Nearly a half-century after making his first film — the Hasidic-inspired “Goldstein” — director Philip Kaufman is having a moment. MoMA recently hosted a weeklong retrospective of his work, from brainy pop (“The Right Stuff”) to high art (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”). Film scholar Annette Insdorf just published “Philip Kaufman” (University of Illinois Press), the first complete study of the filmmaker’s oeuvre. And his first production for HBO, the biopic “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” will premiere May 28.
While Kaufman may not enjoy brand-name status with the movie-going public, he’s an icon among Hollywood literati for thoughtful adaptations of impossible-to-translate works, like 2000’s “Quills,” his Oscar-nominated portrayal of the Marquis de Sade. “Philip was astonishingly generous and included me in the making of the movie; for me, it was a master-class in the art of film direction,” Doug Wright, the playwright and screenwriter behind “Quills,” told the Forward in an email. While in New York to promote “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” Kaufman corresponded by email with The Arty Semite about Martin Buber, San Francisco and the hidden afikomen of his dreams.
Michael Kaminer: There’s a bright spotlight on you, 48 years after your first film. Why now?
Philip Kaufman: You tell me. I try to resist the “overview,” and to leave that to others. I just want to make films, live the life of making films, to dream constantly of films. Thinking about the consequences — reviews, box-office, retrospectives, etc. — wakes me from the dream, like waking from a nightmare. Maybe a better alternative answer: Why not? Another answer: I love Annette Insdorf.