Stanley Kauffmann, an appreciation

I had never heard of Stanley Kauffmann until I picked up a book of his film criticism two weeks ago. He seems to be out of print. I bought this one in a charity shop. It’s called Before My Eyes and is a collection of film reviews from 1974 to 1979.

Jaws, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather II, Annie Hall – they’re all there. And they’re all up for grabs, capable of being criticised when they came out as they are not now. Time has made them classics. So when you read Kauffmann, you get the shock of freshness that maybe no one writing today can deliver. Books now about these films just tell you how they were done and the stories behind them. 

Chinatown was “much too long – 130 minutes is more than any thriller can sustain.”

Jaws was boring – Kauffmann says he was yawning all the way through it – but Spielberg “has progressed almost to the level of a stock director of the ‘30s”. On The Godfather II: “I like sequels…Unfortunately, this is not really a sequel, it’s just more.”

He says the star in All the President’s Men is the typewriter, and the typewriter’s co-star is the telephone (“The typewriters and telephones are very ably supported by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffmann as Woodward and Bernstein”).

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest “as a whole is warped, sentimental, possibly dangerous; but Nicholson is tremendous.”

And on he goes. He seems to know the previous work of every professional involved in the film – the scriptwriter, the person who did the lighting, the cinematographer, maybe even the location manager – and to have followed actors and actresses right from the beginning of their careers.

Writing about The Deer Hunter he notes that Meryl Streep, like Christopher Walken, whom Kauffmann also likes, “has an unconventional face and a big talent…I’ve seen her many times in the theatre, beginning with her student days, and have happily watched her develop – her voice especially – until now she is one of the best young actresses in the country.”

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