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Archive for October 13th, 2013

Stanley Kauffmann (1916-2013)

by Sam Juliano

I first came upon the film criticism of Stanley Kauffmann as an impressionable first year student at Bergen Community College in the spring of 1973.  At the time I spent hours at the institution’s library, where I first began to pore through periodical racks that housed back issues of The New Republic, an oasis of scholarship that focused on politics and the arts.  At a time when my Introduction to the Cinema course offered up such in class diamonds like Resnais’s Nuit et Bruilliard, Bunuel’s Simon of the Desert and Albert Lamorisee’s The Red Balloon, I began to discover (with the fruitful complicity of the main text, Lee R. Bobker’s Elements of Film, an essential work for the budding and seasoned cinephile) the works of Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, Bresson, Losey and other art house luminaries for the very first time.  This period of exploration and revelation invariably led to the research of the writers of the time who provided the intellectual analysis of the works that as young men and women we desired to unravel what we then saw as some of the myriad themes and philosophical thrust of cinema’s inner recesses.  Along with a lifelong friend, Tony Lucibello -a same age fellow movie buff who remains to this day a very close social comrade and one who attended school with me from kindergarten, we talked about Kauffmann’s criticism and began to compare notes and make copies from the back issues of The New Republic of “The Kauf’s” film criticism.  Years later I presented my case to Dennis Polifroni, Jason Giampietro, Peter Danish and others, and the opinion of the “Kauf” was always brought to the table.   To say that we weren’t influenced by this brilliant man of letters -a man who published novels and nearly a dozen works of collected criticism, and began his career as an actor, and taught film for many years at Columbia University- would be a fabrication, though both of us could readily recall numerous instances where we parted company with his summary judgment.  In those early days Kauffmann rivaled Simon and Kael as the most difficult to please, and we were repeatedly frustrated by his dicing of films we liked quite a bit.  While Kauffmann will always be remembered for his ultra-rare dismissal of The Godfather and it’s celebrated sequel,  he raised more than a few eyebrows with his almost savage takedowns of Ken Russell’s The Devils, Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist among others.  He also had little use for Woody Allen’s 70’s and 80’s films and trashed John Boorman’s Deliverance, asserting “The beauty of nature shots are trite, the drama is clumsy and the editing clanks.”  Perhaps most shockingly he referred to the Coen brothers as “those arty nuisances.” (more…)

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