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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 ...

Looking for Imperfection

Gilberto Perez: John Cassavetes, 23 August 2001

John Cassavetes: Lifeworks 
by Tom Charity.
Omnibus, 257 pp., £10.95, March 2001, 0 7119 7544 2
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Cassavetes on Cassavetes 
edited by Ray Carney.
Faber, 526 pp., £17.99, March 2001, 0 571 20157 1
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... Peter Bogdanovich and Olivier Assayas. ‘He thinks not like a director but like an actor,’ Pauline Kael wrote, and the remark was not intended as praise. But Kael was aware that what can be said against Cassavetes can also be said for him: Cassavetes’s method is peculiar in that its triumphs and its failures ...

Say thank you

Clive James: Witty Words in Pretty Mouths, 23 May 2002

Fast-Talking Dames 
by Maria DiBattista.
Yale, 365 pp., £19.95, June 2001, 0 300 08815 9
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... to be ashamed of that, and it is not necessarily a disqualifying fault even for a film critic. Pauline Kael developed a tremendous reputation without having very many clues about how films got put together. But even Kael was aware that actors don’t usually write their own dialogue. Sometimes they are so good at ...

A Little Holiday

Geoffrey Wheatcroft: Ben Hecht’s Cause, 23 September 2021

A Child of the Century 
by Ben Hecht.
Yale, 654 pp., £16, April 2020, 978 0 300 25179 1
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Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures 
by Adina Hoffman.
Yale, 245 pp., £10.99, April 2020, 978 0 300 25181 4
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... Wind and Roman Holiday. He helped create the gangster movie, the screwball comedy and film noir. Pauline Kael credited him with being responsible for half of the most enjoyable Hollywood movies; Jean- Luc Godard went further: Hecht, he said, ‘invented 80 per cent of what is used in Hollywood movies today’.A Child of the Century, Hecht’s ...

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’. Actually it’s difficult to think of David Lean placing rainbows anywhere much, and more significantly, the mood of the rainbow, if not the actual image, is fully there in Boris Pasternak’s novel, as Russian as you can get ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Human Spanner

Stuart Jeffries: Kant Come Alive, 17 June 2021

Correspondence 1923-66: Theodor W. Adorno and Siegfried Kracauer 
edited by Wolfgang Schopf, translated by Susan Reynolds and Michael Winkler.
Polity, 537 pp., £35, November 2020, 978 0 7456 4923 8
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Kracauer: A Biography 
by Jörg Später, translated by Daniel Steuer.
Polity, 584 pp., £35, September 2020, 978 1 5095 3301 5
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... proper mode: film was the trembling reflection of the world in a puddle. The book was derided by Pauline Kael in Sight and Sound. Kracauer, she charged, wasthe sort of man who can’t say ‘It’s a lovely day’ without first establishing that it is day, that the term ‘day’ is meaningless without the dialectical concept of ‘night’, that both ...

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 to ...


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 ...

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 ...

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