Friday, January 05, 2007
stephanie von buchau, 1939-2006
When my wife and I relocated to the West Coast from the Philaldelphia area, I was professionally - and immediately - befriended by Stephanie von Buchau, a great critic who turned out to be an even better friend. We had a lot in common in that we were critics who marched to decidedly different drummers in terms of taste, mostly commiserating about misunderstood films, either pro or con.
I remember vividly last corresponding with her - via email - about the unappreciated joys of Tony Scott’s brutally raw and gleefully rude “Domino.” I think you get the picture.
Stephanie was iconoclastic , outspoken, fearless, sometimes brutally harsh, often very funny and uncommonly honest. She had provocative ideas and she did what every good critic should always do.
She made you think.
For those unfamiliar with Stephanie’s work and opinions, she reviewed classical music and opera, as well as film and food, from the Bay Area for about 30 years, her critiques appearing in such local publications as Marin County’s Pacific Sun, San Francisco magazine, the Oakland Tribune, the San Francisco Examiner and the Bay Area Reporter, as well as national magazines such as Opera News. In recent years, Stephanie had rather wittingly adopted the pseudonym Tiger Hashimoto for some of her reviews for the Examiner.
She inadvertently created a furor in 1975 with her negative review of the San Francisco Opera production of Tchaikovsky's “Queen of Spades,” as conducted by Russian exile Mstislav Rostropovich. The Opera’s late General Manager, Kurt Herbert Adler, responded by banning Stephanie, denying her press tickets for the remainder of the season. Her colleagues, however, objected, and Stephanie’s name was reinstated.
Perhaps, the veteran music and dance critic Allan Ulrich described Stephanie best: "She was blunt, insightful, cranky, outrageous and the voice of sweet reason, sometimes all in the same paragraph, She knew her business. And she was opinionated - she believed things should be a certain way in the arts. Whether you agreed with her or not - and I frequently disagreed violently with her - she stated her case cogently and wittily. She was damned entertaining to read.''
When my wife and I moved back to the East Coast after 13 years, I continued my email conversations with Stephanie but towards the end, our missives started to dwindle. And then they stopped - abruptly. Stephanie von Buchau passed away last December 19 at age 67, most likely from complications from the diabetes she battled most of her life.
That’s when she wasn’t waging a battle on behalf of art.
"The only truly objective critic is a dead critic," Stephanie once observed, but I’ve a hunch that even in death, she’s still eschewing the notion of objectivity and, well, raising hell.
Just as she did in life.
(Artwork: The great critic Stephanie von Buchau hiding behind a facade, photographed by Anne Hamersky in San Francisco in August, 1990)