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Pauline Kael was my mentor

Picture it: I’m 16, sweaty and sebaceous, facing the doorman of an old building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side: “I’m here to see Pauline Kael?” I can vouch for the question mark, 45 years on, not because of any uncanny Nabokovian recall, but because, even now, that first afternoon with her doesn’t seem as if it could possibly have happened. It was 1969 (moon landing, "Midnight Cowboy," Manson), I had taken a summer-school class in filmmaking, and the only texts required by our wise teacher were James Agee’s collected criticism and Pauline’s first two books, "I Lost It at the Movies" and the then-recently published "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." Agee was, and will always be, wonderful, but he had died in a taxi soon after I was born, and Kael was more than with us: She had just begun her legendary association with the New Yorker, which in my culturally ambitious Long Island household was received as if it were the Dead Sea Scrolls, only weekly and with cartoons.

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