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CineAction (2007) - A Tribute to Robin Wood




Robin Wood has been with CineAction since the beginning — a crucial part of the founding editorial collective in 1985. Robin has retired as one of our editors but will continue as a regular contributor. As a tribute to Robin and his contributions to CineAction and to the study of film, we have collected the presentations at a panel which honoured him last year. The Film Studies Association of Canada held its annual conference at York University in Toronto in May, 2006. The Association hosted a tribute to Robin, who is professor emeritus at York where he began teaching film studies in 1977 and still teaches in the Graduate Program in Film. The panel was titled "The Anxiety of Influence — Robin Wood and Critical Film Studies." The session was the most popular of the conference, with over 100 in attendance.


The idea for planning a festschrift for Robin grew out of a conversation between former and current members of the CineAction editorial collective, congregated to celebrate twenty years of CineAction last Christmas. We deemed it was shocking that such a tribute, as of yet, had not been conferred. It was indeed the time. When alerted to the festschrift in-the-making, Robin's rejoinder, playing at miscomprehension, was "Do I need a fresh shirt?"

The panel of short responses assembled here chart the "Wood effect," the distinctive and diverse ways in which Robin's contribution to the field of film criticism has touched them. They speak to "the anxiety of influence," often crosshatching the personal and professional world we inhabit.

"Touch" is a key term here. For what under-girds Robin's outstanding prolific productivity, his extensive critical project, and I will leave the panelists to further more minute embellishment, is his enduring commitment to humanism. Robin's oft-mentioned debt to the work of F. R. Leavis, with its insistence on the primacy of the text and the moral imperative, I believe helped him to vigorously resist passing fashions in film analysis, be it linguistic turns or otherwise. At the same time Robin'scriticism grew with the field of film studies, fashioning select emerging models such as sexual politics or ideological critique to his own discerning regard for the film text. He stayed the humanist course, paradigm wars notwithstanding. This consistency, coupled with a steadfast regard for form, nuance and textual detail and disregard for lobbing totalizing theory onto a film, never resulted in reductive readings of films, fostering instead an eye for both "structures of feeling," and to use one of his favourite terms, the subversive.


I was deeply honoured to be asked to participate in this panel of tribute to Robin Wood.

I am very sorry not to be able to deliver my accolades and my thanks to Robin in person because Robin is a special person — a hugely special and important human being — and I want to be there with all of you to celebrate him. I am only sorry that my own chronic health problems have prevented me, at the last minute, from coming....

I met Robin Wood in 1978, if memory serves, while I was paving a chequered path at York, and feeling — despite all the political science and sociology and humanities classes that should have been great but weren't — like a fish out of water, I had signed up for a course on film and feminism more as pleasure, a break from all the dutiful analysis of the other courses. But I had no idea what to expect.

What I got — and it was a gift from the goddess — was the amazing, the brilliant, the funny, the incredibly handsome Robin Wood. From the first five minutes of the first class I was totally hooked, and I moved heaven and earth to make sure I attended every one of his classes faithfully — I was not a faithful attendee, I confess, at my others.

Robin's lectures — and beyond that his knowledge, his presence, his attitude to students, that was at once encouraging and demanding of a higher standard of thought and intelligence — were a heady tonic. And, lucky, lucky me, he seemed to value my contribution too. Indeed he valued it enough to befriend me and to encourage me to write about my thoughts on film. And then encouraged me to publish those thoughts.

I had certainly written things before — articles for Marxist newspapers, essays, the usual things — but those had seemed like duties, prose to be churned out, full of admonition and analysis but lacking altogether in joy. Suddenly, writing for Robin, my fingers were flying on the keyboard, ideas were tumbling out like miracles, and I thought "holy cow, this is what writing is supposed to be like, this is great, maybe I'll even be a writer!"

In other words, the pleasure of my mind's engagement with the ideas, the approaches and the personality that Robin brought to the study of film animated my whole being. Truly. And it is no exaggeration to say now that I can look back on almost thirty years — yikes! — and say that his support, encouragement and brilliance had ev...

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