Pauline Kael, Movie Critic


Pauline Kael, Movie Critic

Kael Residence: 2419 Oregon Street

Pauline Kael, perhaps the most influential movie critic of her time, was born in 1919 to Polish immigrant parents who owned a Petaluma chicken farm, which they lost in the Depression. Kael attended high school in San Francisco, then the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in philosophy. Upon befriending a number of the poets and writers who would subsequently emerge as central figures in the Beat Generation, she quit school in 1940 to write fiction.

In the mid-1950s Kael began publishing articles on cinema and giving film reviews on Berkeley’s listener-supported KPFA radio. Forced to earn money by taking what she called “crummy” jobs, she later complained about producing a million words worth of reviews without pay. Kael and Edward Landberg, owner of the Berkeley Cinema Guild Theater, eventually joined forces. The Cinema Guild was located in the Sequoia Building at the Corner of Telegraph Ave. and Haste St. It was destroyed by fire in 2011. Under Kael’s guidance the theater screened the finest European and American movies at a time when it was difficult, if not impossible, to see many of them. Kael had strong opinions, and, as manager of the Studio/Guild (a second theater was added in 1957), she had no inhibitions about repeatedly showing her favorites.

The brilliant, brazen, in-your-face writings ultimately launched a career for the irrepressible and voluble Kael, taking her to New York where she successfully wrote reviews for the New Yorker (1968–91). Her provocative, voluminous reviews and books dominated movie criticism for many years. Kael died in 2001.

Contributed by Robert Kehlmann, 2012

  • Kael Residence, 2419 Oregon Street (1960s), Berkeley Cineaste.

  • Kael Residence, 2419 Oregon St. (2012), photo, R. Kehlmann.

  • Jess Murals inside Kael residence, photo (2014) courtesy Jess Collins Trust

  • Sequoia Building, Telegraph Ave at Haste Street, photo (ca. 1961) BAHA Archives

  • Cinema, Guild and Studio Theaters, photo Edward Landberg, PFA Library

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society