Pauline Kael was once called "the Elvis or the Beatles of film criticism" because, like those rock stars, she practically reinvented her industry. Kael was on staff at the New Yorker as a film critic from 1967 to 1991, and prior to that had a short-lived stint at The New Republic. Many reviewers, including the great Roger Ebert, have spoken positively of her enduring legacy on film criticism. That legacy, notes the New Yorker's Nathan Heller, has to do with uncanny ability to turn a phrase: "The most distinctive feature of Kael's criticism was its voice. When people respond favorably to her work, it's often the chatty, urgent, and unrestrained tone of the reviews that draws them in."
If you're not familiar with her voice, then you can (and should) read some of her work. But if you want just a quick sense of what she sounds like, you can (and should) head on over to Twitter, where someone just started a Pauline Kael Twitter handle. Here was "her" first tweet on Sunday:
We now extol amateurism, conflict, the shocking back-story of a cast. Talent is elitist, trivial. Orange Is The New Black personifies this.— Pauline Kael (@MsPaulineKael) August 10, 2014
The voice is eerily accurate, and the unapologetic, almost judgmental tone emanating from the line is spot-on. Not that Kael was mean-spirited! There were many films she raved over, like The Last Tango in Paris. And like any reviewer, there were films, like The Sound of Music, that really just rubbed her the wrong way. She excoriated both the musical and its audience, saying it was "a sugar-coated lie that people seemed to want to eat."
So far, every tweet from the fake Kael account is gold. There are zingers on Cherry Jones, Wes Anderson, and contemporary womanhood. There are snide insults of today's acting scene, like this one:
The Oscar has always been like an AA chip: An award for surviving adversity, debasement; for the self-promotion of weaknesses. A confession.— Pauline Kael (@MsPaulineKael) August 10, 2014
As of yet, no one has come forward and admitted being behind this Twitter account. I heard a rumor that it might have been started as a pre-advertisement campaign in anticipation of a forthcoming book on Kael.
Someone once sent Kael a letter calling into question the importance of film critics. Here is Kael's response:
I regard criticism as an art, and if in this country and in this age it is practiced with honesty, it is no more remunerative than the work of an avant-garde film artist. My dear anonymous letter writers, if you think it is so easy to be a critic, so difficult to be a poet or a painter or film experimenter, may I suggest you try both? You may discover why there are so few critics, so many poets.
Are there really so few Twitter accounts?