The masterful critic Stanley Kauffman, whose writing career stretched over eight decades, died this week at age 97. Adam Bernstein’s perceptive Kauffman obituary in the Washington Post noted: “He was one of the few critics who could watch a 1997 Broadway play featuring Christopher Plummer portraying the talented but troubled actor John Barrymore — and remember seeing Barrymore onstage shortly before his death in 1942.” He was surely the last person writing about film who was watching films when they were still silent. In his reviews for The New Republic and other publications and his books he took positions that were often at odds not just with popular taste (he didn’t like “Star Wars”) but also with other critics (he didn’t like “Taxi Driver”). He didn’t try for wit and he was never snarky. But he looked for the best that film could offer and when he found it he was enthusiastic about championing then-obscure filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Michelangelo Antonioni and Satyajit Ray.
Kauffmann was proudly literary in his tastes and in his own writing style. I’m proud to be quoted in the obit:
“He was passionately engaged with film’s highest aspirations as an art form and was at his most eloquent when films were most complex,” said Nell Minow, an author and movie critic. “He educated generations of film-watchers and filmmakers about how and what to watch.”
He will be missed, but his influence will shine forth from every review and every film that tries harder and reaches further.