Stanley Kauffmann dies: Film critic helped define a generation

Stanley Kauffmann.
(Leon Wieseltier / The New Republic )

Stanley Kauffmann, the longtime film and theater critic of The New Republic who in the 20th century helped define movie reviews as an intellectual form, has died. He was 97.

Kauffmann died from complications of pneumonia in New York. A tribute will be held honoring his work but there will be no funeral, per his request, a New Republic spokesman said Wednesday.

Over his 54 years at the magazine, Kauffmann assessed innumerable cinematic masterpieces and helped bring a number of seminal directors to light, particularly the New Hollywood filmmakers of the 1970s and European upstart auteurs such as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.

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In keeping with the intellectually upscale tone of his employer, Kauffmann was somewhat lower key in tone than counterparts such as Pauline Kael but no less influential. In a tribute posted on The New Republic website, longtime compatriot and current New Yorker critic David Denby wrote that:

“Stanley electrified educated people with the news that movies had become one of the high arts again, and that there were contemporary works—by Bergman, Truffaut, Antonioni, and many other directors—the equal of the masterpieces of the silent era.”

In so doing, Kauffmann served as a thought leader for the Film Generation, a term he coined.

He also was eager to see connections between various art forms, shedding light on both in the process. In assessing David Foster Wallace’s short-story collection “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men,” Kauffmann wrote that “the book evokes much the same reaction as does Godard. Godard’s films often convey that he thought his film-making talent was a curse; that he was doomed to use that talent in prescribed patterns, that he must try to explode those film-making patterns as drastically as possible yet still make his talent evident--at least, by letting viewers know that he was protesting.”

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Kauffmann also was a prolific author of books about film and, as an editor at Knopf early in his career, helped discover Walker Percy’s award-winning “The Movoiegoer.” He also appeared in the 2009 documentary “For the Love of Movies” alongside many fellow critical luminaries.

Kauffmann continued to be active well into his 90s, writing a piece for TNR as recently as August, in which he reviewed independent films “our Nixon,” “Israel: A Home Movie” and “Museum Hours.”

Kauffmann’s death continues a tragic end-of-an-era period for a generation of American critics, with Roger Ebert dying earlier this year and Andrew Sarris dying in June 2012.