Raymond Durgnat  

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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.

With the filmmaker Don Levy he was one of the first post-graduate students of film in Britain, studying under Thorold Dickinson (director of 'Gaslight' and 'The Next of Kin) at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1960. His views on the academicization of film study were always complicated.

In the 1950s, he had written for Sight and Sound, but he later fell out with this British Film Institute publication after the exit of Gavin Lambert, 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.

In the mid-'60s he was a major player in the nascent London Film-Makers' Co-operative (LFMC), then based at Better Books off Charing Cross Road, a hub of the emerging British 'underground'. As the counterculture turned left and, simultaneously, sought state funding for its activities, Durgnat looked to the past in major works on film style ('Images of the Mind', 1968-9), Hitchcock, and Renoir.

In the late 1970s he taught film in California alongside Manny Farber, Jean-Pierre Gorin and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Returning to the UK at the close of the decade, he launched a series of withering assaults on the linguistics-based film theory that had come to dominate the young film academia over the previous decade.

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 Buñuel, Jean Renoir, Georges Franju, 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.


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