Updated: The Voice of Pauline Kael

During an earlier post on this blog, I described the voice of Pauline Kael (here photographed doing her best Falconetti) as hovering somewhere between Victoria Regina's and Edna May Oliver's. Admittedly that crack was in reference to a public address before a crowd of restless college students, where her delivery had a somewhat more stern undercarriage. I mean, for all we know she probably had to bellow at the assembly to get them to pipe down before tape started rolling. In a broadcast studio, however, her voice could best be characterized as mellifluous. A silv'ry thing; feather-light and beautifully measured. It was a voice well-nigh perfect for radio . . . even the lawless valley of non-commercial radio in a more civilized age.

In the early 1960s, she had a regular fortnightly broadcast gig on KPFA in Berkeley, which brought her a large measure of initial notoriety. The format was simple: She would read her always well-composed reviews of the current releases; taking time out in each broadcast to mix it up with the listeners (not directly; this wasn't a call-in show, God forbid) or comment at length on the internal politics at the station (an indulgence which is endemic to listener-supported radio, then and now). For someone who was volunteering every minute of her time, the care she put into her broadcasts was not only admirable . . . it was bewildering.

This recording of Pauline Kael (who passed from us on this day, five years ago) was broadcast live over the aforementioned Pacifica Radio behemoth on March 27, 1963. She incisively takes up the matter of two films then in release: Tony Richardson's adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. She concludes the 35 minute broadcast with the most inspiring peroration I have ever heard spoken by a film critic.

Would that we all had the courage to follow her lead.

Tremendous and heartfelt thanks to David Oberman . . . who once bought Mary McCarthy a cup of coffee (two lumps) . . . for this recording.

UPDATE (9/4/06): A few hours ago I received (from a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous) approx. 16 minutes worth of additional recordings that shed more than a little bit of light on the final moments of yesterday's offering. They consist of two, slightly earlier rants on the same subject; the first from late in 1962, the second from early '63.

In the first excerpt, Kael appears to be cut off in mid-stride . . . considering the abruptness of her conclusion and the 'what the hell just happened' tone of the announcer, scrambling to find something, anything, to read on the air to fill the gap. However, the second excerpt (reading snotty listener feedback) is more intriguing, in that much of it later constituted one of the more brutal segments of Kael's first collection of writings, I Lost It at the Movies. As with her reading of the anti-auteurist essay 'Circles and Squares' (posted on this blog some months ago), her vocal delivery makes the experience . . . almost painful.

Accept this as an epilogue to yesterday's offering, for that is what it is.

And my deepest thanks to the Anonymous donor!


Vanwall said...

Sounded a bit cranky. ;-) She had a marvelous voice, tho - precise and hypnotic, without being boring. I can't agree with all she states, 'specially regarding T.E. Lawrence, who was on a bit of a pedastal for her, I think. Movies based on real people aren't very real in the end, anyway. I liked her tirade tho, it had moxie.


andyhorbal said...

Wow, five years...

IA said...

Thanks very much for making these files available.
I've got a two part lecture Kael gave at UCB in 1968("Film Since Wolrd War Two")--if you like I can send it to you in CD or mp3 form.

Here's a neat project for any intrepid researchers out there: before turning to film criticism, Kael tried her luck at being a playwright. Apparently one of her plays is in the KPFA vaults--if you go to http://www.legalinformationmanagement.com/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll?AC=GET_RECORD&XC=/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll&BU=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.legalinformationmanagement.com%2Fdbtw-wpd%2Ftextbase%2Fpra%2Fnew_05.html&TN=PRAcatalog&SN=AUTO25694&SE=800&RN=4&MR=5&TR=0&TX=1000&ES=0&CS=1&XP=&RF=Brief+report&EF=Basic+Record+Form&DF=Full+display&RL=0&EL=1&DL=0&NP=3&ID=&MF=&MQ=&TI=0&DT=&ST=0&IR=10315&NR=0&NB=0&SV=0&BG=&FG=EEEEEE&QS=new&OEX=ISO-8859-1&OEH=ISO-8859-1 you'll see a listing for a 30 minute radio play called "Orpheus in Sausalito." Kael said her plays were "shit," but I'm still curious enough to hope KPFA makes the program accessible.

IA said...

Whoops--the link I was posted was too long to show up properly. You can just go to http://pacificaradioarchives.org/index.html and click on the "Seacrch Our Selection" tab to do a search for "Kael."

Tom Sutpen said...

Thanks. And please get in touch with me off-blog on that. I'd be extremely interested. My email is on my Blogger profile.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Tom, thanks as always for being my pipeline to the recorded voice of Pauline Kael. I haven't heard these yet, though I've read them several times, especially the listener feedback segment (If it's the one I'm thinking of.) And now that I've got an iPod, this is especially exciting! Thanks so much! (And for the photo too!)

Tom Sutpen said...


Tis good to see thee on these shores again! I'm almost certain you'll find these to your liking. I posted these about a year and a half ago, but I just listened to them again. I daresay could listen to Kael's broadcasts/talks/rants for hours . . . would that there were hours of them extant.

Again, it's good to have you with us. Don't become a stranger, Senor.