Peter Wollen, Filmmaker and Author of 'Signs and Meaning in the Cinema,' Dies at 81

Peter Wollen, Filmmaker and Author of 'Signs and Meaning in the Cinema,' Dies at 81

20 Dec 2019 (PT)
FILMMAKER

He also co-wrote Michelangelo Antonioni's 'The Passenger,' starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider.

Peter Wollen, who wrote and directed the early Tilda Swinton movie  Friendship's Death and penned  Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, an influential 1969 book about film theory, has died. He was 81.

Wollen died Tuesday in Haslemere, Surrey, after a long struggle with Alzheimer's, his son, Chad Wollen, announced.

Wollen also co-wrote with Mark Peploe the screenplay for Michelangelo Antonioni's  The Passenger 1975, starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider, and collaborated with fellow film theorist Laura Mulvey, his first wife, on several projects, including the documentary  Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons 1974 and the features  Riddles of the Sphinx 1977 and  Crystal Gazing 1982.

As Samuel Wigley wrote for the British Film Institute in October,  Signs and Meaning in the Cinema was a "canonical publication in the then-young field of film studies" and "a brilliantly original dissection of the art of film, bringing to bear intellectual ideas from the fields of semiotics and post-structuralism on the work of directors such as Sergei Eisenstein, John Ford and Howard Hawks."

Wollen embarked on Signs and Meaning because he "wanted to establish, first and foremost, that film was an art and therefore it should be studied for its own sake in the same way as the other arts — literature, painting, music, etc.," he said in an interview. "At that time, film was primarily seen in the context of the mass media, which led to a communications or sociological approach, rather than an aesthetic approach."

Friendship's Death 1987, financed by the BFI, starred Swinton as an extraterrestrial robot on a peace mission to Earth in the second film she ever made.

A London native and Oxford graduate, Wollen also worked for Channel 4 in England and curated significant art exhibitions, including one in 1982 that focused on painter Frida Kahlo and photographer Tina Modotti, which he once wrote was "an unintended launch-pad for all things Fridamania." 

Wollen also taught at UCLA and wrote essays for  Sight and Sound,  Seven Days,  Bananas,  New Left Review,  The Nation and  The London Review of Books.

His son said he battled Alzheimer's for almost two decades. He also is survived by his second wife, writer Leslie Dick; Mulvey; daughter Audrey Wollen; and granddaughter Zoe.

Source: Hollywood Reporter

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Peter Wollen, Filmmaker and Author of 'Signs and Meaning in the Cinema,' Dies at 81
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