The legendary film critic Stanley Kauffmann, whom I didn’t read with any regularity until the mid ’70s (which is when I started to really pay attention to movies and began to try to separate the few stalks of wheat from the bales of chaff), passed this morning at age 97. He kept writing (and very beautifully at that) right to the end. Kauffmann was devoted to the art of clean, complete sentences. Within two or three paragraphs (and more often within one or two), his reviews always got down to the meat. Along with Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, John Simon and six or seven others, Kauffmann was one of the kings of my realm when I was started out as a deeply insecure freelancer in ’77. And I never even met the guy. (I never met Kael either although I spoke to her once on the phone — she seemed guarded and aloof and a bit snooty, but I’m presuming she had her warm side.)

Kauffman came of age in the 1930s — he was eleven years old and presumably a regular filmgoer when The Jazz Singer opened — and therefore experienced firsthand the full scope of 20th Century cinema and knew “the best of times” in that sense. The first emergings of cinematic greatness occured in the 1920s (Lang, Murnau, Keaton, Von Stroheim), and then came the long second movement which began in the mid to late ’30s and ended…well, you tell me. The early ’80s? The late ’90s? The end never came? I think things are still humming and crackling for the most part, but you could certainly argue that the arrival of the post-cinematic, sub-literate, sensation-and-explosion-seeking, digitally-attuned generation of jizz-whizz moviegoers (by far the least educated and most reality-averse in Hollywood history) and the filmmakers in their midst has brought things to an all-time low. I’m imagining Kauffmann muttering as he took his last breaths, “Well, at least where I’m going I won’t have to contend with shite like RIPD, A Good Day to Die Hard and Django Unchained. Okay, I’m a little sorry about missing American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street but…aahh, I can handle it. I’ve had an amazing run.”

A James Toback anecdote from a 2009 Peter Keough interview: “You know, King Vidor, whom I directed in Love and MoneyStanley Kauffmann referred to him as ‘the late King Vidor’ in a review in the New Republic and King called me up and he was so upset and he said ‘Who is this person Stanley Kauffmann?’ and I said ‘He’s the critic for The New Republic,’ and he said, ‘I know that, but who is he?’ and I said, ‘What do you mean, who is he? I don’t know what you mean.’ And he said, ‘He said that I’m dead.’ So I said, ‘Well I didn’t know about that,’ and he said, ‘Listen to this.’ And he read it to me. He said ‘The late King Vidor.’ He said, ‘Who is he?’ And I realized after a while that he meant who is he in the way that I would like him to be dead for telling me that I’m dead when I’m still alive?'”