Victor was my friend and mentor from the late 1970s, when I lived a short walk away from him in Leamington Spa (and occasionally babysat for Toby and Polly) to the time of his death. He was an hospitable neighbour and magnanimous friend. It is difficult for me to find words to describe what he meant to me, since his own example of choosing precisely the right form of words to capture both meaning and subtleties of tone is too daunting to attempt to emulate. In Victor’s writing, language mirrored its object so aptly that it is scarcely possible to paraphrase him without losing the delicate intelligence of his insights, as well as his affinity with the seemingly ineffable filmic moments he somehow caught – texture and all - in the words he wove.
He once told me that he intensely disliked exclamation marks, doing his best to discourage my tendency to overexploit them. I presume they were simply too facile an evocation of unearned emotion, too false and lazy a critical resort. He also disliked some authors’ proneness to use the acknowledgment pages of their books to name-drop or otherwise display their egos by cheap cleverness, sometimes at others’ expense. He was a perfectionist in all of his published work, which could lead to long delays in his submitting pieces to edited collections such as those produced by the Movie collective, while someone like myself who was punctual to a fault, perhaps because of an immodest desire to propel myself into print too quickly, fell far short in the final result.
There are many stories about Victor, some of which are legendary. Apparently, when he was writing Film as Film at one end of a room while his then-wife Tessa was hard at work at the other end, she turned to see him staring off into space for what seemed an age. When she asked him what he was doing, he purportedly replied with a dreamy expression on his face: “I’m thinking about the reviews.” [I was tempted to put an exclamation mark in here, but I will honour Victor’s memory by leaving it out. I suppose Victor’s voice will always be in my ear.] Victor was the critic I most admired. His measured praise – “Interesting” was typically as far as it went, though that was enough – would make my day, whereas his gentle admonishments – “Deborah, you surprise me” – would send me back to the drawing board in unseemly haste. Regardless of the exact nature of his reactions, however, he gifted his friends with the generosity of his full attention and made each of us feel uniquely valued. He enriched my life, and I shall miss him.