My friend and colleague Keith Reader, who has died aged 73, was an expert on French cinema who was known for tackling his subject through the lens of politics and intellectual culture, especially of the left. He had particular insights into the film-makers Jean Renoir and Robert Bresson as well as leftwing thinkers such as Régis Debray and Pierre Bourdieu.
Keith was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, but grew up in Crawley, West Sussex. His father, Frank, was a store manager for the Co-op and later a school bursar, while his mother, Marie (nee Reich), was a part-time office worker. Keith went to Ifield school in the town and then to Cambridge University, where while studying for a degree in French language and literature between 1964 and 1967 he discovered French cinema.
He went on to begin a PhD at Oxford University, and then worked at the University of Caen in northern France as an English language lecteur, before moving to a similar job at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris. Initially the intellectual, cinematic and culinary riches of Paris rather slowed down the progress of Keith’s thesis, but while there he encountered the work of Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, and they had a lasting impact on his teaching and writing.
In 1974, after more than three years in France, Keith returned to the UK to teach French culture, literature and film at Kingston Polytechnic (now Kingston University) in London, where my career began under his mentorship. In 1995 he moved to the University of Newcastle, where he was professor of French studies. Five years later he became professor of modern French studies at the University of Glasgow.
Keith was a prolific writer. His books included a monograph on Bresson (2000), and La Règle Du Jeu (2010), a book on the eponymous classic film directed by Jean Renoir. His wider interest in French culture led him to write The Abject Object: Avatars of the Phallus in Contemporary French Theory (2006) and to co-edit the Encyclopedia of Contemporary French Culture (with Alex Hughes) in 1998. More recently his interest in cinema and critical theory extended into a passion for cultural topography of Paris, and he wrote on Place de la Bastille (2011) and The Marais (2020).
Research and teaching went together quite naturally for Keith, and he wrote several publications aimed at lecturers and students, notably French Cinema: A Student’s Guide (2002, with Phil Powrie).
He retired in 2011, but continued with some part-time teaching at the University of London in Paris, where he was visiting emeritus professor, and enjoyed watching French films assiduously in London and Paris.
Students, colleagues and friends will miss his encyclopedic knowledge of French cinema, his wit and his generosity.
He is survived by his brother Ian.