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June 19: The Critic

June 19, 2011

Pauline Kael, the New Yorker's innovative and influential film critic from 1968 to 1991, was born on a chicken farm in Petaluma, California on this date in 1919. She lived a bohemian life in San Francisco and New York in the 1940s and '50s before emerging as a film critic with an unusually personal, insightful, and bitingly honest voice. Kael gained some infamy when she described the hugely popular The Sound of Music in McCall's as "The Sound of Money . . . a sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat." It would not be the last commercially successful movie that she panned: West Side Story, Shoah, and It's a Wonderful Life all came in for a bruising (ouch!). Yet her brash writing style, which was given considerable breathing space in the New Yorker, won her many admirers and broad influence, especially among film directors and her fellow critics. Kael herself achieved commercial success with book collections of her reviews, including Deeper into Movies (1973), the first non-fiction book about film to gain a National Book Award.

"The critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising." —Pauline Kael