Tuesday, July 06, 2004


On first glance there couldn't be two more different writers than Pauline Kael and Susan Sontag. An influential film critic who brought an irreverent colloquial energy to the stuffy pages of the New Yorker magazine, Kael seems an odd pairing with Sontag, who is better known for her chilly, exacting explorations of European literature and culture. I've read alot of Kael--I found a a book of her movie reviews 15 years ago and worked my way through almost all of her books. I've read much less Sontag-- her reputation making Against Interpretation and Under the Sign of Saturn were the two that struck me. Craig Seligman knew Kael, and obviously prefers her as both a critic and mentor, but in his new book Sontag & Kael:Opposites Attract Me he definitely also gives Sontag her due as a critic, particularly giving her credit for not standing still as a thinker. In sketching out their respective biographies he also points out unexpected similarities between the two--both Sontag and Kael were women who made a reputation for themselves in a pre-feminist era and both were Californians who made their reputations in the east. Seligman does an expert job of using each to illuminate the others work, teasing out their strengths and weaknesses. I immediately felt like reading more of Kael and Sontag's own work after finishing this, which is the ultimate kudos for a book like this one.

As an added bonus here's a bit from Pauline Kael's Marlon Brando :An American Hero from the 1966(!)Atlantic Monthly:

Marlon Brando's career indicates the new speed of these processes. Brando, our most powerfuI young screen actor, the only one who suggested tragic force, the major protagonist of contemporary American themes in the fifties, is already a self-parodying comedian.

A perfect example of her finely attuned bullshit detector.