Stanley Kauffmann

Two Prisoners
February 14, 2005

Monsieur N (Empire) The Woodsman (Newmarket)  When the stars fade, when the cosmos darkens, there will still be one spot of light on planet Earth. That light will be a film studio where they are shooting another picture about Napoleon. Napoleon's effect on the world's publishing industry is unnerving: the number of books about him is beyond fantasy. His effect on the film world is certainly not comparable; still it looms. This country made nine films about him before sound arrived; since then he has been played by Charles Boyer and Marlon Brando. Just two years ago Britain sent us The Emperor'

The Great Divide
February 07, 2005

A letter from a reader in the Pacific Northwest asks wryly: "Do you invent some of the films you write about?" The question prompted a Borgesian temptation to invent, but I was soon calmed down by a sober fact—hardly new, still sobering. The reader's faintly desolate question underscored it. In terms of filmgoing possibilities, this country is schizoid. I, in New York, confront a fairly full range of available films. Only in a few large cities is anything like that range available; and those cities are only a small slice of this country's possible audience.

Mixed Blessings
December 20, 2004

Twenty-five hundred years ago, in Agamemnon, a Greek soldier just returned from the Trojan War described what it was like to be in that siege: We had to camp Close by the enemy's wall, in the wet river-meadows, Soaked with the dew and the mist, ill from the damp clothes, our hair Matted like savages. Aeschylus might have been writing about the trench warfare of World War I. His lines depict the plight of the French troops in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, except that Aeschylus had not encountered artillery and machine guns.

Time Suspended
July 26, 2004

The basic idea of The Terminal, Steven Spielberg's new film, comes from the story of an Iranian citizen who became trapped in a Paris airport with an invalid passport. He could neither enter France nor go home. With this fact as base, Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson have fashioned a screenplay for Spielberg--original story by Gervasi and Andrew Niccol--set in the international terminal of Kennedy Airport in New York. That basic idea is stimulating. Airports, as experiences, are haunting.

Beyond Convention
June 28, 2004

Quietly, almost politely, English film-makers have in recent years been developing a sub-genre in social heterodoxy. These films do not break convention, they ignore it completely. Two instances: Stephen Poliakoff's Close My Eyes, about a man who accepts his wife's affair with her brother; Anthony Harvey's Richard's Things, about a widow who discovers that her lately deceased husband had a mistress, seeks the mistress out in curiosity, and eventually has an affair with her.

War Time
June 07, 2004

Vachel Lindsay, the poet who was for a time the film critic of The New Republic, published a book in 1915 called The Art of the Moving Picture, a pioneer work in the field. In one of its many comprehensions, he said: "The supreme photoplay will give us things that have been but half expressed in all other mediums allied to it." I thought of Lindsay while I was watching Troy, the latest in a very long line of films made to give us those things that other mediums could not provide.

New Places Within
May 03, 2004

SON FRÈRE (Strand) I’M NOT SCARED (Miramax) THE FRENCH DIRECTOR Patrice Chéreau is having a double career that, at least in shape and intent, is comparable to Ingmar Bergman’s, Chéreau, born in 1944, directs in the theater, both plays and operas, and in film. (He also directs in television and acts from time to time.) The only theater production of his that I have seen was one that was televised, The Ring of the Nibelungen, done for the Bayreuth Festival in 1980 and apparently inspired by the views in Bernard Shaw’s The Perfect Wagnerite.

Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Gibson's Offering
March 22, 2004

By now everyone in this world, and possibly in other worlds, has heard about Mel Gibson’s new film and has probably read some of the comment. I cannot remember so much prior talk about a film since Gone With the Wind in 1938. The casting of that picture became a subject of national concern; there was even, as I recall, a Broadway play on the subject. But that rumpus could not match the storm around The Passion of the Christ.

Two Returns
February 16, 2004

MOUNTAIN CLIMBING, of all dangerous sports, has always seemed to me the silliest. Auto racing, almost equally dangerous, is inane enough; still, anyone who drives a car can at least understand the thrill of hugely amplified power in human hands. But the tree climbing and rock climbing that many of us know have no connection with true mountain climbing, those ascents and descents of vertical icy faces with axes and crampons and the linkage of ropes. The very word “sport” seems fraudulent.

February 09, 2004

THE TRACKER (ArtMattan) THE RETURN (Kino) Similarities between the histories of Australia and the United States are obvious. The proportion of space to settled areas, the pressure on the natives of those spaces by European immigrants, the relations between natives and whites, these are only some of the links. Film in Australia has not made an icon of the outback as thoroughly as we have done with the West, but Australian “Westerns” occur. An exceptional one is The Tracker, which has the shape of an offbeat American Western and seems at first a sort of Down Under copy. But it develops character