Presenter of the National Book Awards

National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches

Pauline Kael, Winner of the 1974 ARTS AND LETTERS AWARD for DEEPER INTO MOVIES

I said at the beginning of this book that movies, by affecting us on sensual and primitive levels, are a supremely pleasurable -- and dangerous -- art form. That mixture needs separating out, which I take to be my task as a critic. It's not a heavy task. It's pure joy: a way of satisfying my curiosity about how movies work, and about how the world affects them and how they affect the world. A way of satisfying my curiosity about how they affect me.

Movies are a hybrid, all-encompassing art and I suppose that what I've devised for dealing with them is a mongrel form of criticism. But systematic criticism seems to me a violation of the very qualities that make movies such a powerful art form. It's an attempt to impose order on a medium which incorporates the appeal of the circus, the wild-west show, the penny dreadful, of theater, opera, and the novel, a medium which bites off chunks of anthropology, journalism, and politics, and a medium that is always, of course, the domain of eros. Movies can take in so much from the other arts, and so much from the world, that the job for the critic is not to close himself off.