What you possibly didn't know about Philip, that he :
* retained from the age of 6 : 'vivid memories of all the films I saw in 1939 : Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Jesse James, The Wizard of Oz, Le jour se lève, La règle du jeu, Ninotchka, Gunga Din. Most significant perhaps was The Four Feathers. I saw it just after the outbreak of the Second World War and identified with the young hero who doubted if he had the courage to go into battle and resigned his commission on the eve of his regiment's departure for service against the Mahdi in the Sudan.' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9HfIaMEo9w&t=0m35s
* didn't see Citizen Kane when he was 8 and it 'opened in the Liverpool suburb where I grew up and closed after three days. My father thought it was a wonderful movie and, indeed, was well known as the only person in his particular peer group who had understood the movie' but did see Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity when he was 10 in 1943, which became one of his favourite pictures and over which he disagreed with his father who 'saw it as a slur on his profession, less through the homicidal activities of life-insurance salesman Fred MacMurray than because claims investigator Edward G Robinson kept trying to avoid paying out on policies.' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_m9qecEehqY
* had 'no professional attention' for his speech defect, possibly exacerbated by the fact that he spent three of the five War years between the age 7 and 12 as an evacuaee away from home
and 'partly because in those days, before Bevan created the National Health Service, my father couldn't afford it, partly because no one in my various schools thought to do anything about it.' and as a result, as he grew up, 'was the subject of much mockery both for the stammer, but more significantly for the recurrent alopecia, the patches of baldness on my scalp that accompanied the bouts of depression and exacerbated the impediment. When I climbed out of my troughs of withdrawal, I turned to physical and verbal violence, often in the form of pre-emptive strikes. But gradually I lowered my fists, preferring organised sports and resorting to brutal repartee and cutting put-downs.'
* found that cinema introduced him 'to literature, music and, more dangerously, to history' and while attending the independent boys' school Merchant Taylors' School in Crosby and having seen the 'post war rerelease of the 1938 film Suez
https://vimeo.com/78455177 starring Tyrone Power as Ferdinand de Lesseps, I got into a painful losing debate on the Suez Canal' with his history teacher when he said : "But sir, I think you'll find that Disraeli did give the money to de Lesseps" and later rued : 'I went from favourite pupil to pariah in five minutes in what proved to be one of the most instructive experiences of my life.'
* bought for a shilling 'Roger Manvell's Pelican paperback Film, which was at the time the UK's most influential book on the cinema. I read the weekly Picturegoer, which combined gossip with sensible reviews. It was there I made my modest first entry on to the national scene - a letter attacking the political bias (right-wing of course) of cinema newsreels, which were part of most cinema programmes' and 'came to prefer the small, sometimes insalubrious independent cinemas, often described as 'fleapits', that dotted every town in the country. They offered better value for money and you could always find old flicks, still in distribution in ragged prints after several decades, at these places.'
* recalled that getting to see an 'adult' film 'involved attaching yourself to lone patrons as they approached a cinema, offering them your nine pence and asking: 'Can you take me in, mister?' Often they'd take us in without accepting our money, and in my experience they didn't take sexual advantage' and recalled the occasion when he was 13 in Liverpool, wearing a pair of his father's 'trousers tucked into my armpits, a battered trilby on my head. Handing over my shilling at the box-office was far more terrifying than anything in the double bill of House of Frankenstein http://ow.ly/U0Cw6 and Dracula's Daughter that lay ahead.'
* at the age of 15 in 1948 and living in Bristol, to where his father's company had transferred, attended the Grammar School for Boys and found 'an enticingly scruffy cinema, the Tatler, showed foreign films. In the school library, I discovered Paul Rotha's deeply serious The Film Till Now, published just after the coming of sound' and 'was astonished to hear that what he spoke was prose, so I was amazed to discover that what had preoccupied me for the past decade was art.'
* in school at the age of 17 listened to William Emrys Williams, Editor-in-Chief of Penguin Books, talk to sixth-formers about the Role of the Arts Council in the forthcoming Festival of Britain and 'emboldened by his stammer and hoping to impress my headmaster, I got up and asked him a question about what the council would be doing about the cinema and jazz ?' only to be cruelly ridiculed by his reply : 'Did you think the council should subsidise the annual marble competition at T-t-tinsley G-g-green ? and bravely getting to his feet to make a witty reply, found his jaw jammed and his 'schoolmates roared with merciless laughter, as my hated headmaster smirked at me from the front row of the steeply raked auditorium.'
* by the time he was 18 in 1951, had graduated from Picturegoer to Sight & Sound, in which Richard Winnington 'saw movies in a social context and, in this respect, resembled the way my newly discovered critical mentor, the 20th century's greatest man of letters, Edmund Wilson, viewed literature. From Sight & Sound, I learnt a new and more discerning vocabulary of contempt and appreciation from Gavin Lambert, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz and Penelope Houston.'
