Stephen Hawking turns 72 on January 8. TNR's Stanley Kauffmann reviews A Brief History of Time and reminds us that Hawking's life just might be as incredible as his work.
From the writings of Stanley Kauffmann
The Silence, 1964
On 'Nicky's Family,' 'The Artist and the Model' and 'The Act of Killing'
Nicky’s Family is a Czech tribute (stirringly deserved) to Nicholas Winton, the Englishman who organized the rescue of mostly Jewish Czech children from Prague when the Nazis invaded. His organization has been active ever since in similar work. Welcome as this picture is, the tribute is only part of its achievement. It has created a cinematic marvel: a reproduction of Prague in 1939.
April 10, 1961
At last. Michelangelo Antonioni is an Italian director who has just made his seventh film and who is so highly esteemed abroad that there has already been an Antonioni Festival in London. For the eleven years of his career no Antonioni film has been released here. Now at last comes Avventura, which is the sixth of his works.
July 13, 1963
Like most autobiographical works Federico Fellini's scintillating new film 8 ½ reveals something more than its author intended. Begin with the title. It derives from the fact that, up to now, Fellini has made six full-length films and has contributed three "half" segments to anthology films. Before we step into the theater, the title tells us that he is clever, and that he sees the film as part of his personal history. It also tells us that he found himself stuck for a title.
December 10, 1993
Steven Spielberg has made his own Holocaust museum. In Schindler's List (Universal), an adaptation by Steven Zaillian of Thomas Keneally's book, Spielberg has created a 184-minute account of the fate of Kraków's Jews under the German occupation, centered on the German businessman and bon vivant, Oskar Schindler, who devised a ruse to save 1,100 Jews from the Auschwitz ovens. A closing note tells us that in Poland today there are fewer than 4,000 Jews but in the world there are 6,000 "Schindler Jews," survivors and descendants.
January 24, 1994
If a film has genuine worth, it's more than one film. It changes with further viewings. The second time you see it, it's larger. This time you aren't "distracted" by the story, by discovering what happens next. You can concentrate on the qualities that made you want to see it again, usually acting or felicities of vision or both. (Third and later viewings—of especially fine films—have an even stranger effect: as you learn more about them, you simultaneously feel you're seeing them for the first time.
March 25, 1996
It's always fun to see a reliable old story smartly updated. This time it's the man and woman who are both in the news game, and this time of course it's the TV news game. The slick script is by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, suggested by an Alanna Nash novel, and it gleams with topical reference and knife-edge dialogue—not only non-cliché but anti-cliché. (By far the best Didion-Dunne screenplay so far.) It's called Up Close and Personal (Touchstone), and to ensure that the film belongs to its sub-genre, it has stars. Real stars.
March 24, 1997
Under the credits Kathleen Ferrier sings the haunting lament from Gluck's Orfèo. A man's voice says:I have to tell you that a very special little world has died and I am the designated mourner. Oh, yes, you see, it's all important custom in many groups and tribes. Someone is assigned to grieve, to wail, and light the public ritual fire. Someone is assigned when there's no one else.Thus begins Wallace Shawn's The Designated Mourner (First Look).
January 22, 1966
Though In Cold Blood received near-universal praise upon publication—and is generally regarded as the first of its kind, a non-fiction novel—not every critic was immediately enamored of it. In this 1966 review, Stanley Kauffman (still a staffer here at The New Republic!) agreed that the narrative was compelling and the Kansas scenery vivid, but the writing was another matter. "Capote," he rails, "demonstrates on almost every page that he is the most outrageously overrated stylist of our time."