For many Film & TV students at Warwick, Victor Perkins really was the grand fromage. As the man who quite literally wrote the book on Film Studies, his word was considered sacrosanct - even when claiming that a British Transport short from the 1950s represented the pinnacle of cinematic composition and editing. Who else, for example, could get away with handing out a review of Kiarostami’s Through the Olive Trees on the first day of study with the immortal words: “Do take a read - but please bear in mind that, as a piece of criticism, I consider it utterly disgraceful” with quite as much class? Who else could post a one-line review of Road to Perdition on his office door (stating simply that “Sam Mendes could not direct a hamster round a wheel”) while having the moxie to attribute the quote to himself?
A significant proportion of my undergraduate years were spent amusing myself by attempting to cajole Victor into admitting a secret love of ‘low’ art – I’ll never forget the time I implored him to nominate either Uncle Buck, Robocop or There’s Something About Mary as his favourite film of all-time (“The Farrelly Brothers? I’m afraid I’m not familiar with their work”). When he later admitted to a fondness for South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, I considered this nothing short of triumphant vindication for my dogged persistence.
Taking up work in the Students’ Union at Warwick after graduating, I would bump into him periodically on campus for a brief bit of back-and-forth. Whether it was debating the relative merits of Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique or saluting his prize dogs with the line “Nice hounds you have there, Victor”, this was invariably a source of passing joy. (“Yes they are”, he replied to that particular accolade; “Yes they are”). “What are you still doing here?!”, he once asked me, some years after his own official retirement – to which I countered: “I might ask you much the same question, sir…!”
Indeed, despite disagreeing with him on just about everything (as if Kieslowski is “unspeakably pretentious”! As if The Magnificent Ambersons is a better movie than Citizen Kane!) my memories of Victor are invariably fond. I still smile at the image of him stretched out in his office chair, hands laced behind his head as he meticulously excoriated my latest critical theory (he never did seem to be buying my contention – albeit provocatively formulated, just to wind him up a bit – that Naturalism represents the purest form of visual and emotional expression). With the benefit of hindsight – not to mention a recent re-read of my spurious attempt to justify the existence of Larry Clark’s Kids – he was, of course, invariably correct.
Let’s face it, there aren’t many people who can claim to have practically invented an entire academic discipline singlehandedly – not least penned the text which will surely inform its study for future generations. More to the point, the international viewing public already knows this, even if they think they don’t – there’s an exchange between two characters in Extras about the virtues of Ozu and Mizoguchi which you just know Stephen Merchant (and ex-student of Victor’s) stuck in there in tribute.
He came, he saw, he conquered – and he played a mean game of pinball in the bargain (a fact which never ceased to cause amusement to his latest cohort of students when he was spotted jockeying the SU machines between seminars). Ultimately though, it seems only fitting to turn over the last words to his beloved Marlene Dietrich, who so astutely noted at the end of Touch of Evil: “He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?”
BA Film & Literature 2000-2003
MA Film & Television 2003-2004