* 'joined the Bristol Film Guild, helped launch a school film society and became a member of the Bristol University Film Club, sitting twice a week on the hard, steeply raked benches of lecture theatres. There I saw the silent classics like Battleship Potemkin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ps-v-kZzfec&t=0m38s and Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzINI3au9q0&t=8m09s It was a magical experience.'
* in 1952, to his 'immense relief', left school whose teachers had never given him any greater responsibility than 'milk monitor' and found that, to his surprise with the start of two years National Service in the Army, he was initially 'the subject of jokes by my fellow squaddies at Warrington's Peninsula barracks. But after flooring an admittedly somewhat reluctant opponent in an inter-company boxing match, there was no further trouble and after officer training and at the age of 19 became a second lieutenant in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.
* found that in the Army : 'The question of my stammer always came up, but in an open, reasonable way. Did I think it would affect my ability to lead men, to give firm orders, to act rapidly and efficiently under pressure, including enemy fire? They took my word that it wouldn't and I developed a capacity for playing a role, for behaving like an officer and a temporary gentleman', but did wonder if the recent death of the stammering King George VI had anything to do with it and 'maybe his loyal servants were respecting and honouring him, their late commander in chief, by welcoming a stammerer into their midst, trusting him, treating him with dignity. Bertie possibly felt he was playing the role of king the way I was impersonating an officer.'
* was seconded to the Parachute Regiment, posted to Egypt and the Suez Canal Zone and continued his informal education into cinema where 'after the electricity packed in three nights running at the nearby open-air cinema just as Marilyn Monroe was getting into her shower in Niagara, there was a mood of near mutiny in the surrounding camps. In consequence, a generator was installed in the cinema and it became a nocturnal oasis of light and comfort. I got the chance to see Ford's The Quiet Man http://ow.ly/U3knj Anthony Mann's The Spur Naked https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXkEMcj0G1A&t=0m47s and other films several times and was becoming aware of studio styles. Over the years I came to recognise that there were major characteristics - visually, thematically, generically, socially - that gave a distinctive aura to the movies that unrolled before us. Each studio raised different expectations: their lighting was different, their regular actors had a different shared persona.'
* demobbed from the Army in 1954, 'spent four months working in a Bristol car showroom seething with prejudice of every kind: sexual, racial, political', before taking up a place to, at his Father's bidding , to read 'law' at Exeter College, Oxford, dropped his name 'Neville', adopted 'Philip' and in his second term wrote an enthusiastic review in the University magazine 'Isis' of 'Hugo Fregonese's Civil War western, a little gem called The Raid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uECSJkbO9BA&t=54m28s which had been released without a press show in the second half of a double bill. All the university's cineastes went to see it, admired it and my local reputation was made.'
* in his three 'blissful years at Oxford' became Vice-Chairman of the Film Society, co-scripted a movie a satire on Oxford life called 'Folly Bridge' that brought scholarships to its producer and director and in 1956 took up the editorship of Isis and in a Union Society debate 'slightly the worse, or rather better, for drink' 'made a wild, impromptu speech' got a round of applause and the 'following day was invited to speak on the paper in the committee debate the next week. As a result, I was elected to the Union Library Committee, which is as far as I got, and the only genuine election I've ever won. It didn't help my stammer, but it made me a little less concerned about the way I sounded.'
* graduated from Oxford and in 1957, got a scholarship to the University of Indiana School of Journalism, had a week in New York, went to Radio City Music Hall where 'the movie playing was The Pajama Game which had one of my favourite stars in it – Doris Day. I have a very soft spot for her. About three weeks later I met Kersti (his future wife) who had come from Sweden on a scholarship to study English literature there. We were in the same residents' block for graduate students' and she too had been in the audience 'Our paths first crossed in a cinema without us realising it.' http://ow.ly/U0WpR
* while in the USA had reviewed drama for the 'New Statesman' and films for the 'London Magazine', then returned to Britain and Bristol where he worked for five months at 'the Bristol Evening Post occasionally going on dim reporting assignments with Tom Stoppard, who worked on the rival paper' and wrote a mens' fashion column under a pseudonym with the headlines : "Bowlers for Bristol. My prediction" says Philip Sartor, visited the city's 27 cinemas including The Scala Zetland Road, where he took his new wife to because "I had the feeling nobody could be a suitable companion or congenial person if they did like Bad Day at Black Rock as well as I did."
