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Stanley Kauffmann, 1916-2013

Courtesy Sheep Meadow Press

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. He died of pneumonia, and peacefully. There will be no funeral. In accordance with Stanley’s request, The New Republic will host a memorial service in New York to celebrate him and his work at a date and time to be announced. 


"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 ..." Click to continue reading a tribute by James Wolcott.

“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. ..." Click to continue reading a tribute by David Denby.

"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. ..." Click to continue reading a tribute by New Republic film critic David Thomson.

Kauffmann with The New Republic's literary editor, Leon Wieseltier.

"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. ..." Click to continue reading a tribute by The New Republic's art critic, Jed Perl. 

"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 ..." Click to continue reading a tribute by New Republic story editor Chloe Schama.

"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.')" Click to continue reading a tribute by New Republic staff writer Laura Bennett.

"Thank you, Stanley, for all the integrity, insight and intelligence you brought to your movie reviews. You were one in a million, and you will be missed." - Actress Rebecca De Mornay

"Watching movies will never be the same without Stanley Kauffmann." - New Republic contributing editor Ruth Franklin 

"A few summers ago, Stanley spent several days recovering from surgery in a nursing home. He couldn’t make it to the movies, and he was able to watch a communal television only for a few hours in the afternoons. Any other film critic would probably have taken a break, but Stanley, of course, filed his column as usual.

I had the feeling that all the acting I was seeing—the loves, the spats, the rivalries—was taking place between indentured creatures in a kind of fish tank. All of them were living underwater, and I was watching from a glass-bottomed boat. The shape of the television set encouraged this feeling with this stuff much more than it does with films because of the visual banality. In films, what you see is continually fighting the frame in which you see it. 

He’d written what may be the best essay ever written about soap operas. No one was surprised." - London Review of Books editor and former New Republic staffer Deborah Friedell

"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." - Click to continue reading a tribute by Dorothy Wickenden, the executive editor of The New Yorker.

Read a selection of film reviews

Some Like It Hot (1959)

"No one claims that pleasure is, in itself, the highest aim of comedy, but are there many people with such an abundance of completely pleasant hours in their lives that they can afford to bypass these two?"

L'Avventura (1961)

"In this film Antonioni stands quite apart from the Italian neo-realists. He does not try to show life "as it is" but as he sees it. In the sense that his films are intensely personal in viewpoint and style and poetic rather than naturalistic, he is more comparable to Bergman than to his fellow-Italians. But there is a great difference. The fountainhead of Bergman's films is mysticism: is the God-man relation still viable? Antonioni seems to have answered that question in the negative; thinks men have to learn self-reliance or crumble; is hoping for the possibility of hope."

8 1/2 (1963)

"The genuine raison d'etre of the picture is in the opportunities it provides for Fellini. The reason that certain operas exist is that certain singers existed who could sing them. The prime reason for this film is that Fellini is a prodigious film virtuoso."

Schindler's List (1993)

"Steven Spielberg has made his own Holocaust museum. ... this film is a welcome astonishment from a director who has given us much boyish esprit, much ingenuity, but little seriousness. His stark, intelligent style here, perfectly controlled, suggests that this may be the start of a new period in Spielberg's prodigious career—Part Two: The Man."

January, 1994: "I don't know how many times I'll see Schindler's List, but ever since my first viewing ... I've known that I wanted to see it again, soon. ... This second time, I was again so taken by Spielberg's insistent honesty, by the heightened factuality, that I saw how my familiarity helped, made the film a confirmation and a deepening." 

Pulp Fiction  (1994)

"What's most bothersome about Pulp Fiction is its success. This is not to be mean-spirited about Tarantino himself; may he harvest all the available millions. But the way that this picture has been so widely ravened up and drooled over verges on the disgusting. Pulp Fiction nourishes, abets, cultural slumming."

Fargo  (1996)

"The hot news about Joel and Ethan Coen is that they have made a tolerable film. Previously we were assaulted by the adolescent trickery and sententiousness of such numbers as Barton Fink and The Hudsucker Proxy. But in Fargo (Gramercy) they have shucked the brightest-boys-in-film-school doodads and have, by and large, stuck to an organic story. The results are mixed, but at least they are not uniformly pretentious."

The Designated Mourner (1997) 

"The twin themes are harsh political tyranny and the waning of traditional culture. [Wallace] Shawn certainly doesn't gloss over the first theme, but he seems to have chosen it as a means of italicizing cultural decline. Unlike most other works on these persistent subjects, Shawn's approach is oblique as well as direct, witty as well as horrified."