Death comes to ROBIN WOOD, champion of the auteur theory and one of the great writers on the Movies
Robin Wood died on December 18, 2009 and although I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Wood, his passing hit me especially hard because I regard his writings as among the most influential ever to be published about the cinema. His groundbreaking book Hitchcock Films still remains to my mind, the best book ever written about that celebrated director.
In the early seventies when I first became enamored with movies, it was Mr. Wood's writings that opened my eyes to the then radical notion that popular movies from directors like Hitchcock and Howard Hawks could actually be considered works of art. That Wood would call Vertigo and Rio Bravo "masterpieces" in the sixties was certainly not an idea that was widely accepted at the time, but today both films are seen as great works of cinematic art (and both were ignored by the Academy at the time of their initial release.)
From Wood's books on Hitchcock and Hawks it was a simple step to graduate to more difficult to comprehend films by directors like Bergman, Antonioni and Orson Welles (Rather unfortunately Wood never wrote a book about Welles). However Wood's long piece on Welles Touch of Evil is a brilliant and incisive analysis of the movie that remains one of my favorite pieces about the picture.
Besides Mr. Wood's many books, he wrote a series of astute articles for Film Comment throughout the seventies. Even on the rare occasion when I didn't agree with him, his ideas were always insightful and very hard to refute. He explained why a supposedly badly received film like Marnie was actually a great masterpiece (not that I needed convincing on that one.) But I do recall seeing Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life for the first time around 1975 and thinking it was nothing special. After reading Wood's article about the movie in Film Comment I saw the picture again and it suddenly became a cinematic treasure that I had simply misunderstood.
Wood's book on Arthur Penn was another eye-opener for me. He brought up the idea that a film artist should have the right to experiment and make a movie that may be seen as both a commercial and critical failure, such as Mickey One.
That idea holds a special meaning for a director like Orson Welles, whose Mr. Arkadin Robin Wood recently placed as number three on his list of favorite Criterion titles. Wood explained, "The critics of Cahiers du cinéma once chose Mr. Arkadin over Citizen Kane for their “Ten Best Ever” list. I am inclined to agree. The three versions suggest an endless, fascinating 'work in progress'.”
Sadly Mr. Wood didn't write more extensively about Mr. Arkadin. If he had, I'm sure he would have brought out many lucid details regarding the movie and made us see it in a new light. However, I just re-read his long piece on Touch of Evil which can be read in it's entirety at Google Books. It shows us why Mr. Wood and his writings on movies will be sorely missed.
Check out the list of Robin Wood’s favorite films Paul Johnson has compiled at The Auteurs
Selected Books by Robin Wood
Hitchcock's Films, 1965
Howard Hawks, 1968
Ingmar Bergman, 1969
Arthur Penn, 1970
Claude Chabrol (with Michael Walker) 1970
Antonioni (with Ian Cameron), 1971
The Apu Trilogy, 1971
Personal Views: Explorations in Film, 1976
(Contains a long chapter on Touch of Evil.}
Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, 1986
Sexual Politics and Narrative Film: Hollywood and Beyond, 1998