Thursday, July 07, 2011

R.I.P. - Bob Sklar

Film Historian Robert Sklar, 1936-2011
I was deeply saddened this morning to receive the news that respected film historian Robert Sklar died on July 2, 2011 as a result of injuries sustained in a bicycling accident in Barcelona.

Bob is best known for his book Movie Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies, which was one of the key texts in establishing film studies as a serious discipline. Prior to Bob's book, most film history texts were largely anecdotal in nature, and few seriously attempted to place film in a broader historical and cultural context. Bob showed how Hollywood film not only reflected the society in which it was produced, but more importantly how it could also serve as a catalyst and shaper of values and attitudes within that society. It's a work of penetrating genius, and remains a standard text in the field that has influenced generations of film historians and others who seek to take film seriously.

I was a student of Bob's at NYU in the 1990s, where he taught in the Department of Cinema Studies for 33 years. My own dissertation was a much feebler attempt to make sense of American musical films of the 1930s by placing them in a broader social, cultural and historical context. I would not have even been able to think seriously about the subject in this context were it not for the model provided by Bob's own pioneering efforts in the field, and I was honored when Bob agreed to serve as a reader on my dissertation committee.

Bob's advice, and more importantly his support, were critical to my being able to complete a tough and thankless task, and I will be forever indebted to him for that. I was extremely grateful for every second that Bob allowed me to pick his brilliant mind. Despite his brilliance, Bob was an warm and approachable person, and he always took what I had to say seriously, even when he disagreed with me. 

My deepest sympathies go out to Bob's wife Adrienne, his entire family, as well as the many former students who I know Bob remained close to.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had Robert Sklar in his 'American Cinema of the 1950s' class at NYU in Spring 1996- my final semester as an undergraduate. He was a fine teacher- knowledgable, warm, approachable with a unique teaching style. I did my paper on "All That Heaven Allows" and got a "B" for my troubles, which was a fair result.
RIP Professor Sklar- one of the great film academics, at the best university in the world for film study.

Andrew Kay, Class of 1996- Cinema Studies and Sociology.