Robin Wood is one of the most influential film critics to write in the English language. Brilliantly insightful and infuriatingly opinionated, Wood has spoken for a minority of critics in his attempt to bridge the gap between politically engaged criticism and questions of human value. Educated at Cambridge University in the early 1950s, Wood has taught film studies at universities in England and Canada, ultimately making his home in Toronto, where he has worked with an editorial collective to publish the journal CineAction since 1985.
Wood began publishing film criticism while a graduate student, contributing an article to Cahiers du Cinema on Psycho (1960) in 1960 and a short piece on Advise and Consent (1960) to the second issue of the British film journal Movie in 1962. But it was with a series of books on individual directors (Alfred Hitchcock, Claude Chabrol, Howard Hawks, Arthur Penn, and Ingmar Bergman) in the latter part of the decade that Wood established himself as a major voice in film criticism. In Hitchcock's Films (1965), he offered a series of impressively detailed textual analyses of seven Hitchcock films to argue that Hitchcock is a moralist who forces spectators to confront their own darker impulses through "therapeutic" viewing experiences. Wood's auteurist readings of Hitchcock and Hawks have become canonical, influencing virtually all subsequent scholarly discussions of these two directors.
When Wood shifted his attention to genre films in the late 1970s, he set the terms for the intense critical debates on horror films that would arise in the following decade. In 1979, along with his longtime partner Richard Lippe, Wood mounted a major horror retrospective for the Toronto International Film Festival that included the publication of a small anthology of essays on horror titled The American Nightmare: Essays on the Horror Film (1979). In Wood's celebrated introduction, he argued that the horror film was driven by the Freudian concept of repression and offered a psychoanalytic and Marxist reading of the genre that remains influential.
Wood came out as gay in the mid-1970s, and since that time his criticism has become increasingly political. Sexual politics has been of particular importance to Wood in his later work, whether he is discussing light-hearted entertainments like American Pie and its sequels or the confrontational art films of Caspar Noe and Michael Haneke. Many of his essays are gathered in the volumes Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (1986) and Sexual Politics and Narrative Film (1998). In subsequent editions, Wood has also reconsidered his early auteurist work from his more recent critical perspective, often examining the directors' ideological limitations rather than celebrating their stamp of personality. Over three editions of the book on Hitchcock, for example, Wood offered new gay and feminist readings of the director's films.
Wood, Robin. Hitchcock's Films Revisited. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
-. Hollywood. from Vietnam to Reagan—and
Beyond. Revised ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.
- . Ingmar Bergman. London: Studio Vista, 1969.
-. Personal Views: Explorations in Film. New ed.
Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2006.
. Sexual Politics and Narrative Film: Hollywood and
Beyond. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
Cameron argued that it was the director who was responsible for what appears on the screen, but he also argued that a dominant personality other than the director could be the "author" of a film, that, for example, the "effective author'' of the film versions of Paddy Chayefsky's (19231981) works was primarily Chayefsky rather than the credited directors, and the person responsible might on occasions be the photographer or composer or producer or star. Cameron cites The Sins of Rachel Cade (1961), which "although directed by the excellent Cordon Douglas, was above all an Angie Dickinson movie, being entirely shaped by her personality and deriving all its power, which was considerable, from her performance'' (Cameron, 1972, pp. 13-14). In practice, though, little of the work done by Movie or Sarris implied an authorial dominant presence other than the director.
In important respects—and this was a clear implication in Astruc's conception of the "caméra stylo''—the arguments for authorship in cinema at this time represented a triumph for a rather traditional Romantic view of the author as artist. This was a somewhat paradoxical position to take in relation to an art form that was popular and made in industrial and collaborative conditions—though the film author was seen as able to transcend those conditions. Given the dominance of modernism in the other arts, and particularly developments in literature and literary criticism that rejected Romantic forms and Romantic views of the artist, the establishment of the idea of authorship in this period could be seen as a retrogressive step. Yet at the same time, auteurism offered a critical method to replace the then-dominant largely thematic or sociological critical approaches with more specifically cinematic concerns, as well as opening up for serious consideration many filmmakers and categories of film barely taken seriously before. Auteurism shifted the focus of film criticism away from the more or less explicit thematic subject matter that was the concern of most other critical approaches, and toward the personality of the auteur and the consistency of the auteur director's style and themes. These were not immediately or easily accessible, and required the analysis of individual works in relation to a body of work: the critic's task became to discover and define the auteur and the ways in which the auteur had worked with the given material. "Film criticism became a process of discovery, a process which . . . forced a more precise attention to what was actually happening within the film than had been customary for a traditional criticism which tended to be satisfied with the surfaces of popular film'' (Caughie, 1981, pp. 11-12).
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