I was saddened and shocked to discover today that Robin Wood, one of the most important figures in the development of film education worldwide, had died on December 18 at his home in Toronto aged 78. It’s always sad to lose the writers who helped you to become passionate about something, but the shock is that no-one in the UK seems to have noticed his death. It seems like an indictment of the insularity of UK film culture that I should discover this news by stumbling across it when idly surfing movie blogs and chancing on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s. Credit to the New York Times and the World Socialist Website for carrying proper obituaries.
When I first started to take Film Studies seriously in the early 1970s, Robin Wood was one of the leading figures in the UK, setting up the first of a new round of degree courses at Warwick University in 1973. I’m not sure when I first discovered his writing, but it was probably in the early 1970s, around the time that I bought his books on Hitchcock and and Chabrol (with Mike Walker) and then his writings in the relaunched Movie. I soon became aware of the divide between Screen and Movie, but I always tried to follow both. Robin Wood turned left in his politics in the 1970s but didn’t lose his grounding in practical criticism. Towards the end of the 1970s he moved to Canada and his interest in gay and feminist approaches to film became more pronounced. I continued to read his material in CineAction, but also in the 1980s re-discovered some of his earlier writing and it was through his championing that I developed a deeper interest in and then a passion for Mizoguchi Kenji.
I’ll be interested to see how he is eventually remembered in UK film studies/film criticism writing. For now, I just want to recall my admiration for what he achieved as an English teacher in the 1960s – hiring 16mm films to show to his students and writing up his incredibly detailed readings of a broad selection of titles. In these days of DVD and YouTube, it’s hard to imagine just how much energy and commitment it took to be a ‘film teacher’. I know that somewhere I once read about Robin Wood’s early writings as a teacher, but I’m indebted to the NY Times obit for the story about how a Wood essay on Psycho in the early 1960s, when he was still a secondary school teacher, was turned down by Sight and Sound but accepted by the notoriously anti-British film Cahiers du cinéma. More on this if I can find the refs.
Just now found this entry on The Auteurs.com with at least one UK contribution via Catherine Grant’s Film Studies for Free with an excellent collection of links to tributes and online material by Wood himself – great work Catherine.