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.
In 1992, Jarmo Valkola, the Finnish academic, made a documentary in London, Images of the Mind - Cinematic Visions by Raymond Durgnat, which offers an introduction to Durgnat's appreciation of the nature of cinema. We are grateful to Dr Valkola for permission to publish the work here.
Raymond Durgnat was one of the first post-graduate students of film in Britain, studying at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1960 (along with filmmaker Don Levy and the writer Charles Barr) under Thorold Dickinson(Gaslight, The Next of Kin, and The Queen of Spades).
In the 1950s, he wrote for Sight and Sound, but came to think of it as elitist, puritanical and snobbish, notably attacking its approach to cinema in "Standing Up For Jesus" and "Auteurs and Dream Factories"(1963 and 1965 respectively). It was more than thirty years before he wrote for it again.
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 in California 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, he can best be described as "radical populist".
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 Psycho was published just before his death. He wrote for Films and Filming, Movie, Time Out, Oz and Film Comment among many other publications, and lectured at many academic institutions in Britain and America. He was Visiting Professor at the University of East London.
“Raymond Durgnat was one of the founding fathers of Film Studies in Britain. Throughout his life he was a prolific and indefatigable reviewer and essayist. His book- length studies (notable among them A Mirror for England, The Crazy Mirror, Films and Feelings and Eros in the Cinema) remain foundation texts for the discipline.”
[Durgnat] “knows almost as much about the screen image as I do.”
“I wanted to be a critic like Raymond Durgnat of Films & Filming”
“Raymond Durgnat, the Colonel Blimp of film criticism, wheeled out by the journalistic Establishment to discredit film theory”
“R.D., the combine harvester of film interpretation”.
“Paul Schrader cited & embraced Durgnat’s analysis..”
Copyright © 2011 The Estate of Raymond Durgnat (Kevin Gough-Yates). All rights reserved. Photographs are copyright their respective rights-holders.