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Robin Wood (critic)

robin wood film critic
Robert Paul Wood 23 February 1931 – 18 December 2009 – known as Robin Wood – was an English film critic and educator who lived in Canada for much of his life He wrote books on the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Arthur Penn Wood was a longtime member - and co-founder, along with other colleagues at Toronto's York University - of the editorial collective which publishes CineACTION!, a film theory magazine Wood was also York professor emeritus of film2


  • 1 Biography
    • 11 Early life
    • 12 Early career
    • 13 Recognition
  • 2 Scholarship and analysis
  • 3 Legacy
  • 4 Bibliography
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links


Early lifeedit

Wood was born in Richmond, Surrey, England According to Contemporary Authors he attended Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was influenced by F R Leavis and A P Rossiter, and graduated in 1953 with a diploma in education From 1954 to 1958, Wood taught in schools in both England and Sweden After a year in Lille, France, teaching English, Wood returned to schools in England, and again in Sweden, where he met Aline Macdonald3 whom he married on 17 May 1960 They would have three children: Carin, Fiona, and Simon

Early careeredit

Wood began to contribute to the film journal Movie in 1962, primarily on the strength of an essay he wrote for Cahiers du cinéma on Hitchcock's Psycho In 1965, he published his first book, Hitchcock's Films New York: A S Barnes, 1965 From 1969 to 1972, under the aegis of Peter Harcourt, Wood was a lecturer in film at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario In September 1974, Wood and his wife divorced Around this time, he also had a relationship with John Anderson, the dedicatee in at least one of Wood's books Later he was to meet Richard Lippe, with whom he lived from 1977 until his death in 2009

From 1973 to 1977, Wood was a lecturer on film studies at the University of Warwick, Coventry, one of the first three such courses in Britain, which he founded with financial support from the British Film Institute4 Here he met the future film scholar Andrew Britton, whose influence on Wood, by Wood's own account, was as great as Wood's on his student5 Britton is said to have led him away from liberal attitudes1 but this is a fallacy The development of Wood's critical thinking is indicated in 'An Interview with Robin Wood' by Elizabeth Aherene and Jenny Norman, dated 9 May 1974 and published in the first issue of the film journal Framework by June 19756 Further insight can be obtained through lectures given by Wood during February–March 1975, prior to the arrival of Britton


It was Wood's initial rejection by the British journal Sight & Sound4 and recognition by Cahiers du cinéma, through the publication of his Hitchcock essay, which launched his career as a film critic7 This prompted him to study and gradually embrace notions of the Nouvelle Vague directors: from Claude Chabrol to Jean-Luc Godard He wanted to understand semiology – the science of signs – which explains cultures in terms of sign systems This approach of breaking films down into signs leads the critic to ask "What does it mean and why is it there" – analyzing, for example, techniques such as camera distance/movement, etc So, instead of purely celebrating 'auteur theory' which originated as 'auteur policy', from François Truffaut – the fact that some directors are establishabled as artists and others are not – he became captivated by the idea of relating a film to a whole culture at a particular time, opposed to a specific director89 Through ultimately recognizing the importance of the work done by those who had recognized him, Wood traded the hypocrisies of accepting a 'comfortable life' – by allowing one's scruples to be purchased by the highest bidder – for integrity: a quality he valued the highest among artists and critics, alike, of significant merit10 In answer to a student who complained in 1976, "I'm not interested in politics!", Wood responded with words to the effect: "The very fact of living is a political act!"11

He became professor of film studies at York University, Toronto in 1977, where he taught until his retirement in the early 1990s In 1985, he helped form a collective with several other students and colleagues to found and publish CineAction originally styled CineACTION!

