn’t done, nowhere he hasn’t been

Adam Shatz: Claude Lanzmann, 5 April 2012

The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir 
by Claude Lanzmann, translated by Frank Wynne.
Atlantic, 528 pp., £25, March 2012, 978 1 84887 360 5
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... was a Gesamtkunstwerk of the Holocaust, as darkly transcendent as the event itself. When Pauline Kael panned the film – ‘Shoah is a long moan. It’s saying: “We’ve always been oppressed, and we’ll be oppressed again”’ – the New Yorker received a flurry of outraged letters. But in the 27 years since its release, the film’s ...

At the Crime Scene

Adam Shatz: Robbe-Grillet’s Bad Thoughts, 31 July 2014

A Sentimental Novel 
by Alain Robbe-Grillet, translated by D.E. Brooke.
Dalkey Archive, 142 pp., £9.50, April 2014, 978 1 62897 006 7
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... cachet – thanks above all to his friend Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura – that Pauline Kael grumbled about a ‘creeping Marienbadism’. When ‘The Talk of the Town’ told him ‘we didn’t feel we had completely understood’ the plot of Last Year at Marienbad, Robbe-Grillet replied: ‘Moi non plus.’ He was well spoken, well ...


David Bromwich: This was Orson Welles, 3 June 2004

Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life 
by Peter Conrad.
Faber, 384 pp., £20, September 2003, 0 571 20978 5
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... from an indebted and resentful following? This posture of the disappointed enthusiast led Pauline Kael to describe Citizen Kane as ‘a shallow masterpiece’, and to forgive the man who made it: ‘In a less confused world, his glory would be greater than his guilt.’ In a similar mood, David Thomson published a biography in which every chapter ...

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