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December 18, 2009

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Nicholas

RIP Robin. Memory Eternal.

Michael Dempsey

The loss of Robin Wood, inevitable though it was, is disheartening. He transformed and elevated film criticism, beginning with his study of Alfred Hitchcock, a model in its various editions of depth, seriousness, and informed passion that never degenerated into mere solemnity. The many transformations, reworkings, and elaborations of his vision over the past several years were constantly stimulating. These can be parsed later. For now, it is the silencing of yet another distinctive critical voice that matters, a silencing painful to contemplate.

Jaime

Very well said, Glenn. The least I can say about him is, his body of work is "classic" in the sense that the word indicates books and essays that we keep taking down off the shelf, again and again. To paraphrase (ie rewrite) a eulogy from THE WIRE, looking back over his many, full years, we find them absent a trail of bitterness and betrayal. In the community of film criticism and/or scholarship, that's not a career, that's a miracle.

Daniel

very well put, sir. Rest in piece one of the first film writers who suggested to me the possibility that film writing could be important, engaging, and relevant. I don't hesitate to suggest that we've lost one of the giants, along with Bazin and Farber. Academia and journalism have never so tantalizingly co-mingled as in his writings.

Chuck Stephens

A massive figure, a formative influence, a fearless flame: brilliant and occasionally brittle, he raised the stakes, and staked the way. Only the bravest will be able to follow.

Dan

I never agreed with his writing, but I always respected it. This is a tragedy. :-(

Glenn Kenny

Dan, that's very gracious of you, but I'm kind of curious. NEVER? Not on the point that Hitchcock deserves to be taken seriously? Or the greatness of "Rio Bravo?" Etc., etc.

I always disagreed with him about Cronenberg and Lynch, and a bunch of other things. I sometimes wondered how I would fare were I to have worked up the stones to directly counter him on those directors. If I had Hoberman and/or Rosenbaum and/or Lucas as my ring men, I think maybe I might have had a chance. But still.

Matthew Fisher

Each person carries around in her head a tailor-made audience, a "great cloud of witnesses," as the New Testament calls it. Your friends are there. The teachers you most admire are there. Those who have been examples of great moral or intellectual or artistic courage are there. The novelists, poets, playwrights, and critics that have crucially altered the way you think and feel are there. Your mother is there. Your father is there too, sitting in the balcony, Kane-like.

Robin Wood is in my audience. When the show gets too boring, he joins Farber, Kael, and Agee in winging popcorn at Johnson, Hazlitt, and Orwell, snoozing in the front row.

Dan

@Glenn

Fair point. My experience with Wood has largely been of the "forced film theory classes" variety, and a quick check of his publications reveals to me that nothing I've been required to read comes from anything before "Responsibilities of a Gay Film Critic", and he's usually the cudgel of choice when it comes to queer theory. In fact, in most classes where I was taught Wood, his Hitchcock work didn't come up.

This is something I'm going to have to address, clearly.

Michael Adams

Wood's brilliant study of Arthur Penn was one of the first books of film criticism I read. To watch him wrestle with Mickey One was exhilarating.

James Keepnews

Mr. Woods was that rare combination of disposition, erudition and passion that marks the finest critics of any variety -- not matchless but rarely matched. Like Dan, it's hardly as though I always agreed with him; e.g., I sure don't think Diary of the Dead was the supreme achievement of Mr. Romero's deathlessly influential Dead cycle, but was pleased to read Mr. Woods' Film Comment piece insisting as much (and I surely shared his overall WTF-ery where Romero's work between Dawn and Diary is concerned).

When we lose as discerning and articulate a sensibility as his, the bell tolls for us all. Godspeed, Robin Wood...

Paul

Though I like Cronenberg's films a lot, the way Wood conceived an opposition between his films and those of Larry Cohen (on the one hand, a queasy body-horror that negates our essential humanity through its fear of the mess and decay inherent in having a finite, mortal, meat container; on the other, a courageous Hawksian interrogation of the way society makes otherness monstrous, whether it's the gay Messiah of God Told Me To or the feral babies of the Alive films) has left its mark on me, and determined the way I think about horror movies, for good. There aren't many writers on movies who have such tangible principles, and who are able to bring them forth into the world in such a persuasive way, and I'm fairly convinced that much of Cronenberg's latter career, from Naked Lunch through Crash and (definitely) Existenz, has been affected in a good way by his desire to engage with and negate some of Wood's criticisms of his work...

Dan

@Paul

See, using Cohen as a cudgel on Cronenberg always bugged me. Well, the idea of beating up one filmmaker with another filmmaker always bugs me, it's not fair to either filmmaker, but this particular example is egregious to me. I agree that Cronenberg can be somewhat anti-septic or impersonal, depending on the movie ("Dead Ringers" and "The Fly" in particular), but part of that is simply a function of how you make an effective horror movie: you need a sharp, sharp contrast or you've given the game away.

Cohen operates on a whole other level, though. Especially "God Told Me To"; why are we whacking Cronenberg with a movie about religion? Cronenberg's never cared about religion!

Glenn Kenny

I thoroughly disagree with Wood on Cronenberg, but I never saw him as using Cohen as a cudgel on him; he saw them as having pretty much diametrically opposed views, and saw Cohen as progressive nd Cronenberg as reactionary. Which I never bought, but is an interesting perspective to consider. Wood's key into "God" was the hermaphroditic nature of the alien being an endorsement of constitutional bisexuality, which always made me think, "nice work if you can get it."

bill

GOD TOLD ME TO is a nutty, nutty movie.

I don't happen to think that THE FLY is antiseptic (what an odd thing to say about a filmmaker whose early stuff was so messy, in a lot of different ways, although I do sort of know what you mean, Dan) or impersonal. When I saw that film as a kid, it made me sob. The destruction of Brundle, phsyically and mentally, and the realization, finally, of what he's done to himself, is as heartbreaking a moment as Cronenberg has ever filmed. I will admit there's not a lot of competition for that, but still.

Paul

Glenn got there before me - it's pretty fair to say that Wood saw the two filmmakers as opposites, Cohen in the Hawksian, humanist camp with Cronenberg in retreat from the messiness of human bodies/sexuality. I love Cronenberg but wouldn't want him to be in charge of making the decisions about whether or not to unplug my life support machine. It's interesting too that Wood's unease with Cronenberg's depiction of sexuality is based on the homosocial nature of Stereo and Crimes of the Future (neither of which I've seen). The repeated (butt)plugging of Jude Law in Existenz may be DC's witty riposte to that. Either way, at least he's still trying, unlike Cohen, who has let the side down badly.

marc sapinski

I was saddened by the news of Robin Wood's death and would like to extend my condolences to his family, closest friends, and to Richard Lippe, his partner. Robin was the brightest light I have encountered during my film education at York U., and, evidently, the same for many other students of film around the world. His acheivement is stupendous. I am forever greatful for having had the opportunity to study with him. It has been one of the highlights of my life. Hats off to you, Robin.

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