Here’s a nice look back at the work of Pauline Kael, America’s first great film critic and one of those responsible for the medium coming to be considered a serious art form. Well, maybe. I’m not sure I can back the second half of that statement up, but I think I read it somewhere. Anyway, Kael was particularly known for her opening lines, which, it seems, served as a sort of pithy abstract for the review to come. The article quotes a few of them, as in:

Literal-minded in its sex and brutality, Teutonic in its humor, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orangemight be the work of a strict and exacting German professor who set out to make a porno-violent sci-fi comedy. Is there anything sadder – and ultimately more repellant – than a clean-minded pornographer?

Actually it’s line two that’s really the killer there.

I wouldn’t have thought A View from the Bridge was worth much discussion, but it has gotten such very-important-picture treatment from the press … that I think maybe I should say a few unkind words.

Ha. Nice takedown.

So I was led to thinking of first lines of novels, and how difficult they must be to write, and how self-conscious so many of them seem; check out this list. It’s supposedly the great first lines of novels, but so many of them seem to be overthought and have become “first lines,” as opposed to just the first lines. Or maybe that’s just the impression you get from reading lots of them in a row. I’m really liking this, from One Hundred Years of Solitude:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

And the glorious opening to Tristram Shandy, which forces us for a full 140 words to consider the image of his parents having sex. You’re just longing for the sentence to end but it goes on and on as he lays out for us his in full detail his thoughts about his own conception:

I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost:—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me.