Alexander Walker

Jaap Mees

Talking Pictures alias






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Whatever you think of Alexander Walker, you have to acknowledge that he was an accessible, entertaining and razor sharp film critic. This Nestor of the film-journalists, who wrote about film for the Evening Standard for over 43 years, died this week aged 73 (born 23 March 1930, died on 15 July 2003).

His reviewing was recognised three times with the British Press Award for Best Critic and he wrote 20 books on cinema from star biographies on amongst others Peter Sellers, Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn, to The Shattered Silence, a key text book still used in American film-schools today. 

Alexander Walker was very passionate and knowledgeable about film and wasn’t afraid  of speaking his mind, even if it was against the grain of public opinion. Sometimes he carried on a bit too far and this made him not always very popular. He acknowledged this himself in an interview I had with him for Talking Pictures in 1998 (when I get a chance I'll post this on the website - Nigel).

Walker: “ I have been told by people, that when I write that a film is wonderful, they are not going to see it and vice versa.” 

He began as a critic in an original way. When he saw a film during World War II in Belfast with his mother, her glasses got broken, so he had to tell her what happened in the film, so started his reviewing career. 

Some more quotes from my interview with him: 

Walker:“ I’m of course disillusioned with what has happened to World cinema. Now cinemas in  both Eastern and Western Europe are filled with the same blockbusters from Hollywood.” 

On the question on how does cinema influences people in their daily life: 

Walker: “ I think that the enormous emphasis on violence and sex, and in particular violent sex, may not make rapists of us all, but it predisposes us to accept a kind of world  in which these things happen.” 

And on the star system in the classic Hollywood era: “ In the days of Gary Cooper, James Stewart etc, film stars personified the better aspects of human nature.” 

Some people in the film-world consider critics as a necessary evil, but those very film writers/critics such as Alexander Walker keep the cinephiles’ love of cinema alive by their inspired writing.

On the day of Alexander's death the British Film Institute paid tribute to former bfi governor Alexander Walker.

bfi Chairman Anthony Minghella said: "Alexander Walker's contribution to the appreciation and understanding of British film was unique.

"He was passionate about film and that love affair with cinema was clear in everything he wrote.

"He was much more than a film critic. He was a champion for quality cinema in this country. As a broadcaster, commentator and film historian he had no equal. He was a good friend and sometime critic of the bfi. As a former governor he had strong views about the future of film and the work of the Institute. It is to his credit that he never shied away from expressing his views which were always informed."

He added: "The London film world and British cinema are a smaller and less colourful place without him."

bfi Director Amanda Nevill added: " I am sure I speak for everyone at the bfi when I say we are saddened that we have lost such a substantial figure in the cinema world.

"He was film."

She added: "Part of the landscape of film culture has gone with his passing and British cinema is the poorer as a result.

"His association with the British Film Institute goes back a long way. He was a former member governor of the bfi and was never shy to express his views about the organisation and its direction. Throughout, he was a tenacious, determined and vocal advocate for film in this country and although not always a fan, was a supporter of the work of the British Film Institute.

"He was passionate about the movies and had an unrivalled knowledge of Hollywood and the classic years of British and American cinema.

"This is a loss not only to British newspapers and film criticism but to everyone who loves film in this country."

In Dietrich by Malene Sheppard Skaerved (Haus Publishing, 2003) it notes that Marlene hated biographers and covered her edition of Walker's book Dietrich (Harper & Row, 1984) with scribbled notes. She accuses him of lying and writes on one page 'Rot, Rot. Bullshit, double Bullshit.' So he obviously made an impact with her!

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