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Moriarty Comments Upon Pauline Kael's Passing

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

We frequently report the passing of people here on AICN, but rarely do I feel it with the acuity I do tonight. As much as I am a student of filmmakers like Kubrick and Scorsese and Lean and Gilliam, I am a student of those who write about film, like Bogdonavich and Truffaut and Harlan Ellison and, more than anyone else, Pauline Kael.

To report that she passed away at 82 after a long and spirited battle with Parkinson's disease is my profoundly sad job here tonight. I opened my e-mail box for just a moment, hoping to see if there was anything from any friends before heading back out for the rest of my Labor Day with my girlfriend. Instead, I was blindsided by this news, and I found myself sitting speechless, suddenly aware of the huge debt I owe this diminuitive woman, equally aware that I now will never have a chance to thank her directly.

I remember when I discovered Kael's work, in the collections she published, and how I used to take them along on vacation and read them cover to cover. The first two books of hers I read, both in a single weekend, were KISS KISS BANG BANG and I LOST IT AT THE MOVIES. It didn't matter if I'd seen the films she was talking about or if I agreed with her perspective on those films. Her passion for movies, and for the particular pleasures we derive from films as an audience, is what made her work important and enduring. I learned from her each time I read her work, and I consider her to be one of the most important voices in steering my own gradual evolution as a writer about this industry and about this art.

I love her reviews for the films of Brian De Palma. She was the first person to steer me towards his work, and I'll always cherish her for that. I remember buying the Criterion laserdisc of LAST TANGO IN PARIS with her entire rave review of the film reprinted as the gatefold of the jacket. Whenever I am around my movie-crazy friends, Kael's name invariably comes up. I know people who collect Pauline Kael stories, and I love hearing about people's personal encounters with her. Bill Condon, writer/director of GODS & MONSTERS, told me a great story once about going to show her STRANGE INVADERS in the town where she lived and taking Nancy Allen along for the ride. There's a similar story in the introduction for the published version of Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson's RUSHMORE script.

Mere words cannot sum up the impact this one writer made on this industry. She made it okay for us to be drunk on movies, in love with the movies, and she gave permission for us to express it in whatever language we chose, with whatever passion we chose. Her support of filmmaker like Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, De Palma, and Francis Ford Coppola was important at a time when cinema was actually being treated as an art and not just a way to make money. She got to sit front and center for one of the most exciting eras in the short history of filmmaking, and by reading the work she leaves behind, you can get a sense of why that moment was important.

I wish peace to the immediate family she leaves behind, and I wish longevity on the words she wrote. Pauline Kael was a giant, and even though she retired from reviewing in 1991, it wasn't until tonight that it felt like she was gone. For a woman born in 1919, she has left a surprisingly long shadow over the last 50 years of film criticism, and she saw so much change that I wonder what she must have made of how the field has developed. It is a strange new world now, with more voices than ever clamoring to weigh in as each film is released. The somber e-mail I got from a reader with a whacked-out internet nickname sums up the way we mix the serious and the silly these days, and it made me smile just a bit, even through the ache that's already settling in, to see this reminder of how we, the children of Kael, carry ourselves into the next century of film criticism:

Hi Harry,

The prominent and influential film critic Pauline Kael has passed on today from Parkeson's disease. This is most unfortunate considering she was probably the most insightful of all critics I have had the pleasure to read. She will be missed dearly.

Call me Butt Monkey.

Indeed. Whatever future there is in serious writing about film, it is possible in large part because of Pauline Kael. God bless, and good night.

"Moriarty" out.

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