Robin Wood (1931-2009)

By Glenn Kenny/Some Came Running

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

Even on the occasions when he was wrong, he was the smartest, the most persuasive, the wittiest, the most literate, the most compassionate of any of us. And yes, I hesitate to use the word "us."

Still, I feel about him as Godard felt of Welles: "All of us will always owe him everything."

UPDATE: A loss such as this of course compels one to go back to the well. First, for me, Wood's study of Howard Hawks, a book I keep as close to me at all times as possible, as I also do Sarris' The American CInema and the collected writings of Gerhard Richter. This salvo was, incidentally, used in the "quotes" section of Stuart Byron's first "World's Hardest Movie Quiz" in The Village Voice back in...hell I can't even find the date. But it was a while back. Anyway:

"It may be perverse to approach the comedies via a gangster film of exceptional ferocity, almost the only Hawks film in which the protagonist dies. But Scarface belongs with the comedies."


On Altman's Nashville, from Hollywood: From Vietnam To Reagan:

"The film's total effect—for all of the marvelous local successes—is to engulf the spectator in its movement of disintegration, making intellectual distance impossible. The ironic force of its ending, with a crowd confronting catastrophe by singing 'it don't worry me,' a communal refusal to think, is weakened not simply by the inability to offer any constructive alternative but by a perverse rejection of the possibility. A movie that left Pauline Kael feeling 'elated' ('I've never before seen a movie I loved in quite this way') left me feeling somewhat sick and depressed, for all my admiration of its scope and audacity."

On the notion of the guilty pleasure, also from HFVTR:

"I had better say that the Guilty Pleasures feature [in FIlm Comment] seems to me an entirely deplorable institution. If one feels guilt at pleasure, isn't one bound to renounce either one or the other? Preferably, in most cases, the guilt, which is merely the product of that bourgeois elitism that continues to vitiate so much criticism. The attitude fostered is evasive (including self-evasive) and anti-critical: 'Isn't this muck—to which of course I'm really so superior—delicious?'"

On Welles' Touch Of Evil, from Personal Views:

"A great film, perhaps; an endlessly fascination one, certainly; but one ends by finding it also somewhat worrying. Rather than Shakespeare, comparison with whom Welles has so consistently seemed to court, one might prefer to invoke Webster, in whose plays the Elizabethean creativity degenerates into morbidity and decadence. Shakespeare may make us feel that his Macbeth represents potentialities that exist in all of us, but he never sucks us into complicity with him, as Welles does with Quinlan—we are never invited to condone Macbeth's crimes. A concern with evil can shade imperceptibly into a fascination with evil, which in its turn can merge into a celebration of evil. Welles' film is never that: the profound moral and metaphysical unease it communicates resists any such simple definition. But the disturbance it leaves behind in the mind is not entirely free of distaste."

On philosophy, from his BFI monograph on Rio Bravo:

"A final word for those who, like myself, believe that all philosophies grow out of a specific cultural situation, a particular historical moment, and who therefore maintain a healthy scepticism of all essentialisms and absolutisms: you might like to be reminded of the famous graffiti that began, allegedly, in a London washroom and travelled swiftly around the English-speaking world. (Is it still current? It deserves to be.)

'To be is to do' (Descartes)

'To do is to be' (Sartre)

'Do-be-do-be-do' (Sinatra)"

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