A Life in the Dark
By Brian Kellow
(Viking Adult, Hardcover, 9780670023127, 432pp.)
Publication Date: October 27, 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year
The first biography of The New Yorker's influential, powerful, and controversial film critic.
A decade after her death, Pauline Kael remains the most important figure in film criticism today, in part due to her own inimitable style and power within the film community and in part due to the enormous influence she has exerted over an entire subsequent generation of film critics. During her tenure at the New Yorker from 1967 to 1991 she was a tastemaker, a career maker, and a career breaker. Her brash, vernacular writing style often made for an odd fit at the stately New Yorker.
Brian Kellow gives us a richly detailed look at one of the most astonishing bursts of creativity in film history and a rounded portrait of this remarkable (and often relentlessly driven) woman. Pauline Kael is a book that will be welcomed by the same audience that made Mark Harris's Pictures at a Revolution and Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls bestsellers, and by anyone who is curious about the power of criticism in the arts.
Brian Kellow is the features editor of Opera News, where his column, “On the Beat,” appears monthly. He is the author of The Bennetts: An Acting Family and the coauthor of Can’t Help Singing: The Life of Eileen Farrell. A classically trained pianist, Kellow has also written for Opera and Playbill, among others. He lives in New York City.
“[Pauline Kael] got into my bloodstream more than any other critic. So I have been waiting most of my life for a smart, insightful biography like [Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark] to take me beyond and beneath the hypnotic thrill of her prose.”
-Ben Brantley, The New York Times (Critic���s Pick)
“[An] entertaining and insightful biography, as much a study of her criticism as a narrative of her life. . . . [Pauline] Kael emerges from [Kellow’s] biography as a great cinematic character, a kind of Citizen Kane, with a life lived and shaped by the dark.”
-Elaine Showalter, The Times Literary Supplement
— The New Yorker (Reviewers' favorites)
“[A] smart and incisive biography…. [Moviegoers] are in for a colossal eye-opening. [Kael's] love for film has no present-day counterpart…. Mr. Kellow’s clear, independent view of his subject is his book’s most valuable surprise….Kael liked to disparage what she called ‘saphead objectivity.’ Bur Mr. Kellow is no saphead, and he makes objectivity a great virtue."
— Janet Maslin, The New York Times (Editors’ Choice)
"Mr. Kellow’s even-handed treatment gives us [Kael] in all her maddening overconfidence.”
— Scott Eyman, The Wall Street Journal
“This affectionate biography makes [Kael's] life and her passion for movies inseparable.”
— The Wall Street Journal (Recommended Gift)
“To appreciate Kael’s trailblazing, you have to see it in its broader context. Luckily, that backdrop is filled in with surefooted sophistication by Brian Kellow in Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, a fair-minded and deeply reported Kael biography.”
— Frank Rich, The New York Times Book Review
“I fell on Kellow’s book like a teenage girl on a lost volume of the Twilight saga and found it quite as riveting as teens find anything to do with Bella.”
— Mary Pols, San Francisco Chronicle
“A smart and eminently readable examination of the life and career of one of the 20th century’s most influential movie critics.”
— Los Angeles Times.com
“[Kellow] brings a wise and sweeping vision to [Kael's] artistic mentality and her enduring legacy.”
— The Washington Times
“[A] terrific new biography… [Kael's early life ] was a revelation to me, thanks to Kellow’s ace research.”
“Fun, fair, and fluently written, [Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark] is an edifying read.”
— The Dallas Morning News
“Mr. Kellow throws a great deal of light on the famous critic’s heretofore mysterious ways.”
— The Portland Mercury
“In Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, author Brian Kellow offers a making-of story as engaging as her criticism. It’s not easy feat—what’s less dramatic than scribbling into the night?—but Kellow tapped [Kael's] friends and foes and her writing while developing a colorful, even handed appreciation of one of film’s most influential critics….[An] eye-opening biography.”
— Associated Press
“The fact that most of us know little about [Kael's ] upbringing of her private life makes this an especially intriguing biography.”
