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In Memory of Robert Sklar, NYU Cinema Studies Scholar

In Memory of Robert Sklar, NYU Cinema Studies Scholar

NYU Cinema Studies professor and one-time department chairman Robert Sklar died June 26 in a bicycling accident at age 74. While I earned my degree in Cinema Studies from NYU and respected Sklar, I never took one of his classes. Here’s his NYT obit; current Cinema Studies chair Richard Allen’s tribute is below.

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: ACultural 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 for 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 for Cinema 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 numberof years 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 formerstudents, 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

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