Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Deceased--Robert Sklar

Robert Sklar
December 3rd, 1936 to July 2nd, 2011

"Robert Sklar, Film Scholar, Is Dead at 74"


William Grimes

July 6th, 2011

The New York Times

Robert Sklar, a film scholar whose 1975 book “Movie-Made America” was one of the first histories to place Hollywood films in a social and political context, finding them a key to understanding how modern American values and beliefs have been shaped, died on Saturday in Barcelona. He was 74.

The cause was a brain injury sustained in a bicycle accident, his son Leonard said.

Mr. Sklar, who was a professor of cinema studies at New York University for more than 30 years, came to film in the 1960s, when he was asked to serve as a faculty adviser to the Cinema Guild, the student film society at the University of Michigan, where he taught in the American culture program.

He found the proposal enticing. After publishing a cultural study of F. Scott Fitzgerald, he had begun focusing on Hollywood film as a lens for analyzing American society in the 1920s and 1930s.

When he could not find a satisfactory history of American film, he decided to fill the gap himself and wrote “Movie-Made America: A History of American Movies.” It immediately became a standard work on the subject and has never been out of print. In 1994 it was reissued in a revised and expanded version.

Hollywood film, Mr. Sklar argued, was much more radical in its message and its effects than other forms of popular entertainment. The dream machine had the power to shape reality, projecting “a version of American behavior and values more risqué, violent, comic and fantastic than the standard interpretation of traditional cultural elites.” It was this trait, he wrote, “that gave the movies their popularity and their mythmaking power.”

Mr. Sklar’s method, rigorous and scholarly, was just as important as his message at a time when cinema studies were struggling to gain acceptance as a serious discipline.

“Film history, up to this point, had been largely anecdotal,” said Tom Gunning, a professor in the department of cinema and media studies at the University of Chicago. “Sklar used the archives and saw as many films as possible. He demanded that film history really be history.”

Robert Anthony Sklar, known as Bob, was born on Dec. 3, 1936, in New Brunswick, N.J. and attended Princeton, where he was the chairman of the editorial board of The Daily Princetonian.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in 1958, he worked on the rewrite desk in the Newark bureau of The Associated Press and as a reporter for The Los Angeles Times before spending a year at the University of Bonn on a Fulbright scholarship.

He received a doctorate in the history of American civilization at Harvard in 1965. His dissertation on Fitzgerald became his first book, “F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoön” (1967).

Mr. Sklar, a professor of cinema studies at New York University from 1977 to 2009, served on the selection committee of the New York Film Festival in the 1990s. As a member of the National Film Preservation Board since 1997, he helped choose the films to be included on the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.

He was a member of the editorial board of the journal Cineaste and the president of the Society for Cinema Studies (now the Society for Cinema and Media Studies) from 1979 to 1981.

Mr. Sklar’s books on film and television included “Prime-Time America: Life on and Behind the Television Screen” (1980); “City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield” (1992), a work that reflected his longstanding enthusiasm for the Warner Brothers films of the 1930s; and “Film: An International History of the Medium” (1993).

Less well known was his passion for baseball. With Glen Waggoner, he edited “Rotisserie League Baseball” in the 1980s.

Mr. Sklar lived in Manhattan and Sag Harbor, N.Y. In addition to his son, Leonard, of Albany, Calif., he is survived by his second wife, Adrienne Harris; a daughter, Susan Sklar Friedman, of Westport, Conn.; a stepdaughter, Kate Tentler, of Manhattan; a stepson, Justin Tentler, of Brooklyn; a brother, Martin, of Los Angeles; two grandchildren; and one stepgrandchild.

Society for Cinema and Media Studies...


It is with great sadness that I must report to you the death of our beloved colleague, Robert Sklar. On Sunday, June 26, Bob had an accident while bicycling in Barcelona with his wife, Adrienne Harris. He lost control of his bike, fell and hit his head. He was removed to a Barcelona hospital with head injuries. At the hospital he was diagnosed as having extensive bleeding of the brain. He underwent brain surgery, but the injuries were too severe for recovery. On Saturday, July 2, he expired from his injuries. He will be cremated and the ashes brought back to New York. Our thoughts go out to Adrienne and to Bob’s entire family at this time.

Bob began his academic career as historian of American culture earning a Ph.D. in the history of American civilization from Harvard in 1965. In 1967 he authored a book on F. Scott Fitzgerald with Oxford University Press, which was followed by an anthology of essays on The Plastic Age: 1917-1930 in 1970. However, it was to the good fortune of his colleagues that he decided to bring his deep general knowledge of American society and culture to bear upon understanding the history of American film and media. His books on American film and television history pioneered a politically informed socio-cultural approach to the analysis of media long before "cultural studies” as a field was invented. His seminal work, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (1975), set a standard for historical scholarship in the field that inspires each generation of film scholars anew. Bob brought an historian’s breadth and insight to understanding the social forces that shape the emergence and transformation of media and sought to convey in his writing the possibilities and promise of film as a medium of social change.

Bob assumed a leading role in the development of the modern fields of film and media studies. He helped to shape the modern Society of Cinema and Media Studies, taking leadership of the organization at a crucial phase of its development between 1978 and 1981 when it was then still the Society of Cinema and Media Studies. He was also an important advocate for the preservation of our media heritage through his position on the National Film Preservation Board and by helping to establishing the Program in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation at New York University. Bob began his professorial life teaching history at the University of Michigan and he joined the Department of Cinema Studies at NYU in 1977. Through his thirty plus years of service to the Department (he retired in 2009), Bob was a beloved teacher, mentor, and colleague who led countless courses on the history of American Cinema and trained generations of film historians through his caring and disciplined guidance.

As a scholar and intellectual, Professor Sklar, who began his career as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times in the 1960s, always sought a broader public for his thinking and writing. Aside from his books, that were written with such extraordinary clarity and verve, Bob consistently engaged with that broader public not only in his journalism for national newspapers like The New York Times and The Boston Globe, and as film critic for the weekly newspaper Forward, but also through his nearly three decade association with the film magazine Cineaste, one of the few remaining independent magazines devoted to sustaining what used to be called "film culture.” Bob also served for a number of years served on the selection committee of the New York Film Festival. His extensive viewing experience of world cinema was distilled in the notable, prize-winning, book Film: An International History (1993).

Before his death, Bob co-edited a volume of essays entitled Global Neorealism: The Transnational History of a Film Style with Saverio Giovacchini, which is forthcoming from University Press of Mississippi. He also contributed two essays to the forthcoming Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film that is being edited by three of his former students, Cindy Lucia, Roy Grundmann and Art Simon--the key, opening essay to the four-volume series: "Writing American Film History" and an essay in volume three of the series: "Authorship and Billy Wilder."

Bob always had a keen interest in sport both as a participant and viewer and his avid baseball fandom led him to become a member of the very first fantasy baseball league, Rotisserie Baseball. Bob will be sorely missed by all of us who knew him in his various lives, and in particular by his colleagues here in the Department of Cinema Studies at NYU. Yet Bob will remain with us in our fond memories of his kindness, his dry sense of humor and his wise counsel, and through the contribution of his elegant writings to the field. There will be a memorial service for Bob in the fall that will be announced in due course.

Richard Allen
Professor and Chair of Cinema Studies
New York University


Film: An International History of the Medium (1990)
City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield (1992)
Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (1975; revised 1994)
Silent Screens : The Decline and Transformation of the American Movie Theater (2000)
A World History of Film (2003)
Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New York: Vintage Books, 1994)
F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoon (London: Oxford University Press, 1967)

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