Saturday, November 2, 2013

Stanley Kauffmann (1916-2013)

Stanley Kauffmann, who was The New Republic's film critic for fifty-five years (the length of my own life, so far), died on October 9, at the age of 97. I wish I could say that it has taken me this long to come up with the words to measure the depth of my sense of loss. But the awful fact is, it's taken me this long to find out. I don't have access to the internet 24-7. It's more like an hour or two a week. Here is what The New Republic published on the day of his death. At the bottom of the selection of tributes are links to other articles by and about him. His New York Times obit is here.

I expressed some of my admiration for the man on the occasion of his 97th birthday. I hope I didn't do it too clumsily. The simple fact is that I wanted to say something while he was still around, still in the same world I live in, still watching and commenting on films. Film has gone through too many dispiriting slumps in the last fifty years, shifts in taste and in the utterly fickle attention span of what Kauffmann himself called the Film Generation. Kauffmann took every slump in stride, and insisted that claims for the death of cinema were always premature. Yet he admitted to being amazed, every year, when a beautiful and intelligent film from some of the unlikeliest places in the world showed up on his doorstep in New York. And he sympathized with some of his readers who lived in places where those films would only ever reach them via netflix.

For a long time, I was one of those readers, living in the boondocks. The word "bundok" is a Tagalog (Filipino) word that refers to a remote, inaccessible place. And now I'm living in an actual bundok, in the Philippines, so removed from the world, in fact, that the news of my favorite film critic's death took three weeks to reach me.

He was in the same class of American film critics as Otis Ferguson (who also wrote for The New Republic), James Agee, and Dwight Macdonald. His long life kept alive the somewhat romantic hope that there would be a few more by now to add to that list. America has certainly been luckier with its film critics than with its films. That hope isn't exactly dashed, but it seems so much more romantic than it used to.

So long, Mr. Kauffmann.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I share your esteem for Mr. Kauffmann. When I, a high school student in the boondocks, found his first collection of criticism, "A World on Film", in a second-hand bookstore over 30 years ago, a door was opened to wonderful movies and directors unknown to me. Later, I discovered his theatre criticism and book reviews, which pointed me toward plays, novels, and biographies that enriched my reading life. As I read and re-read his criticism over the decades, I came to appreciate his prose as much as his opinions; like all great critics, he was first and foremost a great writer. Who will be missed.