For decades, readers of The New Republic could not comprehend that their beloved and trusted Stanley Kauffmann was in his seventies, his eighties, and then his nineties. He had started as film critic at the magazine in 1958. But he wrote like a young man, or like someone capable of falling in love once a week as he discovered some fresh glory. Stanley was born in 1916 (the year Griffith’s Intolerance opened). As a boy he saw silent movies as they played New York. And there he was, at 95, writing about new films with the old awe and delight. Not that he was a one-track person: He adored his wife of many years, Laura; he watched theater and wrote about it as well as he handled films. More than that, he had been a publisher’s editor, and among his coups there was one that embodied Stanley’s life and passions—he found a new novel and worked with the author and believed in it: It was The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy.
Stanley did not found a theory or make a cult out of his opinions. He had a steady and firm belief that amid so much commercial fodder the cinema could produce works of art and imaginative reach to live beside the best of the other arts. Over the years, he became a famous seeker-out of lesser known pictures, often in foreign languages, and unafraid of small, local subjects. He knew that the educated and creative eye is never impressed by size or locality. It saw aspects of the human spirit whether delivered by Nicholas Ray or Satyajit Ray, by Ingmar Bergman or Ingrid Bergman. This is not the easiest or most glamorous path for a film critic to take, especially in a culture that knows far too little about India, eastern Europe, Iran, Cuba, or what lies beyond the Hudson River. Stanley was a New Yorker through and through: You could hear it in his reasonable, dry but edgy writing. But he was a citizen of a wider world that was opened up in his lifetime by cameras and screens. When Stanley Kauffmann was born Intolerance was a daring and naive flight of American show business. By the time he died it was clearly a condition of the world from which there was no hiding. Stanley was one of a great generation that urged us to look and see; to watch and try to understand.
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