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Robin Wood 1931-2009

It’s the year in review issue of the New York Times today, which means no DVD column — just as well, because the passing of Robin Wood overshadows anything I would have to say this week. He was one of the finest minds our field has produced, one of the very few writers who negotiated the critical climate change from the warmly humanist breezes of auteurist introspection to the chilly winds of ideological prescriptiveness without compromising his clarity of thought or moral seriousness. I’m sure everyone who stops by here has been affected by Robin’s work in one way or another. As John T. Chance might say, he was good, real good.

321 comments to Robin Wood 1931-2009

  • Tony Wiliams

    Michael, I’ll second that since Dave has supplied a wonderful forum for us all to debate and disagree in a cordial manner.

    In his final months, Robin could not see films properly but he listened to the dialogue closely and recognized the voices of stars he loved.

  • There is an excellent tribute by James Zborowski at Between Sympathy and Detachment:

  • enrique

    (Obviously) very sorry to have heard the news about Robin Wood. I live in Cambridge, round the corner from F. R. Leavis’s old house (no longer there), and it feels “local” in a way I’ll try to articulate elsewhere.

    Good to see that mention of Durgnat’s ALHLAP in the LRB. A second edition is coming this year. RD and RW were near-contemporaries at Cambridge, both with very different takes both on Leavis (more broadly on Eng Lit) and on Hitchcock.

    For both of them (obviously) Hitchcock and Cambridge English were always central, as ALHAP makes clear.

    I have to disagree with Tony Williams about the state of film academia, and agree with Dave K. Film studies, here in the UK at least, still seems completely packed with Lacan/Deleuze (etc.) types. Recently I was aghast to hear of a lecturer teaching Althusser to 18-year-olds. In any grown-up discipline Althusser is regarded as a bad joke. This is what Durgnat tore his hair out over — almost thirty years ago. (E. P. Thompson’s unputdownable ‘The Poverty of Theory’ appeared in 1978.)

    In fact I spent three days listening to unlistenable conference talks on psychoanalysis (i.e. Lacan and no-one else, ever) and film at Leavis’s alma mater (Emmanuel College) last year. The main point seems to have been to “prove” Lacan with illustrations from — does it even matter? Lacan is a closed circuit thinker: everything proves him if you want it to.

    (OT but Tony, what is inaccurate about Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky? Concerned with art and literature though Trotsky may have been, the big picture presented by Service, from what I can gather, seems about right. Tariq Ali’s obscene defence of the Kronstadt massacre in the Guardian is the only piece I’ve read that said otherwise. Many terrible men have had aesthetic sensibilities.)

  • Enrique, who can forget Durgnat’s great joke: ‘Ayatollah Althusser’ !!!

  • tony paley

    Here is the Guardian’s obituary which appears in today’s edition of the paper:

  • Stephanie Rothman

    I would like to add my belated voice to this chorus of appreciation for Robin. I have just received the painful news of his death. Although I am guilty of losing contact with him some years ago, I have always felt nothing but deep affection for him as a human being and respect for him as a thinker. I would also like to get in touch with Richard Lippe, if somone would post his email on this site, or leave an email here where I can contact you.

    And, finally, Dave Kehr: Could you share with me an email address of yours that is a less public forum, although it is a very serious and informative one and I mean no disrespect to the other posters. But there is some information of less general interest that I would like to share specifically with you. Thanks.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Stephanie, My email is but I’ll be out of the country on Tuesday.

    Here is the London times obituary of January 6.

  • According to its newsletter, Film Comment‘s March-April issue will contain a tribute to Robin Wood.

  • Tony Wiliams


    In case I miss your reply, Richard has authorized me to send you his email. It is

  • Brian Taylor

    Robin’s death is a deeply sad moment in the history of film and film criticism.
    It is hard to add anything much to the eloquence of the many acclaimed names from diverse aspects of the film business.
    A warm and generous man as has been pointed out.
    I was lucky enough to be one of his students at Warwick. He imparted a life long love of film and an in depth understanding of do many different directors particularly Ford, Hawks, Peckipah, Mann, Ray, Boetticher, Walsh, Vidor, Von Sternberg, Eastwood, Siegal, Rosselini, Hitchcock, Mizoguchi, Uzo, Renoir, Chabrol, Trauffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Welles, Bergman, Penn, Eisenstein, The Tourneurs, Charles and Jacques, Leo Carey, Cukor, Minnelli..and so many others,
    and then there was his interest in music, cooking and cats..
    Obituaries are inadequate..
    tx Robin

  • Tony Wiliams

    Brian, It is very good to hear from you after so many years. My email is above if you want to contact me. Yes, Warwick was a unique experience for those of us lucky to be there.

  • Brian Taylor

    Yes Tony

    When I think about it there is a continuous vein throughout the autuer’s Robin wrote about. A moment of transcendence where the director sublimely delivers an episode of cinematic poetry that lives with you forever..The opening sequence of Touch of Evil…’Living between the winds’ in The Searchers..’Take ’em to Missouri Matt’ in Red River.. Bell ringing in Scarlet Empress. The bird on a string in The Wild Bunch.
    The blood dripping in the glass which alerts Dude in Rio Bravo. The song that unites the group..the Hawksian moment.
    Mizoguchi ghost house transmutation in Ugetsu Monogatari..I could go on.
    Everyone probably has their favourite moment.
    Robin saw all the moments I’m sure, all those terpsechorean moments that lifted the films he gave us out of the ordinary and which will endure forever.
    Those sparks of filmic brilliance, those moments of transition, certainly affected me and inspired him to bring them to our attention. I wonder if my life would have been enhanced as it has been if Robin had not existed.

  • Tony Wiliams


    Very little can be added to what you have said. In a review I wrote of Andrew Britton’s criticism I mentioned that I had always said to Robin that he had “spoiled” us at Warwick since later experiences of higher education never matched up to that positive environment he created while there.

  • The new Cineaction is out and has an essay by Robin Wood on Vive l’Amour, but it turns out to be a reprint from Film International. The site doesn’t indicate if there is going to be a festschrift in the future, and the current issue list forthcoming subjects but not a mention of anything about Wood, but that is probably a publishing timing matter.

  • Tony Wiliams

    It was. The issue went to press just before Robin died. Due to his failing eyesight, cineACTION got permission to reprint several of his articles from other journals. I assume they will have a memorial issue. I’m still waiting for my copy to arrive.

  • Thanks for the update. Terrific essay on Contraband, by the way.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Thanks, DK. Maybe I’ll get to read it again sometime this week?

  • Tony Wiliams

    DK, The recent edition to the CineACTION internet site mentions that a tribute issue to Robin will appear in the near future.

  • In addition to his film criticism, Robin Wood also wrote fiction, soon to be published. Details can be viewed on the weblog

  • I’ve just discovered that the Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film, a four-volume set published in 2006 by Thomson Gale and edited by Barry Keith Grant, has a 10-page essay by Robin Wood entitled “Criticism,” which, upon first skim, seems to be at once both a major statement on the subject and a concise summary of Wood’s views. The article has two sidebars, one on Andrew Britton also written by Wood, and one on Sarris. Significant to the essay is a long passage summarizing the views of F. R. Leavis and their applicability to film criticism.