LONDON — Veteran film critic Alexander Walker died suddenly Monday while undergoing tests for cancer. He was 73 and fell ill earlier this summer.
Walker was film critic for the London Evening Standard for 43 years and authored 20 books on the cinema, including bios of Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Greta Garbo, Peter Sellers, Audrey Hepburn and Vivian Leigh, and most importantly “Hollywood/UK,” a seminal work about the post-war British film industry.
Born in Portadown, Northern Ireland, Walker learned his trade by recounting the intricacies of movie plots to his mother after her glasses had been smashed in a World War II black-out. In Walker’s words, “I’d turned into a critic almost without realizing it.” Passionate about film from an early age, Walker described his appetite for film as “gluttonous and undiscriminating.”
After studying political philosophy at Queens U., Belfast, Walker made film criticism his career. Following a brief stint at the Birmingham Post, Walker landed a job at the Standard when Brit actor Kenneth More sent a letter of recommendation to the editor, the thesp having been impressed by one of Walker’s reviews.
Walker became one of the most respected film critics of his era and possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the art form. Walker was thrice named Critic of the Year in the British Press Awards and in 1981 was honored in France with the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Despite a courteous and elegant manner, Walker rarely shirked a challenge, and his often incendiary opinions led to some legendary run-ins with filmmakers and industryites. In a famous spat, helmer Ken Russell hit Walker over the head in full view of television cameras after Walker dismissed his 1971 pic “The Devils” as “monstrously indecent.”
By contrast, he was one of the few film critics allowed into Stanley Kubrick’s inner circle. His unrelenting campaigns against BAFTA, the Film Council and the British Film Institute, which Walker regularly lambasted for wrongful spending of taxpayers’ coin, became legendary.
Other than his obsession for film, Walker was an avid print collector and skier. In the small flat in Maida Vale where Walker lived alone, were works by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, David Hockney and Lucian Freud stacked to the roof. Walker explained the appeal of the prints to ArtReview magazine this way: “After seeing eight or nine films a week, it is a pleasure to rest your eyes not on moving pictures but on stills.”