Assigned to profile Graham Greene, Penelope Gilliatt, briefly full-time since Pauline Kael left for an ill-fated stint as a Hollywood producer, turned in a draft that a young fact-checker named Peter Canby flagged for lifting material from previously published work. (Canby now oversees the storied fact-checking department.) Brushing the warnings aside, William Shawn published Gilliatt's piece, which is when Michael Mewshaw realized she'd pilfered more than 800 words of his own Greene profile from The Nation. As he recounted in his 2003 memoir Do I Owe You Something? Mewshaw complained to Shawn, who blamed the plagiarism on Gilliatt's alcohol problem and said public excoriation would drive her to [...]
"The age of evaluation, of the Olympian critic as cultural arbiter, is over," wrote Stephen Burn recently in the New York Times Book Review. The sun may be setting on the “Olympian” stature the critic formerly enjoyed, while the age of everyman-as-critic is on the rise. Academic critics may not be in such danger—God did, after all, create tenure. So what of the future of the journalist-critic, the op-ed columnist and the professional cultural commentator?
There's an assumption that most influential opinion and culture critics and commentators have been safely ensconced in the mastheads of prestigious publications forever and have used their fancy office letterheads to cultivate [...]
A column that resurrects the highbrow gossip of yore.
Here’s an anecdote from James Wolcott’s crackerjack new memoir of ink-stained ’70s New York, Lucking Out: Wolcott, then in his twenties and cutting his teeth at the Village Voice, tagged along with Pauline Kael for a drink at the townhouse of a top Newsweek editor. Kael was three decades older than Wolcott and miles above him then in the editorial food chain, but he wasn’t about to ask the most famous movie critic in America why she kept inviting him to screenings. (Whatta town.)
The only prominent item on the enormous glass coffee table at the editor’s house was Joan Didion’s [...]
"The great artist is he who goes a step beyond the demand, and, by supplying works of a higher beauty and a higher interest than have yet been perceived, succeeds, after a brief struggle with its strangeness, in adding this fresh extension of sense to the heritage of the race."—George Bernard Shaw, The Sanity of Art
I saw Pauline Kael speak once, "in conversation" with Jean-Luc Godard, many years ago at Berkeley. The place was mobbed and the event was a mess, with the so-called conversation quickly devolving into a shouting match (about Technicolor film stock, as I recall). But it was so great watching Kael yell at Godard, [...]