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15 great Pauline Kael quotes, in honor of Colin Covert's plagiarism

What would Pauline Kael think of Colin Covert's plagiarism of her words? Probably not much.

What would Pauline Kael think of Colin Covert's plagiarism of her words? Probably not much. Author photo

Colin Covert has quit the Star Tribune, and for good, and we should take a moment to acknowledge the sudden end of his career.

OK, done.

The city newspaper's premier movie critic was outed this week as a serial plaigiarist, instantly converting a hail fellow well met into an industry villain whose insouciant presence as a character likely wouldn't even help advance the plot in a B-movie.

"When blunders occur," Covert said in a statement published by his former employer, "it is proper to admit them, correct them and move on.”

It's almost too bad that some of the phrases Colin Covert took from Pauline Kael include "self-glorifying masochistic mush" and "stardust is slightly irritating," because dammit if those don't describe the swift downfall of a writer whose role with the paper lasted three decades.

In stealing sentences that were not written by him, Colin Covert broke one of writing's cardinal rules. There are only a few. Most sound like they got handed down to Moses: Don't lie, don't cheat, don't get too jealous, and please, please, don't steal. 

And for fuck's sake, don't get caught. At least not till you're dead. 

There may be a minor upside to this minor scandal. Stealing words from Pauline Kael is a little like snatching a Picasso at auction and telling dinner guests: "Oh, that? Merely a hobby, something to keep my mind occupied."

Whether Covert's mind was occupied is unclear. He had a reputation for liking... just about every damn movie that came out in theaters, regardless of whether it was, like, good. But he was also infamously kind and generous, a mensch of a movie lover who'd go out of his way to help you out if you asked, or maybe even if you didn't. 

We at City Pages didn't know him. What we do know is that Pauline Kael, the writer whose theft exposed Covert, is quite literally the best film critic who's ever written in English. Ballsy move to lift whole phrases from someone described as "widely imitated," but at least Covert had good taste in writing. 

Film criticism is hard. Look how bad City Pages is at it! Though that's no excuse for outright theft of a writer whose death means she, sadly, cannot take you apart with the words she so often used like building blocks or, when the occasion called, throwing stars

Let's not let a good scandal go to waste. Below, read some words written or spoken by Pauline Kael... and, we're fairly certain, no one else, ever. Give credit where credit's due. By which we mean to say: Thanks, Colin Covert, for what we will charitably count as a wreath lain on Kael's grave. 

Will her spirit ever forgive Colin Covert? We can't say, but in a phrase you, reader, have no doubt heard, even if you didn't know who came up with it (original author: Pauline Kael): "Where there is a will, there is a way."

  • "A critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising." 
  • "Trash has given us an appreciation for art."
  • "At the movies, we are gradually being conditioned to accept violence as a sensual pleasure. The directors used to say they were showing us its real face and how ugly it was in order to sensitize us to its horrors. You don't have to be very keen to see that they are now in fact desensitizing us."
  • 'Wasn't there perhaps one little Von Trapp who didn't want to sing his head off or who screamed that he wouldn't act out little glockenspiel routines for Papa's party guests, or who got nervous and threw up if he had to get out on a stage?''
  • 'I had trouble dating because I often disagreed about the quality of a movie."
  • ''Movies took their impetus not from the desiccated, imitation European high culture, but from the peep show, the Wild West show, the music hall, the comic strip -- from what was coarse and common.''
  • "I've been told I have influenced some people to become directors. Unfortunately, most of them are lousy.''
  • "It's not fun writing about bad movies. I used to think it was bad for my skin. It's painful writing about the bad things in an art form, particularly when young kids are going to be enthusiastic about those things, because they haven't seen anything better, or anything different."
  • "Irresponsibility is part of the pleasure of all art; it is the part the schools cannot recognize."
  • "I see little of more importance to the future of our country and civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him." 
  • "Regrettably, one of the surest signs of the Philistine is his reverence for the superior tastes of those who put him down."
  • "My dear anonymous letter writers, if you think it is so easy to be a critic, so difficult to be a poet or a painter or film experimenter, may I suggest you try both? You may discover why there are so few critics, so many poets."
  • ''I was a film critic the way somebody might write poetry, for fun or love.''
  • "The past has a terror and fascination and a beauty beyond almost anything else. We are looking at the dead, and they move and grin and wave at us; it's an almost unbearable experience."
  • "I think my influence was largely in style, not substance. Other critics sound like me because my writing has influenced them."