A little before Christmas, the film critic and scholar Robin Wood died.
When I was a graduate student, I pursued film study as a secondary field of interest--I do have a few scholarly essays on film to my credit--and Robin Wood became something of an ideal for me as a film critic. He seemed to me to combine an appropriate degree of scholarly seriousness with a sufficiently lively writing style that his books and essays could engage both professional students of film and non-scholarly readers with a simple curiosity about film and filmmaking.
Numerous film blogs have paid homage to Wood, most of them focusing on his books about Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks. I would like to especially commend Wood's essays on the horror film, many of them collected in Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan (1986). In particular, Wood's notion of the "return of the repressed" provides an invaluable conceptual scheme by which to understand horror films. According to Wood:
One might say that the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses, its reemergence dramatized, as in our nightmares, as an object of horror, a matter for terror, and the happy ending (when it exists) typically signifying the restoration of repression.
No other explanation of the appeal of horror provides such a useful tool for what Wood calls a "comprehensive survey of horror film monsters from German Expressionism on."
Wood belonged to that initial cohort of film critics, starting in the 1960s, who elevated film to a respectable position among the other arts , as well as film criticism itself to a level equal (at least potentially) to literary criticism. Current film critics owe their status and influence to critics like Robin Wood, and they could do worse than attempt to emulate his approach.