21 December 2009

Robin Wood: 1931-2009

The news of film critic Robin Wood's death came as a real shock to me because, in preparation for teaching an intro to film class next term, I've been spending a lot of time with his writings recently.  One of my projects, only vaguely justified by the class, has been to view or re-view all of Alfred Hitchcock's films, and Wood was one of the most important writers on Hitchcock.  Indeed, his Hitchcock's Films Revisited has been the book I've spent the most time with during my journey with Sir Alfred because it is richly provocative and unpredictable, and helped me reassess some films, such as Marnie, that I would otherwise have felt were minor.

Hitchcock's Films Revisited is fascinating, too, because it is multiple books in one, and various parts think about, contradict, and, indeed, criticize other parts of the book.  After the original Hitchcock's Films was published, Wood's life changed considerably -- he had been a married man living in England, politically uncommitted, with little knowledge of or respect for certain trends in film theory.  In the 1970s, he divorced, came out as gay, re-evaluated some of his stances on film theory, developed strong leftist political convictions, and moved to Canada.  These seismic shifts in his life inevitably affected his view of Hitchcock's films, and he chronicles those changes in the autobiographical sections of Hitchcock's Films Revisited, which includes the entire text of the original book and adds hundreds of pages of later material.  Even if I were not as interested in Hitchcock's work as I am, I would find Hitchcock's Films Revisited valuable as a model for the intersections of autobiography and criticism.  It forces readers to assess their own ways of evaluating and interpreting films by showing the ways Wood himself had done so over the years and, as importantly, the experiences that led him to choose particular techniques of evaluation and interpretation when he did.

There have been numerous eulogies for Wood written in the past few days.  The Auteur's Notebook has a roundupDavid Bordwell's blog post is typically thoughtful and well-written.  Film Studies for Free links to eulogies as well as works by or about Wood.  All worth reading.

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