1919-06-19

PAULINE KAEL, American movie critic born (d. 2001); A film critic who wrote for The New Yorker magazine from 1968 to 1991. Kael was known for her “witty, biting, highly opinionated, and sharply focused” movie reviews. In 1948, Kael and gay filmmaker and poet James Broughton had a daughter, Gina, though Kael would raise her alone. In preface to a 1983 interview with Kael for the gay magazine Mandate, Sam Staggs wrote that “she has always carried on a love/hate affair with her gay legions….like the bitchiest queen in Gay mythology, she has a sharp remark about everything.”

However, in the early eighties, largely in response to her review of the 1981 drama Rich and Famous, Kael faced notable accusations of homophobia. First remarked on by Stuart Byron in The Village Voice, according to gay writer Craig Seligman the accusations eventually “took on a life of their own and did real damage to her reputation.” In her review, Kael called the straight-themed Rich and Famous “more like a homosexual fantasy,” saying that one female character’s affairs “are creepy, because they don’t seem like what a woman would get into.” Byron, who “hit the ceiling” after reading the review, was joined by The Celluloid Closet author Vito Russo, who argued that Kael equated promiscuity with homosexuality, “as though straight women have never been promiscuous or been given the permission to be promiscuous.”

In response to her review of Rich and Famous, several critics reappraised Kael’s earlier reviews of the sixties gay-themed movies Victim and The Children’s Hour, including a wisecrack Kael made about the lesbian-themed Children’s Hour: “I always thought this was why Lesbians needed sympathy — that there isn’t much they can do.” Craig Seligman has defended Kael, saying that her perceived “bigotry” was simply her showing “enough ease with the topic to be able to crack jokes — in a dark period when other reviewers….’felt that if homosexuality were not a crime it would spread.'”

Kael herself rejected the accusations as “craziness,” adding, “I don’t see how anybody who took the trouble to check out what I’ve actually written about movies with homosexual elements in them could believe that stuff.”