Pauline Kael and Lynn Barber are two writers that inspire me and hopefully you will enjoy their writing too. They are feisty and forthright, making no effort to hold back, whilst also importantly being knowledgable and hilarious. I think the best writers are the ones you can trust and these two I trust entirely. They also both happen to be highly opinionated, unsurprisingly a trait I love in a woman.
Pauline Kael (1919-2001) was the film critic of The New Yorker from 1968 to 1991. She is often cited as paving the way for the style of film criticism we are familiar with today. Her reviews were so esteemed by her fans (she had a legion of acolytes, known as Paulettes) that she often had the power to make or break a film at the box office. She was an early champion of the risky and revolutionary film Bonnie and Clyde. Considering she helped its success at the box office, she can also be attributed with helping to spur on New Hollywood and changing American cinema for the better (Midnight Cowboy/ The Graduate). She was controversial, of course, which I am sure she would have admitted was her aim. Disliking almost all Fellini and Hitchcock’s work while trashing The Sound of Music as “the single most repressive influence on artistic freedom in movies.” Yet I admire her intent to initiate American moviegoers to watch more challenging films, out of their comfort zones, championing cinema as an art form as well as entertainment. She loved risk and hated the mundane. I now want to see all the films she raved about including Robert Altman’s Nashville and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. I use her reviews as instruction of what films from the past I should make sure I have seen. Although she has passed away, Deborah Ross’ witty reviews in The Spectator are just as reliable, honest and entertaining, if a little less controversial.
You already know about Lynn Barber because the movie An Education is based on her memoirs. As her character in the film suggests, Barber is a forced to be reckoned with. Post-engagement fiasco, Barber eventually made it to Oxford, whereby she has said she slept with 50 men in her first two terms. You must listen to her Desert Island Discs. She then went on to be a journalist at Penthouse– an adult magazine- which seems fitting considering her risque reputation. She has since become well know for her scathing interviews in The Independent and The Sunday Times which have garnered her the nickname ‘demon barber’. Often people refuse to be interviewed by her. Lucian Freud even wrote her a letter telling her that he didn’t want to be ‘shit on by a stranger’, which she proudly hangs in her downstairs loo. She defends her style as ‘fairly aggressive’. Interviews with public personas often get so dull because of unjust praise, treating the subject as a celebrity, rather than a human. How often do you read interviewers where a paragraph is spent describing how otherworldly and beautiful their subject is? Barber does the opposite. She likes to point out faults, and focuses on character, rather than what they are promoting. Stephen Fry, she feels, is seriously screwed up. She also revealed Richard Harris fiddled in his trousers during their interview. She is not always carping though, her rule is generally that if she likes you, you will get a good write up. Fair enough for me.
So two feisty journalists for you to enjoy. Perhaps it is time for you to get writing again?