Skip to main content Skip to navigation

William Rothman

It was in 1974 or 1975 that Kitty Morgan, my wife, and I first met Victor. He stayed with us for a couple of nights at our apartment in Brooklyn Heights, from which I could ride my bicycle over the Brooklyn Bridge to NYU, where I was an Assistant professor in the Cinema Studies Department. With Film as Film behind him, Victor was in New York to collaborate with Nicholas Ray on the screenplay that I hope will soon see the light of day. Film as Film had made a strong impression on me, but I’m not sure how much Victor knew about me, since Hitchcock: The Murderous Gaze was still a few years away. Perhaps from the essay on Notorious that I had recently published. Or perhaps through David Helpern, a good friend, who was shooting a documentary about (and with) Ray. In any case, Victor and I (and Kitty, too) really hit it off. We talked for hours and hours, mostly about films and directors and how to write about them.

We next saw Victor a few years later—how many years, I’m not sure—when we stayed at his home in Reading, where he was teaching. Over the next few years, we saw him in London. Then in Cambridge Massachusetts, when I was teaching at Harvard (having been granted my reprieve from NYU). Then again in London. In 1991 or 1992 he stayed with us for a few days at our home in Miami, where I have been teaching ever since. That visit was especially memorable, since we spent a day in the Everglades, where we took him to see the old Smallwood store and other locations that figure in Ray’s Wind Across the Everglades (a troubled production, but nonetheless a film in which his genius shines through). All day, our conversation never strayed far from Nicholas Ray.

In the past dozen years or so, Kitty and I saw Victor more frequently. In Kitty’s view, and I can see her point, life is too short to let a year go by without spending a week or two in the Cotswolds. Warwickshire rates almost as highly. Spending at least an afternoon together every summer was a great pleasure we all looked forward to. Twice he invited me to lecture at the University of Warwick. Two summers he met us, attired in wellies and full hiking regalia, at the North Farmcote Bed and Breakfast, with its incomparable view of the Malverns and the distant Welsh hills. Other summers we met in London, in Oxford, in Bristol, and in St Albans. (Kitty sings with the Anglican Chorale of South Florida, which one summer was a guest choir at the St St Albans Cathedral. Victor not only met us after Evensong at the church entrance—a little too close to a church for comfort, he made clear—he actually went inside, if only for a moment—a true testament to friendship.)

Of course, our conversations with Victor were always intellectually challenging. He set a high standard. His critical intelligence was second to none. And he took an interest in other people’s interests, whatever they might be. He always called things as he saw them. If there was a point of disagreement, he wanted you to stick to your guns, but to do so you really had to think. And you had to try to be as scrupulously honest, as straightforward, as he always was. But it was in those times we got together in England during the summer that Kitty and I came fully to appreciate how warm and generous a person, and how full of surprises, Victor really was. And how courageous, as he fought back so valiantly, and with such great success, to regain his health after his close brush with death.

But courage had always been part of what made Victor so special. Perhaps what struck us most at the beautiful and moving memorial tribute was the fact that the qualities we saw in Victor, and valued, everyone who knew him saw, and valued. That he was positively the same guy to all who knew him is a measure of his integrity. He had principles. In keeping faith with his principles, he paid a price. For many years, he was painfully aware that the field of film studies, in the name of what it called “theory,” was losing sight of the value of criticism, hence was unwilling or unable to acknowledge the value of his work. In his writing and in his teaching, though, he soldiered on. And the victory was his. By the last few years of his life, the UK film studies community was in large part populated by scholars who were Victor’s former students or students of his former students, or who wish they had been his students, all of whom, it seems to us, love him as a person and strove to emulate his work. He no longer had good reason to feel unacknowledged. And since he was neither cynical nor perverse, but remained an honest Devonshire lad at heart, this made him happy.