— Leonard Maltin, Leonard Maltin.com
“Compelling…thrillingly written and exhaustively researched….Genius.”
— The Playlist
“Kellow evocatively captures the blooming of film culture in the early 1960s, and the sobriety with which Kael took over the critical pulpit….Kellow not only grasps the significance of his subject, but invokes the pace and energy of [Kael's] singular style….good, dishy fun.”
— The Village Voice
"Kellow has reconstructed Kael's 'life in the dark'....The result is a joy to read....[I]t's a fascinating book."
— Los Angeles Magazine (Critic's Picks, November 2011 Issue)
“[E]xhaustively researched, beautifully written….Kellow has told [Kael's] life in incredible detail….I found [Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark] enthralling because it vividly recreates a world I was part of, which seems now very distant. It is also because Kellow has been generous in quoting [Kael's] sensuous, percussive, often wise prose….Pauline was a galvanizing presence, and Kellow has brought her back with overwhelming intensity.”
— Howard Kissel, The Huffington Post
“Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark is a very good biography."
— Richard Schickel, Los Angeles Review of Books
"At last, a biography of the highly influential New Yorker film critic."
— San Francisco Chronicle
“The [present] I hope someone will send me is Brian Kellow’s Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark.”
— Philip French, The Observer (U.K.)
“Kellow matches extensive research with acute perception in his sensitive and definitive biography of Pauline Kael, America’s foremost, and most controversial, movie critic.”
— Booklist (Top 10 Arts Books 2011)
“Brian Kellow’s biography of [Pauline Kael] is a fascinating and enlightening read.”
— Whitney Matheson, USA Today
“[A] finely balanced biography…[N]ot only will you not be disappointed with Kellow’s intrepid research, you’ll also be rewarded by his rich, close reading of her reviews (and the stories behind the writing of them) that does marvelous justice to Pauline Kael’s exhilarating gift for writing on the movies. Both, her admirers and her detractors could not have asked for a more satisfying biography.”
— The Hindu
— Toronto Star
“[A] smashing first biography of the famed New Yorker critic.”
— The Buffalo News
— The Onion A.V. Club
“[A] richly detailed biography.”
“Throws radiant light on the renowned movie critic.”
— David Finkle, The Huffington Post
"[A] fascinating new biography….[Kellow] captures [Kael's] best passages and most heartless insults and puts them in context.”
— Laurie Winer, Los Angeles Review of Books
“[Brian] Kellow finds the emotional core of [Pauline] Kael’s persona….Kellow is quickly becoming a film fan’s dream biographer…. That Kellow chooses to write in calm, unshowy prose is both astute as a journalistic technique and integral to the book’s aesthetic success….Kellow’s Kael transcends mere artistic contrarianism and resembles a sort of impassioned duelist.”
“[A] rich, thorough, and admirably fair biography.”
-Entertainment Weekly, (Best Nonfictions Books of 2011)
"Kellow, an erudite movie lover...writes beautifully and dexterously interweaves the story of a career long-thwarted with a sensitive reading o his subject's youthful enthusiasm and intellectual growth."
-Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
“Perhaps the most valuable thing about Brian Kellow’s fine new book about [Pauline] Kael, A Life in the Dark, is that, aside from its virtues as a sympathetic, clear-eyed and sharp biography, is that it’s a really fine cultural and social document of a turning point in movie history.”
-Special Broadcasting Service, (Australia)
“Brian Kellow’s biography Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark wisely charts Kael’s life by focusing on her writing.”
“[An] excellent new biography.”
-Sense of Cinema
“Yet Kael often reveled in movies she thought were a mess, just as anyone who reads Brian Kellow’s incisive, detailed biography of America’s most impassioned and influential movie critic, Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, is sure to be absorbed, sucked in, by Kael’s cluttered hodge-podge of a life—personally, professionally, emotionally, aesthetically….There is so much packed into Kellow’s rich book…that her life story seems an epic script.”
“[Pauline Kael is an] entertaining and insightful biography.”
“[Pauline Kael is an] excellent Biography.”