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Alex Jacoby

I read “V.F. Perkins” long before I knew “Victor Perkins”. As a teenager, Film as Film was one of the first serious books of film criticism I read. In those days I was just beginning to explore the breadth of what had been thought and written about films; some scholarship bored and alienated me; some left me unpersuaded. But V.F. Perkins made an immediate impression, as, a year or so before, had Robin Wood. Even then, I suppose, I may have detected a certain similarity in approach, though it was not until some time later that I realised that they had been colleagues and friends, that both had taught at Warwick. It was by accident that I ended up myself studying film at Warwick; only a career move by my supervisor, Alastair Phillips, carried me there from Reading. But it was a happy accident, and I was glad amongst other things to put a face to the name on the cover of Film as Film.

By the time I arrived at Warwick as a doctoral student at the beginning of 2007, Victor was officially retired. Yet he was still a vital and active presence on campus. He never taught me, although he did serve as internal examiner of my PhD thesis – an experience which he made gentler and more affirmative than I felt it had any right to be. I was the more flattered because I had learned by then, over the course of numerous conversations, that he could be formidable, though never aggressive, in argument. It was not that he was always right; like every critic, he had his prejudices and his blind spots. But you could not disagree with him lightly, for you felt sure that he would have a more exact memory of the details of a film, and a surer grasp of its significance. Whether or not I agreed with his opinions, I was confident that he had good reasons for them, and even when we disagreed, his observations made me see a film more clearly. Often I ended up finding myself changing my mind, at least a little, in response.

But one of my most vivid memories of Victor is what may have the only time when I think that I persuaded him to change his mind, at least a little. I had nominated a film – Miklos Jancso's My Way Home – for screening at the campus film club, where Victor, I think, was a more regular attendee than any of the students. I admired the film and hoped that, since it was perhaps Jancso's most classical work, he might do likewise; but I was not entirely surprised when he did not. Afterwards, he complained about what he saw as the film's laboured symbolism. He homed in particularly on the climactic scene: the Hungarian hero's friend, a Russian soldier, is seriously wounded; the hero runs down to the road to find a doctor; the doctor returns with him, only to the find that the Russian is now dead. All this, Victor complained, merely to signal the meaning of death. No, I replied; the important thing is, precisely, the effort the hero goes to in order to find the doctor; and what it shows is his devotion to his friend. Victor thought for a moment or two and then nodded. I don't suppose I persuaded him to like the film, but I was proud to think that, for once, it was I who had helped him see it more clearly.