Making the Best of It
December 07, 1992
Federico Fellini can be called the most naked genius in the history of film. In 1963 he made 8 1/2, a quasi-confessional comedy-drama about the modern artist's torment: he or she is bursting with talent and can find nothing to expend it on. Out of this crisis Fellini made a masterpiece; since then, that same crisis has been often more evident than acknowledged in his work. Then in 1987 he faced it again, without pretense, and made a film although he had no film to make.
TNR Film Classic: 'Q & A' (1990)
May 21, 1990
Q&A Tri-Star There are fashions in slurs. When I was a schoolboy in New York in the 1920s, just at the end of the great wave of immigration to America, most of the slurs were national. Derogatory terms for Swedes, Irishmen, Hungarians, Poles, Germans, and Greeks, among others, were common; and of course each derogated group used slurs about the others. As time moved, as second and third generations were born, national slurring diminished. Three other derogations that were current then—national, supranational, and racial—still flourish: Italian, Jewish, and black.
TNR Film Classic: 'Glory' (1990)
January 15, 1990
“Can Movies Teach History?” asks the title of a recent New York Times feature article. The answer for Glory is yes. It is not only the first feature film to treat the role of black soldiers in the American Civil War; it is also the most powerful and historically accurate movie about that war ever made. If it wins a deserved popularity, it will go far to correct the distortions and romanticizations of such earlier blockbuster films as Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind.
The African Queen
January 20, 1986
Meryl Streep is back in top form. This means that her performance in Out of Africa is at the highest level of acting in film today. Also, since she is Streep, it means that a return to form is not a return: she has realized a character utterly different from any she has done before. As was true of Brando, Streep uses her star status to risk versatility, not to sell a standard product. In her last film, Plenty, she faltered: as the postwar Englishwoman, she lacked confidence, the crisp English enjoyment of comic bitterness. As Karen Blixen, Streep is superb.
Stanley Kauffmann On Films: Who Was Wagner?
July 01, 1985
When I took a college course in Wagner, our professor told us on the first day that the final exam would consist of one question: Who was Wagner? On exam day he wrote that question on the blackboard, then left the room. At the end of the three-hour exam period, some of us were still writing. So when I heard recently of a nine-hour film that attempted to answer our exam question, it didn't strike me as grotesque. I looked forward to it as eagerly as one can possibly anticipate spending nine hours in one seat from noon to something past 11 p.m.
Stanley Kauffman on Films: Now, About Rambo....
July 01, 1985
“Symbol of the American Spirit." That's the headline in the ads for Rambo, which is about its hero's foray into Vietnam today to rescue American POWs. The subject has been used before, in Uncommon Valor with Gene Hackman, in Missing in Action and Missing in Action II, with Chuck Norris: but Rambo outdistances them. Three facts: Rambo is the current box-office champion in the country. ("Rambo Ahead by a Mile," Variety, June 5.) Like the second Norris film, Rambo is a sequel.
January 17, 1983
Stingo comes back to his newly rented room in the Brooklyn boarding house bearing a carton of Spam packages on his shoulder, looking apprehensively at the ceiling of his room. The sounds of what is presumably a torrid sexual encounter are coming from above. The carton totters on Stingo's shoulder as he totters into his room. I hoped--in vain. The sounds so unnerve Stingo that he stumbles into cinematic cliche: he spills the packages, I'd hoped he wouldn't. The chandelier in his ceiling is shaking. Again I hoped--in vain--that the camera wouldn't go in for a close-up.
TNR Film Classics: ‘Sophie’s Choice’ (January 10, 1983)
January 10, 1983
Stingo comes back to his newly rented room in the Brooklyn boarding house bearing a carton of Spam packages on his shoulder, looking apprehensively at the ceiling of his room. The sounds of what is presumably a torrid sexual encounter are coming from above. The carton totters on Stingo’s shoulder as he totters into his room. I hoped—in vain. The sounds so unnerve Stingo that he stumbles into cinematic cliche: he spills the packages. I’d hoped he wouldn’t. The chandelier in his ceiling is shaking. Again I hoped—in vain—that the camera wouldn’t go in for a close-up.
TNR Film Classic: 'The Verdict' (1982)
December 20, 1982
The Verdict Twentieth-Century Fox Blessed be pluralism. Just when you’re feeling depressed by the gargantuan success of An Officer and a Gentleman, not because it’s a wretched picture but because it’s a throwback to a pre-Vietnam social perspective that glorifies military sentimentalities—pygmy John Fordism—along comes a picture out of a contrasting social perspective, the Common Man syndrome: Frank Capra with updated language and sexual frankness.
The Gospel According to St. Steven
July 27, 1982
Fervently, skillfully, seductively, Steven Spielberg evangelizes on. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (TNR, December 10, 1977) seemed to me “not so much a film as an event in the history of faith,” and that faith, I thought, was less in beings Out There than in the film medium’s ability to convince. Technology, at the behest of the culture that created it, had been called on to satisfy the culture’s deeper needs, to soothe its fears. If you discount the revised version of Close Encounters, which I hope has been withdrawn, then Spielberg’s next work in this line is E.T., The Extra Terrestria