* left Bristol for London and got a job in 'domestic radio at Broadcasting House that eventually allowed me to take a razor to electronic tapes and edit out my stammer "It's amazing, you don't stammer when you're on the air," my relatives said' and 'Then came the greatest piece of luck I ever had' when asked to stand in as the producer of the Sunday lunchtime programme, The Critics, in which 'six critics would discuss a book, film, play, broadcast and exhibition. It attracted several million listeners. I produced The Critics for the next three years and the arts became my speciality. The Critics was an education. Suddenly, I had power in the cultural world. Only the TLS employed more critics and they were anonymous in those days'
'invited to moonlight as Deputy Film Critic at the Observer, the true beginning of my career as a writer' after being asked, by the newly-appointed Arts Editor of the paper, Richard Findlater, knowing that film was one of his passions,
to write a trial column and 'Returning home, I told my wife about the meeting. She said: 'Well, you've seen this week's films, why don't you write it tonight?' So I did - on Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT--DQRC_VU&t=1m57s Bryan Forbes' The L-Shaped Room http://ow.ly/U1YKq and How the West Was Won https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AzRhoZh-Jk&t=0m14s That trio said something about the excitement of movies at the time: great films coming from Europe (Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, the French New Wave) as well as from Asia, a new realism in the British cinema and the western entering its last great decade.'
Observer, went to see The Damned https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i964N0ka5Ek&t=0m30s a Joseph Losey 'Hammer' movie and wrote an enthusiastic review of his significance and saw 'People went to see it and it was reviewed elsewhere and United Artists, encouraged by these reviews, brought it into the West End. I got a letter suddenly from Joseph Losey. I'd never met him. First of all I thought it was a practical joke but it was a genuine letter. "Thank you," he said, "for praising it and not for overpraising it" and "This has changed the situation for myself and my associates" meaning it prepared the public for a small film 'on a small budget with everybody deferring their payments, a film called The Servant which is one of the finest films ever made in this country.' https://vimeo.com/102110902
* recorded that, at the age of 39 in 1972 : 'driving into London from Stansted after some months of teaching in Texas, and passing two of my favourite cinemas, both closed down during my absence. One was the magnificent Astoria, Finsbury Park, beloved of John Betjeman' and 'The second was the Tolmer, across the Euston Road from Warren Street station. It reeked of cigarette smoke and disinfectant and always showed double bills. To me, all ports are different, all airports much the same. Cinemas have become as anonymous as airports.'
* in 1973 was finally offered the Movie Column at the Observer on a permanent basis and set about carrying out his project : 'First, it was to bridge the gap between arthouse and so-called popular cinema, to be equally rigorous about both, but neither to revere film as art nor despise it as commerce. Second, I wanted to find a style and language that would encourage readers to look at film as a distinctive medium that combined all the other arts while realising itself as the great new art of the 20th century.'
* for several years kept an unsigned, crudely written note pinned above his desk. 'It attacked me for having given away the plot of some now long forgotten thriller and began: 'You cunt! You fucked up my weekend!' It stood beside an autographed photograph of Satyajit Ray and Akira Kurosawa, walking thoughtfully together in front of the Taj Mahal, taken during a trip I made with them to Agra from a festival in Delhi in the 1970s. When I wonder whether writing about the cinema is worthwhile, I look up to that photograph for reassurance.'
* said, in 2008 at the age of 75 : 'I love seeing movies as much as I ever did. What have I done these past 70 years, apart from sit through around 14,000 films and be paid for doing what I like? I may have helped a few careers (Martin Scorsese, Stephen Frears, Walter Hill, Terence Davies, Bertrand Tavernier, Neil Jordan, Christopher Nolan) and encouraged readers to think about the contributions of cinematographers, editors, composers, production designers. I hope I've contributed to creating a climate that looks at cinema and its history in a more comprehensive manner' and five years later on his 80th birthday retired as film critic for the Observer and said "I think one of the key rules to learn in the art of party-going is when to leave with dignity."
http://www.watershed.co.uk/dshed/philip-french-fifty-years-film-critic&t=3m10s and spoke of Kind Hearts and Coronets https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yidAvsBhD7U&t=0m41s "It is beautifully lit by Douglas Slocombe who was actually a hundred a couple of months ago. I met him last week and he's still in great form. Unfortunately he can no longer see but he certainly has all his marbles if not his lens." http://ow.ly/U0XE0
* once said of Sean, Patrick and Karl : "All my sons love movies. I started taking them around the age of four. I would take them to films I thought were quality, so I made sure that by the age of five or six they had seen the complete works of the Marx Brothers. They often tease me about when I took them to see a double bill of two westerns – Hombre https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSwi5Er-THU&t=ih46m01s and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid http://ow.ly/U4Dvo – and quizzing them afterwards to make sure that they had been convinced that Hombre was a much better film than Butch Cassidy!"
also said :
"From time to time you may pull your punches, but not in the next round. You have to be truthful."
What better obituary might an old film critic have ?