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Ronald Bergan (1937-2020)

The film historian, teacher and critic Ronald Bergan has passed away in Scotland on Thursday July 23 after a period of illness. Born in South Africa, he moved to the UK, where he obtained a PhD in English Literature. Later, he left England for France and Prague. Bergan is the author of numerous film books, translated in many different languages. Alongside publications on François Truffaut, Francis Ford Coppola or the Marx brothers, he has written the definitive biographies of Sergei Eisenstein and Jean Renoir, both republished in 2016. He was a cherished presence or jury president at numerous film festivals around the world. Ironically, Bergan was the famously skilled film obituarist for The Guardian. Here, you can find the index of his obits, up to the most recent ones of Max von Sydow or Michel Piccoli. You can read a commemoration by The Guardian’s former film critic, Derek Malcom, on the Fipresci website.


“Anybody can tell you what happens in a film. There is no difficulty in describing the ‘whatness’ of a film, but there is more trouble with the ‘howness’ and the ‘whyness’. Most reviews are starstruck and anecdotal, the writers being more comfortable with narrative than narratology. The worse a film the better they like it, because it’s easier to be amusing at the expense of a bad film than to explain the ineffable qualities of a great one. Although film is, above all, a visual medium, they seldom tell you what a film looks like unless it contains special effects. Neither do we get any analysis – even on a superficial level – of the style or grammar of the film. (...) Is it asking too much for film reviewers to be as educated about cinema as classical music, literature or art critics are about their own subjects?”

“Some years ago, when a veteran film critic on one of the quality dailies took his retirement, everyone expected his extremely competent young deputy to take over the job. However, this was not to be because, according to the editor of the paper, ‘he knows too much about cinema.’ Imagine the same editor saying that about the literature, theatre, art, ballet, opera or architecture critics. No way. Yet it seems that film, the most accessible and popular art form, is just not treated on the same level or with the same degree of seriousness as the other arts.”

Ronald Bergan1