Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Better Side of The New Republic

Despite Marty Peretz running The New Republic into the ground, the magazine has always had great arts coverage. Most importantly, it has employed Stanley Kauffmann as its lead film critic for about 50 years now. Which makes him I think 143 years old. I've linked to a couple of his reviews before, but every now and then, you remember just how old he is (in his 90s and still working). When Jimmy Stewart died, Kauffmann talked about Stewart as a young man. He has talked about Brando starring in a play he wrote before Brando was a star. Today, he reviews Katyn, the new film by the great Polish director Andrzej Wajda. Wajda is one of my favorites with such amazing films as A Generation, Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds, Man of Marble, Man of Iron, Danton, The Siberian Lady MacBeth, etc., etc. Freedom, World War II, and the war's aftermath have always been central concerns for Wajda and Katyn by all accounts is a crowning achievement that addresses all of these issues. Anyway, Kauffmann says this in his review:

One evening in 1939, exactly when the Germans and Soviets were invading Poland, I was at a ballet performance in New York. An announcement was made that a leading man in the company, a Pole, had asked to do a special piece as his Polish declaration of protest and love. (I forget his name.) He then came out and performed a solo dance to a Chopin polonaise, which was not much as ballet but was nonetheless overwhelming. I thought of that dancer, of the audience's wave of sympathy and helplessness, when I saw the last shot of Wajda's film--which I won't disclose.

1939? A mere 70 years ago. What I think is great about Kauffmann's incredibly long career is the limitless font of past knowledge he draws from. He's just about the only person still alive and probably the only person still active in film who remembers the silents. His life almost spans the life of cinema.