I was saddened this morning to hear of the week old death of great film essayist Robin Wood, news which either wasn’t widely reported online or I just didn’t stumble across by virtue of a busy workload.
Wood died of leukemia, aged 78, with his long time partner Richard Lippe at his side at their home in Toronto.
Wood’s writings on Alfred Hitchcock helped, and greatly inspired my own essays during my university years studying “the master of suspense”. My personal summations on Rear Window and Psycho were really born out of Wood’s encouragement to look deeper at Hitch, to see things below the surface and to note that nothing in a Hitchcock movie was present out of coincidence.
Indeed, his greatest strength as a writer besides his elegant prose style was his ability to make you question everything in a Hitchcock movie; why this, why that, and once you began to do that, Hitchcock’s movies became so incredibly easy to read because he intended the viewer to think that way. The deeper you looked into his movies, the more rewarding they often became.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like writing about Hitchcock in the 1960s, at a time when the world saw him as nothing more than a light-hearted folly, as a mainstream entertainer whose works delighted many but weren’t thought to be all that. Wood put his balls on the line but by doing so, sped up the process of the now global admiration for one of the true legends of cinema, and whose works will outlive each and every one of us, and 90% of the films made today.
Curiously, for such an supporter of Hitch and for a guy who made his name initially by writing about his admiration for Psycho, on his death-bed last week, when a sudden urge came to Wood to write down his Top Ten Movies of All Time, a kind of last essay of “this is what I really thought, remember me for this list”, he didn’t choose one Hitchcock movie. Not one.
Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, nothing.
He instead chose Rio Bravo as his top movie of all time, which wasn’t much of a surprise given his past writings on Hawks.
Jeff Wells, who pointed me towards Wood’s final ten, has a theory on Wood’s top choice…
Wood chose Rio Bravo, I suspect, because he was facing the void and he wanted warmth in his heart — he wanted to feel closer to others and selected a film that has always made him feel this. He chosen a community solidarity film over a solitary strength film.
Other movies he choose were Sansho Dayo, Tokyo Story, The Seven Samurai, Angel Face and others. Robert Mitchum’s Angel Face is a very unusual choice and God knows I love classic film noir as much as anyone but he chose that over Notorious?