I started working with Stanley at The New Republic in 1978, when I was twenty-four and he was sixty-two. The best part of my job was proofreading his reviews. It involved no work, since we both regarded him as editorially infallible. We spent a few moments each week on the phone correcting the typesetter’s errors, then moved on to an art he relished as much as film: conversation. That is, he entertained, and I listened.
The first time I met Stanley I had just started at The New Republic in the job of assistant literary editor, which has long entailed being the liaison between Stanley and the magazine. For several months I had spoken to him on the phone each week. I knew him by his singular voice, which had the genteel lilt of a nineteenth-century aristocrat. (“It’s delightful to hear from you, Laura dear.”) He was in his mid-nineties then, with bad eyesight, and used e-mail, endearingly, with cheerful ineptitude.
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.
In the early 1960s, when I was an undergraduate, I first began reading Stanley Kauffmann in The New Republic, and I got pulled into his eloquent enthusiasms for the exciting new art coming to the States from Italy, France, Sweden, Japan, and Eastern Europe. “There was a masterpiece almost every week!” I heard him exclaim about ten years ago—a little hyperbolically, perhaps, but it felt that way at the time.
Stanley Kauffmann and I went way back together, without ever having met. The New Republic was the first magazine I subscribed to as a high school teen, and Kauffmann the first film critic I regularly read. He was my introducer to Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, and, for me the crowning name, Yasujiro Ozu. At that avid, foraging stage in my self-education, I barely registered that there were other critics sitting in their cockpits feasting on the images whooshing by, apart from the phrase-snapping stunt pilots at Time and Newsweek, w
Among the duties that new Back of the Book assistant editors find on their roster when they first arrive at The New Republic: Go to New York—particularly, the penthouse of a West Village apartment building. It was there that Stanley Kauffmann lived for many years, and where he would welcome, every few years or so, the culture pages’ newest recruit, serving slightly warm apple juice and candied pecans, or, if the hour had passed a certain, sliding point in the afternoon, white wine. These appetizers were nothing, though, compared to what he had to offer in conversation.
There is an imperturbable grace about Stanley Kauffmann’s writing, a plainspoken clarity in the face of the onslaught that is the movies. Arriving for lunch in his favorite Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, Stanley exuded that grace and clarity; he looked ageless in a beautiful sports jacket purchased in London decades earlier. Movies, plays, books! This was the air he breathed—together, of course, with his friendships and his great marriage with Laura.
Unflagging dedication and unclouded acuteness of perception
We are saddened to report that Stanley Kauffmann, our film critic of more than five decades, died early this morning at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York at age 97. We will be adding to this tribute throughout the day.