Having read Film as Film and other work of Victor’s, all of which meant a great deal to me, I first met him in the mid-1980s when he came to Harvard University at Stanley Cavell’s invitation to give a talk – on, if you can believe it, Nicholas Ray. A group of us went out for drinks and dinner after the talk. Victor was a fiery figure at that point, and his enthusiasm for film, critical sharpness, and impatience with cant impressed and excited all of us.
In later years, I saw Victor repeatedly at film conferences – London, Edinburgh, Boston, Chicago – and there was always conviviality: meals, conversation, walks taken around the cities, sometimes just the two of us, sometimes a group. Victor had lost none of his sharpness and passion, but had developed a certain new tolerant, ironic, gentle quality. There was a twinkle about him – more than ever, it seemed, a love of life and enjoyment of people.
The last time I saw him was in Chicago not so long ago, which was cold; and every night after conference events and dinner Victor would gamely pull up the hood of his parka and set off to walk to his hotel a mile away. That was also the last time I saw our late friend Gilberto Perez. My wife, Katherine Kimball, and I toured the Art Institute with Gil, who liked to stop in front of every painting and have a discussion. Meanwhile, Victor had gone to see the stage production Book of Mormon, where, he said, he laughed till he cried. On the final afternoon of the conference I’m afraid Victor, Gil, and I rather hogged discussion at a session on Terrence Malick – what do certain camera movements actually do, what effect does the music have, whether or not one can identify its source…?
A bit earlier, in Boston, there was a merry round table (literally) at a Persian restaurant in my neighborhood, where Victor, Gil, and I, plus George Toles and William Rothman dined and talked for two or three hours about film – Victor’s submission of ten films for the Sight and Sound poll for greatest films; the value of Howard Hawks (George, being a romantic, didn’t care for Hawks and so provoked others to defend him); the effectiveness of Nora Grégor as Christine in Rules of the Game (Victor and others were doubtful, I extolled her); and so on. The next day, Victor was at my apartment and we were watching a bit of Vertigo on the computer screen—the first scene in Midge’s apartment, where she (Barbara Bel Geddes) helps Scottie/Jimmy Stewart gradually go up the stair-steps to try to overcome his fear of heights. Victor looked hard at it and somewhat shocked me by saying, “She’s playing 'fag-hag' to him.” It was a shrewd perception, and I realized only later that it jibed with an essay I had been working on that focuses on ambiguity of sexual identity in the relationship of Scottie with Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak), who can look rather like a boy in drag… Soon, with Katherine, and Gil again, and now Gil’s wife, and sometime film scholar, Diane Stevenson, we departed to Beacon Hill Bistro for an even better meal than at the Persian restaurant—all was pleasure. At that point there was more to look forward to with Victor, and Gil. I am sorry there is not now. I miss them both.