Origins
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An Eye for an “I” | 3 his first movies, Goldstein and Frank’s Greatest Adventure (also known as Fearless Frank). The greatest attention is paid to his masterpiece, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which—along with Henry and June and Quills—examines sensual and artistic freedom. As Manohla Dargis perceptively puts it, “While Kaufman remains best known for his astronaut saga The Right Stuff, he’s demonstrated an unusual gift, particularly for an American director, for inflaming an audience’s libido without doing insult to its intelligence” (198). His cinematic treatment of male relationships and codes of honor is examined in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, The White Dawn, The Wanderers, and The Right Stuff. Kaufman’s exploration of deceptive images is traced from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Rising Sun and Twisted. Kaufman is hard to pin down: a visual stylist who is truly literate, a San Franciscan who often makes European films, he is an accessible storyteller with a sophisticated touch. But there are great rewards to be found in his vigorous, sexy, and reflective cinema. Like the subjects of my two previous auteur studies, Truffaut and Kieslowski, Kaufman displays affection for characters, actors, and spectators, challenging them to behave with intelligence, courage, and tenderness. Thierry Frémaux described the Lumière Institute’s tribute to Kaufman in 2000 as “[t]he retrospective of a beautiful oeuvre, built by a discreet auteur who has made powerful and always unique films” (3). Origins Born in Chicago in 1936, Philip Kaufman met Rose Fisher, his future wife and writing partner, at the University of Chicago. He attended Harvard Law School for a year (where he saw and was thrilled by The Seventh Seal) and returned to the University of Chicago to work on a graduate degree in history. But instead of writing his master’s thesis, he moved with Rose and their infant son Peter to the San Francisco Bay area in 1960. The Kaufman family took off for Europe precisely when the French New Wave was rising, and its giddy sense of experimentation made quite an impression. In Greece, he taught English; in Florence, he taught math. It was in Italy that he saw John Cassavetes’s seminal independent American film Shadows and later—in a movie theater near Amsterdam—Shirley Clarke’s The Connection. As he recalled, “Those i-xiv_1-162.Insd.indd 3 1/23/12 2:12 PM two movies were for me the start of something new here—I could feel the cry of America, the sense of jazz. Then there were inklings of what became known for a brief period of time as the New American Cinema. So I came back to Chicago in 1962 and set about trying to learn as much as I could, seeing every foreign movie I could” (qtd. in Cowie 115). Kaufman would learn to become a director by turning his unfinished novel into Goldstein, an American independent “nouvelle vague” hybrid. And his subsequent work continued to manifest European inspiration as well as sophistication. Philip, Peter, and Rose Kaufman, Berkeley 1968. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Teresa develops this photo as if she took it in Prague. Courtesy of Peter Kaufman. 4 | Philip Kaufman i-xiv_1-162.Insd.indd 4 1/23/12 2:12 PM Goldstein and Fearless Frank When we saw Les 400 coups, just the vitality, and the children, and the camera being out in the streets, blew us away. It was the combination of technique and content that was so impressive: that accessibility. —Philip Kaufman on Truffaut’s first feature After films like The Right Stuff and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, we associate Kaufman with serious themes and visual sophistication. However, his first two features—Goldstein (1964) and Frank’s Greatest Adventure (1967)—are larks, filled with youthful experimentation. If his later work suggests the influence of Akira Kurosawa, these breezy movies are more redolent of Federico Fellini, not to mention fairy tales, Jewish fables, and comic strips. Goldstein, which he cowrote and codirected with Benjamin Manaster, is inspired by a story from Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim. Kaufman initially conceived it as a novel, but—at the urging of Anaïs Nin—turned his unfinished book into what he called a “mystical comedy.” Starring members of Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe, it won the New Critics Prize at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival (shared with another auspicious first feature, Bernardo Bertolucci ’s Before the Revolution). Its freewheeling...


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