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Raymond Durgnat (1932 - 2002)

Lifespan: 1932 - 2002

Related: British literature - film criticism - British film

Eros in the Cinema (1966) - Raymond Durgnat [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

In a 1977 interview Durgnat said about Kyrou: "I didnít read very much film criticism until I started teaching film regularly around 1964! There wasnít much to read. I was very fond of the Ado Kyrou books." If Raymond Durgnat can be compared to some of the more exciting French film critics such as Ado Kyrou, his publishing house Calder and Boyars can be compared to that of Eric Losfeld's. [Jan 2007]

Influences: There are various people whom I read with interest because, whether I agree with them or not, thereís a genuine person speaking from a calibre of experience, not an automatic scanning mechanism. Iím thinking of Pauline Kael, who I rarely agree with; of Robin Wood, who I sometimes agree with; of Manny Farber. And Parker Tyler. At the other extreme, Iím very interested in certain theorists, particularly Jean Mitry and Edgar Morin. --Raymond Durgnat in a 1977 interview

WR - Mysteries of the Organism (1999) Raymond Durgnat [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The starting point for Dusan Makavejev's controversial and explicit film is Wilhelm Reich, the Marxist psychoanalyst who preached social improvement through sexual enlightenment. Reich is a maverick intellectual, sexual pioneer, and theorist of "Orgone energy," but also of "world revolution." By juxtaposing hippie America and Cold War Yugoslavia, Dusan Makavejev stages an encounter between psychotherapy and Marxism, sexual permissiveness and socialism. For Raymond Durgnat WR is an adventure playground that the film's spectators enter and interact with. It's intellectual cinema, and a film that prophesied the horror of the conflict in what is now the former Yugoslavia. --from the publisher


Raymond Durgnat (September 1, 1932 - May 19, 2002) was a distinctive and highly influential British film critic, who was born in London of Swiss parents. During his life he wrote for virtually every major English language film publication. In the 1950s, he wrote for Sight and Sound, but he later fell out with this British Film Institute publication, often accusing it of elitism, puritanism and upper-middle-class snobbery, notably in his 1963 essay "Standing Up For Jesus" (which appeared in the short-lived magazine Motion, with which he was strongly involved) and in his 1965 piece "Auteurs and Dream Factories". He did, however, return to write for another BFI publication, the Monthly Film Bulletin, in the years leading up to its demise in 1991.

Durgnat's socio-political approach - strongly supportive of the working classes and, almost as a direct result of this, American popular culture, and dismissive of Left-wing intellectuals who he accused of actually being petit-bourgeois conservatives in disguise, and dismissive of overt politicisation of film criticism, refusing to bring his own Left-wing views overtly into his writings on film - can best be described as "radical populist".

Durgnat's books include Films and Feelings (1967), A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Affluence (1970) and The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock (1974). He also wrote books on Luis Bunuel, Jean Renoir and King Vidor. A book on Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho was published posthumously. He wrote for Films and Filming, Movie, Time Out and Film Comment among many other publications, and often lectured on cinema at various academic institutions, notably as visiting professor at the University of East London towards the end of his life. Shortly before his death he was developing the website which now exists at http://www.durgnat.com . -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Durgnat [Nov 2005]


Raymond Durgnat was born in London on 1 September 1932, the second son of Swiss immigrants who ran a haberdashery shop. After reading English at Pembroke College, Cambridge, he worked briefly in the film industry as a story editor. In 1960 he became one of the first two research students at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, supervised by one of Britain's most important film directors and teachers, Thorold Dickinson. Dickinson was an influential film editor before becoming a film director; his most well-known feature films are the wartime The Next of Kin and The Queen of Spades. Durgnat was strongly influenced by Dickinson's emphasis on the way that advances in cinema style were dependent on developments in technology, and the ways in which both were related to changes in society.

His two years at the Slade, led to a flood of magazine articles, which laid the foundation for a wide-ranging series of books. Eros and the Cinema (1966), Films and Feelings (1967), the monographs Franju and Buñuel (both 1967), a study of Hollywood comedy The Crazy Mirror (1969) and his influential book on British cinema, A Mirror for England (1970).

Other publications followed, including Garbo (with John Kobal, 1965), Sexual Alienation in the Cinema (1972), King Vidor, American (co-authored with Scott Simmon, 1988) and two books still in print: WR Mysteries of the Organism (BFI 1999), and A Long Hard Look at Psycho (BFI 2002).

He energetically resisted the film theory of the 1970s and 1980s that dominated magazines such as Screen, seeing it as a weak derivative of Marxism. He had previously taught at St Martins School of Art, and returned to teaching at the Royal College of Art, later moving to Columbia and other North American Universities, and finally to the University of East London as Visiting Professor.

His death on 19 May 2002, coincided with the publication of A Long Hard Look at Psycho (BFI 2002), a detailed examination of Hitchcock's masterpiece, which is claimed to offer 'a reinvention of film studies'. Two volumes of his collected essays are in production at the BFI. His long-awaited book on Michael Powell was not completed. --http://durgnat.com/ [Sept 2004]

Violence in the Cinema (1963)

Found the below at my local second hand store: Motion 4 [Feb 1963], titled a 'Companion to Sadism and Violence in the Cinema,' includes entries by Durgnat on monsters, flagellation, leather, Barbara Steele, Elisha Cook Jr., Rififi and even William Wyler. --http://www.durgnat.com/mundy.html [May 2005]

subtitled: Companion to violence and sadism in the cinema.

Why do we devote an entire issue to violence and sadism?

Because they are there. --Raymond Durgnat, from the intro

Note: Lily Abegg, The Mind of East Asia (NewYork: Thames and Hudson, 1952)

see also: violent film

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