Wood's books include Ingmar Bergman Praeger, New York, 1969, Arthur Penn Praeger, New York, 1969, The Apu Trilogy Praeger, New York, 1971, The American Nightmare: Essays on the Horror Film, edited by Robin Wood and Richard Lippe Festival of Festivals, Toronto, 1979, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan Columbia University Press, New York, 1986, Sexual Politics and Narrative Film: Hollywood and Beyond Columbia University Press, New York, 1998, The Wings of the Dove: Henry James in the 1990s British Film Institute Publishing, London, 1999, and Rio Bravo BFI Publishing, London, 2003 His novel Trammel up the Consequence was published posthumously by his estate in 201112

Wood died of leukaemia1 on 18 December 2009 in Toronto

Scholarship and analysisedit

Changes in Wood's critical thinking divide his career into two parts Wood's early books are still prized by film students for their close readings in the auteur theory tradition and their elegant prose style Wood brought psychological insight into the motivations of characters in movies such as Psycho and Marnie, and Wood was admired for his tendency to champion under-recognized directors and films

After his coming out as a gay man, Wood's writings became more – though not exclusively – political, primarily from a stance associated with Marxist and Freudian thinking, and with gay rights The turning point in Wood's views can arguably be pinpointed in his essay "Responsibilities of a Gay Film Critic", originally a speech at London's National Film Theatre and later published in the January 1978 issue of Film Comment It was subsequently included in the revised edition of his book Personal Views


Some of Wood's students have also become notable film scholars, including Andrew Britton and Tony Williams His former student Bruce LaBruce is now an underground film director Former student Daniel Nearing is director of the experimental Chicago Heights and Hogtown


Columbia University Press has reprinted and updated Wood's book on Hitchcock, and Wayne State University Press has recently begun a series of reprints of his early books, with new introductions The first in the series is Howard Hawks in 2006, to be followed by Personal Views in 2006, and Ingmar Bergman

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it
  • Hitchcock's Films, 1965
  • Howard Hawks, 1968
  • "Arthur Penn", 1968
  • Ingmar Bergman, 1969
  • Claude Chabrol, Wood and Michael Walker, 1970
  • The Apu Trilogy,Praeger, New York, 1971
  • Antonioni, Revised Edition, Wood and Ian Cameron, 1971
  • Personal Views: Explorations in Film, 1976
  • Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, 1986
  • Sexual Politics and Narrative Film: Hollywood and Beyond, 1998
  • The Wings of the Dove, 1999
  • Rio Bravo, 2003
  • Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan…and Beyond, 2003


  1. ^ a b c "Obituary" The Times 5 January 2010 Robin Wood, film critic and academic, was born on February 23, 1931 He died of leukaemia on December 18, 2009, aged 78 
  2. ^ Grimes, William 22 December 2009 "Robin Wood, Film Critic Who Wrote on Hitchcock, Dies at 78" The New York Times Retrieved 1 January 2010 
  3. ^ Charles Barr Obituary, The Guardian, 4 January 2010
  4. ^ a b Williams, Tony "Robin Wood – A Personal View" The November 3rd Club Wetdryvacnet Retrieved 17 May 2012 
  5. ^ Wood, Robin 1986 Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan Columbia University Press p ix ISBN 0-231-05777-6 
  6. ^ Elizabeth Aherene & Jenny Norman 1974–75 An Interview with Robin Wood Framework, Warwick University Arts Federation, issue number one
  7. ^ Robin Wood Columbia University Press blog, Retrieved 2012-17-05
  8. ^ Lecture by Robin Wood on 21 November 1975, Critical approaches to Hollywood, Introduction to Film Studies course 1975–76, University of Warwick
  9. ^ Joe McElhaney, Hitchcock's Films Revisited by Robin Wood, Revised Edition senses of cinema – book review, Retrieved 2012-18-05
  10. ^ Armen Svadjian, An Interview with Robin Wood 2006: A Life in Film Criticism: Robin Wood at 75, published in Your Flesh Magazine, 2006 Friends of Robin Wood, Retrieved 2012-18-05
  11. ^ Witnessed by film studies student, Clive Gardener
  12. ^ Friends of Robin Wood "Trammel up the Consequence Published" Estate of Robin Wood Retrieved 27 October 2012 

External linksedit

  • Official Website of CineACTION!
  • Robin Wood on Internet Movie Database

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