1 September 1932|
|Died||19 May 2002
|Alma mater||Pembroke College, Cambridge, Slade School of Fine Art|
Raymond Durgnat (1 September 1932 – 19 May 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.
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, Oz 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.
Durgnat was born in 1932 to Swiss parents who had emigrated to England in 1924. Durgnat's family was of French Huguenot descent, and he was raised in a religious Calvinist household. Durgnat's father worked as a window dresser but lost his job in 1932; afterwards, he opened a drapery shop.
As a young man, Durgnat spent two years in the national service serving in the Education Corps in Hong Kong, then still part of the British Empire. After leaving the army, he studied English at Pembroke College, Cambridge. With the filmmaker Don Levy, Durgnat became 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.
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 in 1957, 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, and contributed to Sight and Sound again later in the 1990s.
In the mid-'60s he was a major player in the nascent London Film-Makers' Co-op (LFMC), then based at Better Books off Charing Cross Road, a hub of the emerging British 'underground'. As the counter-culture 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 at the University of California, San Diego 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".
- Nouvelle Vague: The First Decade A Motion Monograph, London, 1963, 102 pages
- Greta Garbo Studio Vista/Dutton Pictureback, New York, 1965, reprinted 1967, 1970, 160 pages
- Eros in the Cinema Calder and Boyars, London, 1966, 207 pages
- Films and Feelings The MIT Press, Cambridge; Faber and Faber, London 1967, 288 pages
- Franju University of California Press, Berkeley, 1968, 144 pages
- Luis Buñuel University of California Press, Berkeley, 1968, 152 pages
- Children of Albion: Poetry of the "Underground" in Britain (poem: “Scrap Iron”), Penguin, Baltimore, 1969, 384 pages
- Samuel Fuller (essay “China Gate”) Edinburgh Film Festival, Edinburgh, 1969, 128 pages
- The Films of Robert Bresson Praeger, New York, 1969, 144 pages
- The Crazy Mirror: Hollywood Comedy and the American Image Horizon Press, New York, 1970, 280 pages, ISBN 978-0-8180-0701-9
- A Mirror for England: British Movies From Austerity to Affluence Faber and Faber, London 1970, 394 pages, ISBN 978-1-84457-453-7
- Sexual Alienation in the Cinema: the dynamics of sexual freedom Studio Vista, London, 1972, 320 pages, ISBN 978-0-289-70261-1
- The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock The MIT Press, Cambridge; Faber and Faber, London 1974, 419 pages, ISBN 978-0-262-04041-9 / ISBN 978-0-571-09966-5
- Jean Renoir The University of California Press, Berkeley, 1974, 429 pages, ISBN 978-0-520-02283-6
- Durgnat on Film Faber and Faber, London, 1976, 238 pages, ISBN 978-0-571-10656-1
- Luis Buñuel University of California Press, Berkeley, 1977, 176 pages, ISBN 978-0-520-03424-2
- Michael Powell, Pressburger and Others BFI Publishing, London, 1978, 124 pages, ISBN 978-0-85170-086-1 (Essay in collection)
- King Vidor, American The University of California Press, Berkeley, 1988, 382 pages, ISBN 978-0-520-05798-2
- Michael Powell and English Genius Taylor & Francis Group, London, 1992, ISBN 978-0-415-03373-2
- WR: Mysteries of the Organism BFI Publishing, distributed by The University of California Press, Berkeley, 1999, 96 pages, ISBN 978-0-85170-720-4
- A Long Hard Look at "Psycho" BFI Publishing, distributed by The University of California Press, Berkeley, 2002, 248 pages, ISBN 978-0-85170-920-8
- Raymond Durgnat: Prolific film critic contemptuous of his trade's doctrinal theories.
- ,"UEL HSS".
- "Culture Always is a Fog:" Interview with Raymond Durgnat. Rouge.
- Raymond Durgnat Standing Up For Jesus, Motion, No. 6, Autumn 1963 as reproduced on the lightsleepercine website.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan. They Drive by Night: The Criticism of Manny Farber.
- Raymond Durgnat, a site dedicated to introducing and archiving Durgnat's work.
- A Raymond Durgnat Bibliography (A descriptive, illustrated bibliography of the work of noted film critic) Cinemonkey.com
- A tribute to the late Raymond Durgnat By Henry K Miller, Vertigo magazine, Vol.2 No.4 - Spring 2003
- ‘Culture Always is a Fog’ - an interview that took place in mid to late 1977, when Raymond Durgnat was a visiting professor in the Critical Studies program of the Film Department at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), published in the e-film journal Rouge.com
- Durgnat on Bells are ringing
- Critic who carved out new territory in the study of film Obituary by Charles Barr — The Independent, Saturday, 25 May 2002
- "Raymond Durgnat," an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum, originally written for Film Comment in 1973, now with an Afterword written in 2002.