- In Memoriam: Peter Brunette (1944–2010)
Film professor, author, and longtime SCMS member Peter Brunette died on June 16, 2010, while attending the Taormina Film Festival. He was sixty-six. If there is any justice to be found in someone passing, we can take some solace in knowing that he died in a beautiful place doing what he loved to do: going to the movies.
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Peter was a unique scholar, at once one of the foremost figures in modernist film criticism and a frequent contributor to the mass-market Hollywood Reporter—an unlikely pairing perhaps, but not when you consider that Peter’s enthusiasm for the medium transcended discourses, venues, and audiences. It was this love of movies that made him such a terrific and prolific writer (with books on Michelangelo Antonioni, Wong Kar Wai, Roberto Rossellini, and Michael Haneke), a successful classroom teacher, one of the founders of the popular Key Sunday Cinema Clubs nationwide, and a valued friend and colleague.
I met Peter in Dallas during the SCMS meeting in 1996. It was in many ways a chance encounter, but it proved significant in ways I could never have predicted. There are a lot of stories I could tell about his personal and professional generosity, but the one that comes to mind first concerns an e-mail he wrote to me just before he died. I was teaching L’avventura (Antonioni, 1960) and I was looking for something to say to my students that might get them on board. So, late on the night before my lecture, I e-mailed Peter and, of course, though it must have been two in the morning on the East Coast, I got a prompt reply:
Hey, I’m just heading to bed, Jon, but I would stress the idea, as I do in most of my classes about most of the films, that things like the VISUALS and the SOUND have expressive if indefinable meaning beyond narrative. . . . It’s Ozu and Bresson, etc., etc. GET THEM OFF OF PLOT AND CHARACTER. Early on in the film, Claudia walks into an abstract art display—Antonioni is showing, by this, how we are to “read” the film, as a series of expressive pictures and sound that go beyond narrative, action, and character.
Significant as his scholarly accomplishments were, it sells Peter short to leave out what we who loved him valued most. Peter Brunette was a big man with a big personality and a big heart. He will be missed. [End Page 151]