Features & Columns
Goldstein (1964) In 1965, Kaufman won the Prix de la Nouvelle Critique at Cannes for this experimental film made with his friend Benjamin Manaster in 1962 and 1963, filmed under the influence of Shirley Clarke and John Cassavetes. When a stranger wanders out of Lake Michigan, he affects the lives of three men.
Fearless Frank (1967) Kaufman's most obscure work is a pop-art comic-book movie from the age of TV's Batman. Jon Voight plays an innocent yokel brought back from the dead to become a superhero—but with great power comes an even greater attraction to evil. With Nelson Algren as Needles and word-jazz pioneer Ken Nordine as the Stranger.
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972) Jesse James (Robert Duvall) and Cole Younger (Cliff Robertson) make one last try at a final score. As Kaufman told interviewer Alex Simon, "I thought it was important to do a more realistic portrait of Jesse James as a really scary, murderous guy. ... It was the antithesis of the 1939 Tyrone Power version, which was very romanticized." The White Dawn (1974) Canada's James Houston based his novel on the true story of three whalers of 1896 (Warren Oates, Timothy Bottoms and Louis Gossett, Jr.). Stranded, the whalers seek refuge with the Inuits, who speak their own language in subtitles.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) Alien spores replicate human beings, and no one's the wiser: that's because it's San Francisco in the 1970s, and the human potential movement is in full swing, with a Werner Erhard–like psychiatrist (Leonard Nimoy) helping the transition. The finale, at dawn in Civic Center plaza, among the bulbous, dormant sycamores, is like the morning after a bad LSD trip.
The Wanderers (1979) Richard Price's ribald novel about life among the Bronx gangs of 1963 still reads well; Kaufman's film has loads of affection for the tribal life. The film is remembered fondly for the strip-poker game Karen Allen plays as well as for Erland van Lidth, the 6-foot-6-inch Olympic wrestling hopeful, opera singer and English teacher who played the scariest thug in town, Terror.
The Right Stuff (1983) A serio-comic version of Tom Wolfe's account of the space race both celebrates the bravery of the test pilots and the astronauts, and debunks the NASA-fed media process that made their dangerous accomplishments look dull. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) While Czech author Milan Kundera had misgivings about the results, this is still a highlight of 1980s cinema: an erotic and tragic story of the end of the Prague Spring, with a triangle of Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche.
Henry & June (1990) Maria de Medeiros stars as Anais Nin, in a memoir of her affair in Paris with the author Henry Miller (Fred Ward; the best performance by this underrated actor) and his unstable but fascinating second wife June (Uma Thurman). Rising Sun (1993) An adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel, about worrisome Japanese industrialists involved with the murder of an L.A. hooker. It starred Sean Connery as a detective who acts as senpai (mentor) to Wesley Snipes' rookie. Connery insisted in interviews that the film was not a Japan-basher, but the controversy was unignorable.
Quills (2000) Geoffrey Rush stars as the Marquis de Sade, an endearingly wicked prisoner doing his best to tempt a virtuous man of the cloth (Joaquin Phoenix) and a washerwoman (Kate Winslet). When I interviewed Kaufman in 2000, he described it thus: "Quills is not a history of the marquis but a fairy tale É the most famous children's story of all is: Once there was an asylum, a beautiful place, with a man called Adam and a woman called Eve. In Quills, Adam was a chaste abb–, and the woman was a virginal woman, and there was a serpent there, a serpent called the Marquis de Sade."
Twisted (2004) A bread-and-butter thriller with fine San Francisco locations. Kaufman's sensual, sinister style is lavished on one of those movies about the cop (Ashley Judd) who doesn't know if she's a serial killer or not.