Monday, February 13, 2012

Book of the Month, February 2012

I love books. They're fun, educational, and they were the subject of one of the best episodes of "The Twilight Zone" ever. Remember, always pack your spare reading glasses. Or wear contacts.

This is quite embarrassing, but it's been a while since I've actually had a movie-related book up here. Well, recently, I read one: Brian Kellow's wonderful biography of Pauline Kael subtitled "A Life in the Dark."

For those who don't know, Kael (1919-2001) was the influential, venerable film critic for "The New Yorker" for over 25 years. It's hard to explain Kael's impact without stumbling into hyperbole, but her influence can be traced to her friends and disciples: Carrie Rickey, David Denby, Owen Gleiberman, and Armond White to name a few. Ebert has cited her as his hero. Kellow, a longtime fan, celebrates what made Kael the queen bee of film criticism: her intellectual tenacity, her refusal to compromise her style (she gave "New Yorker" editor William Shawn constant aggravation), and her intimate, nimble writing style (on gorgeous display here).

But the mark of any good biography is when an author examines the whole life, and Kellow doesn't shy away from Kael's ugly side. Rickey and Gleiberman both had fallings out with her partly becausee they were not full-blown sycophants. Kael relied on her daughter, Gina James, to the point that many observers felt Gina never became her own woman. Some thought Kael was too friendly with directors like Robert Altman and Brian DePalma. Others hated her tendency to use superlatives, which made her sound like she was gunning for movie posters. And then there was her disastrous stint as a script reader for Warren Beatty, who may have charmed her away (briefly) from "The New Yorker."

The result is a compulsively readable biography on a woman whose talents kept her aloft professionally but made her all too human. It's a terrific book, and it's made me eager to explore Kellow's other works.

That's all for now. Until next month, read in peace.

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