Richard W. Dyer (born 1945) is an English academic specialising in cinema. As of 2006 he is Professor of Film Studies at King's College London and the University of St. Andrews. Previously he was at the University of Warwick. His work is described as "emphasising the aesthetic and historical specificity of cultural texts"
Born in Leeds, Dyer studied French at the University of St Andrew's and worked in the theatre before studying for a PhD in English at the University of Birmingham's Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
He was an active and influential figure in the English Gay Liberation Front and regularly contributed to the journal Gay Left. Dyer’s article ‘In Defence of Disco’ in Gay Left (1979), was one of the first to take disco seriously as an expression of the new gay consciousness.
Stars (1979) was Dyer's first full-length book. In it he developed the idea that the viewers' perception of a film is heavily influenced by the perception of its stars, and that publicity materials and reviews determine the way that audiences experience the film. With this thesis in mind, Dyer analysed critics' writing, magazines, and advertising and the films themselves, to explore the significance of stardom, with particular reference to Marlon Brando, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Jane Fonda, Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford, Joan Crawford and John Wayne.
In Only Entertainment, Dyer's second book, he asserted that film studies had become rich in the "but also" approach to studying entertainment: in which the analyst claims that, while an aspect of a film is entertaining, it is also something else — the something else being the real focus of the analysis. Dyer complained that "Time and again, we are not told why Westerns are exciting, why horror films horrify, why weepies make us cry, but instead are told that, while they are exciting, horrifying and tear-jerking, the films also deal with history, society, psychology, gender roles, indeed the meaning of life." He suggested that there were other informative ways to study "entertainment." With typical metaconsciousness, he describes the sugar on the pill approach (in which entertainment is the sugar and ideology the pill) in which he notes that defining entertainment itself as an ideology is "sugaring the pill". His particular enthusiasm, however, was reserved for "conceptualizing radical pleasure." Such pleasure is without misgiving; it is an "unruly delight". He acknowledged that there was real pleasure to be had from material that was ideologically irresponsible; that there is still room for hedonism.
In 1993 the British Film Institute (BFI) commissioned Dyer to write a book about the 1945 film Brief Encounter as part of its BFI Modern Classics series. He emphasised the gay sensibility of the film, analysing the source of this impression in a way that reached beyond the popular assumption that this flowed from the film's association with Noël Coward as its scriptwriter.
In 1999 the British Film Institute (BFI) commissioned Dyer to write a book about David Fincher's 1995 film Seven as part of its BFI Modern Classics series. Dyer adopted the conceit of breaking his analysis into seven S-titled sections: sin, story, structure, seriality, sound, sight, and salvation. He explored the film's use of the seven deadly sins, its own conscious structure and the nature of serial killing in earlier films. Despite this focus on sin and death, Dyer responded to the film on an entirely experiential level, making no comment on its relevance to the viewers morality.
Dyer's essay 'White', which first appeared in Screen magazine, was expanded to become a book. This continued Dyer's theme of categorisation. He argues that "white culture" has so established itself as a norm as to become invisible and that "coloured" cultural entities are defined in terms of their differences from the "white".
Dyer has appeared in several television documentaries. He talked about Alma Cogan in Alma Cogan: The Girl with the Giggle In Her Voice (1991). In 1995 he contributed his opinions to the television documentary The Celluloid Closet, a history of depictions of lesbians and gay men in American films, which was first screened in the UK on Channel 4 on 5 September 1996. Five years later when the documentary was released on DVD, unused material was edited together to form a one-hour show entitled Rescued From the Closet.
Although Dyer's academic specialism is film, he has a wider interest in culture and in the way that people are categorised. His 2001 book The Culture of Queers was a general history of the culture of gay men. He had explored aspects of this — like the origins of the application of the word 'gay' to this culture — in earlier essays. In the book he looked at the more general issue of a sexual grouping having an identifiable culture and at the relatively small set of stereotypes associated with that culture as portrayed in its arts and media. Specifically, he uses "queer culture" to indicate the values of that grouping before "gay culture" took hold, and the book explores the ways in which these two cultures differ.
In 2007, Dyer was the recipient of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies' lifetime achievement award.
- Richard Dyer (ed.), Gays and Film (London: British Film Institute, 1977) ISBN 0-85170-065-9
- Richard Dyer, Stars (London: British Film Institute, 1979; 1998, 2nd ed.) ISBN 0-85170-643-6
- Richard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society (London: British Film Institute, 1986; Routledge, 2003, 2nd ed.) ISBN 0-415-31026-1
- Richard Dyer, Now You See It: Historical Studies on Lesbian and Gay Film (London: Routledge, 1990; 2003, 2nd ed.) ISBN 0-415-25499-X
- Richard Dyer, Only Entertainment (London: Routledge, 1992; 2002, 2nd ed.) ISBN 0-415-25496-5
- Richard Dyer, The Matter of Images (London: Routledge, 1993; 2002, 2nd ed.) ISBN 0-415-25495-7
- Richard Dyer, Brief Encounter (London: British Film Institute, 1993) ISBN
- Richard Dyer, 'Fashioning Change: Gay Men's Style' in Angelka Mason and Emma Healey, Stonewall 25: Making of the Gay Community in Britain (London: Virago, 1994) ISBN 1-85381-772-4
- Richard Dyer, White: Essays on Race and Culture (London: Routledge, 1997) ISBN 0-415-09536-0
- Richard Dyer, Seven (London: British Film Institute, 1999) ISBN 0-85170-723-8
- Richard Dyer, 'Introduction' in John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson (eds.), Film Studies: Critical Approaches, (Oxford: Oxford University, 2000) ISBN 0-19-874280-0. Dyer was also a member of the book's Advisory Board.
- John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson (eds.), World Cinema: Critical Approaches, (Oxford: Oxford University, 2000) ISBN 0-19-874282-7. Dyer was a member of the book's Advisory Board.
- Richard Dyer, The Culture of Queers (London: Routledge, 2001) ISBN 0-415-22376-8
- Richard Dyer, 'Idol Thoughts: Orgasm and Self-Reflexivity in Gay Pornography' in Pamela Church Gibson (ed.), More Dirty Looks: Gender, Pornography and Power. (London: British Film Institute, 2004.) ISBN 0-85170-936-2
- Richard Dyer, Pastiche (London: Routledge, 2007) ISBN 0-415-34009-8
- Richard Dyer, Nino Rota, Music and Film (forthcoming)
- "University of St Andrews-Professor Richard Dyer". Retrieved 10 September 2013.
- Gay Left 1970s issue.
- Benedict, David. (29 March 2005) London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival Has Fake Cary, Thai Boxer. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved 25 January 2006.
- Swan, Deryck. Seven (BFI Modern Classics) by Richard Dyer. kamera.co.uk. Retrieved 26 January 2006
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- Richard Dyer at the IKKM, Weimar
- The Celluloid Closet at the Internet Movie Database
- Alma Cogan: The Girl with the Giggle In Her Voice at the Internet Movie Database
- Rescued From the Closet at the Internet Movie Database