Born in Chicago, IL, writer/director Philip Kaufman makes accessible American art films and stays out of the Los Angeles area, preferring the home base of San Francisco, working with his wife, Rose, and his son Peter. After studying at the University of Chicago and Harvard Law School, he taught English in Europe and began work on a novel. He got into filmmaking in the '60s after traveling to California to meet his literary mentor, Henry Miller. His first two films were satirical comedies: Goldstein, co-directed by Benjamin Manaster, and Fearless Frank, starring a young Jon Voight. During the '70s he reworked several great American genres with the Western The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid, the whaling adventure The White Dawn, the sci-fi thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the coming-of-age drama The Wanderers. During this time, he also received writing credits for the highly successful films The Outlaw Josey Wales and Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the '80s, he turned to literary adaptations and began to craft his signature style of so-called American European films. The Right Stuff, adapted from Tom Wolfe's novel about the astronauts of the U.S. Mercury 7, didn't do that well at the box office but won four Academy Awards and remains a fan favorite. He made his masterpiece in 1988 with The Unbearable Lightness of Being, adapted from the novel by Milan Kundera and nominated by the Academy for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography. As an intellectual art film embraced by American audiences, it also offers fine performances from leads Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, and Lena Olin. After a lifelong passion for the work of Henry Miller, Kaufman adapted autobiographical writings of Anaïs Nin into the film Henry & June, set in 1930s Paris. Despite fine production values and performances, the erotic drama had the unfortunate first-ever NC-17 rating. Kaufman briefly returned to mainstream commercial appeal with the Michael Crichton adaptation Rising Sun before heading out to Asia to help his son Peter Kaufman with the documentary China: The Wild East. In 2000, he directed the costume drama Quills, based on the play by Doug Wright depicting the incarceration of the Marquis de Sade. It was nominated for three Oscars and won Best Picture from the National Board of Review. In 2003, he completed The Blackout Murders, starring Ashley Judd as a police detective who finds herself a suspect.
Biography by Andrea LeVasseur
- Spent the better part of the '70s developing a script for a Star Trek movie centered around Spock, but Paramount lost interest due to poor pre-release buzz over another sci-fi film, Star Wars.
- Fired as director of The Outlaw Josey Wales by Clint Eastwood due to creative differences.
- Collaborated with George Lucas on the basic story for Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- Appeared in uncredited background roles in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1987).
- Directed the first film to be given an NC-17 rating, Henry & June.
- Honored in an assortment of photographs on the walls of the Tosca Cafe in San Francisco, where he has been based since 1971.