No snob: This criticism welcome at UVA
When you're a noted scholar whose books are helping to shape film theory, it might be easy to rest on your laurels and bask in the glow of emeritus professor-hood. But Robert Kolker, 64, is keeping busy in his "retirement."
Now teaching at UVA, he's about to publish his ninth book. He admits he hopes that his forthcoming Oxford Handbook for Media Studies will become a professional reference book. With the avalanche of praise for his previous books and his own electronic adventurism, that's a distinct possibility.
The Washington Post Book World called Kolker's history of '70s Hollywood, A Cinema of Loneliness, "the best book on contemporary American film that we have or are likely to have for some time." Vanity Fair's Film Snob's Dictionary, Vol. 2 dubs Kolker's 1983 book, The Altering Eye, a "must-have."
But Kolker's no book snob. After The Altering Eye went out of print, he put the whole thing– plus several digital film clips– online (otal.umd.edu/~rkolker/AlteringEye/). And if snobbery means turning up one's nose at teaching, again Kolker's innocent.
Now in his second semester at UVA, he teaches a course called "Four American Directors: Scorsese, Stone, Fincher, Kubrick" with an enrollment of 70 students.
Even the Virginia Film Festival counts him an unofficial advisor. Last year, he taught a course related to the Festival's "Speed" theme. Already this year, says Festival director Richard Herskowitz, "he just gave me some great ideas for guests."
Kolker grew up in Astoria, Queens– appropriately, near the current site of the Museum of the Moving Image. While working on his MA at Syracuse, he frequented a local art theater where he saw director Luis Bunuel's films and noticed that movies have "an author, who is consistent throughout his or her work," he says, describing the then-new "auteur theory" of film.
Next, Columbia University sent Kolker to read at the British Museum and watch films at the National Film Theatre at night. He recalls it as a marvelous time to be a film student. "There was a film culture in the '60s," he recalls, "love of film, delight in film."
When asked to name his favorite filmmakers, Kolker mentions some obvious choices: Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Lumet, as well as some others Blockbuster doesn't stock: Germans Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog.
One of Kolker's subjects who became a fan of his writing is Oliver Stone. "Although I never met Stone personally," he says, "he has been very helpful. He liked the third edition of A Cinema of Loneliness enough to buy a number of copies to give to people. He also was helpful in securing material for the second edition of Film, Form, and Culture."
Kolker enjoys Charlottesville, which he calls a "very comfortable place." Before arriving at UVA, Kolker taught film at the University of Maryland for 30 years (where he holds the emeritus title), and later held a distinguished chair at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
"It's a wonderful career," Kolker beams. "You get to teach and you get to write. What could be better?"
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO