Victor F. Perkins is a British film critic, educator and renowned author of Film as Film (1972). His essays have been published in numerous publications, including monographs in BFI Film Classics series on, The Magnificent Ambersons (1999) and La Règle du jeu (2012). Perkins was also the founding editor of MOVIE magazine (1962-2000) and a current editor of Movie: A journal of Film Criticism (2010). He has lectured on film studies at Warwick University in the United Kingdom since 1978.
The first time I read a passage from V.F. Perkins’ essay, The Magnificent Ambersons, I was captivated by his descriptive and masterly crafted array of meticulous words. Perkins, not only describes the narrative unfolding, he heightens the character’s gestures, movements and motions. Andrew Klevan’s essay titled Description, depicts Perkins as being, ‘attuned to the nuance of performance and its importance to a fiction film’s meaning, structure and effect.’ Perkins focuses his analysis on what would appear to be the most insignificant of mise-en-scene or character motion. He not only interprets the scene, he then gives an alternate view of the same events that transpired. Followed by the alternative effect any minute change in character action would have on the film.
For example, in The Magnificent Ambersons essay, Perkins describes the scene where Jack holds a cigar. ‘He works it between his fingers as a relief from the pressure of Eugene’s gaze’. Subsequently, the cigar ‘gives him a reason to stay hunched forward, not to lean back into a posture that would promote contact’.
Another essay, Acting on Objects: Stella and the Bow Tie, from the film, Stella Dallas (1937), the focus is on the importance of a single bow tie. Perkins discusses the scene where the character, Stella is gesturing her sexual availability by attempting to remove Stephen’s bow tie.
‘In defeat and dejection, Stella abandons her work on the bow tie’. Had Stella been successful in taking the bow tie off, it would be a gesture of openness. By keeping it on Stephen closes himself to her. Perkins describes the tie as a representation of lost love. The tie is the ‘limp remnant of a bid unanswered’ between the two characters.
Although film scholars can appreciate the essays of Victor Perkins, his book Film as Film, offers a comprehensible explanation of the importance of mise-en-scène for film analysis.
Originally published by Penguin in 1972, the 1993 edition includes an introduction by Foster Hirsh. Perkins’ simplistic writing style is encapsulated in Hirsh’s introduction.
Here is film theory cleansed of jargon and making no attempt to be intellectually hip…that does not invoke the latest buzz words of the semiotician, deconstructionists, post-modernists, linguists, Marxists, psychoanalysts, militant feminists and multiculturalists.
As I continue reading Film as Film, I am appreciating the no-nonsense, straightforward use of language that has made the reading of a textbook so enjoyable. Perkins’s critique of films allows you to enjoy a good film for the right reasons and does not encourage critics to berate bad films, even for the right reasons.
BFI n.d., The Greatest Film Polls, viewed 12th September 2013, http://explore.bfi.org.uk/sightandsoundpolls/2012/voter/33
Klevan, A 2011, ‘Description’, in A Clayton & A Klevan (eds), The Language and Style of Film Criticism, Routledge, New York.
Perkins, V.F. 1993, Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies, 1st Da Capo edn, Da Capo Press, New York.
Perkins, V.F. 2012, La Règle du jeu, British Film Institute, London.
Perkins V.F. 1999, The Magnificent Ambersons, British Film Institute, London.
Perkins V.F. n.d., ‘Acting on Objects: Stella and the Bow Tie’, Cine-Files, issue 2, viewed 12th September 2013,
Stella Dallas 1937, motion picture, Samuel Goldwyn Company, California. Directed by King Vidor.
The Magnificent Ambersons 1942, motion picture, Mercury Productions & RKO Radio Pictures, California. Directed by Orson Welles.