I was stunned and saddened to read in indieW IRE of the death of my friend, film critic Peter Brunette.
I met him in the early 70s at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I was a wet-behind-the-ears undergraduate, and he was a wise and kind grad student. I had a lot of passion in those days but didn’t really know what I was talking about, and there were a lot of people senior people who never missed an opportunity to bring that to my attention. Peter was the opposite. He knew as much--or more--than many of my tormentors did, but he treated me with respect. When I look back, I can see that mentors like Peter changed my life in ways that, although I didn’t really notice them at the time, are momentous in retrospect. So it didn’t surprise me to learn that Peter the young scholar became Peter the professor, so he could go on and influence others.
Peter wrote or edited eight books on film, on directors like Rossellini, Antonioni, and Wong Kar-wai, and Michael Haneke. I’ll let other people talk about Peter Brunette the writer and critic, I’d like to talk about the human being.
What is the mark of a man? What does he leave behind? Everyone is remembered by their family and in their inner circle. Some people become famous and have followers and fans. Other people, like Peter, have an impact that ripples out to the countless people he helped, through an ego-less decency that was second nature to him. His was a lifetime of quiet generosity.
Recently I was reading about a legendary Hollywood director that I knew in passing. His work will live forever I suppose. But I was at the tribute to him shortly after he passed, and let me tell you, there were very few people there, and there was nobody there that had met him more than a few years before he died. He had napalmed every bridge in his life.
On the other hand, read some of the things that people have written about Peter. There are some in Eugene Hernandez’s IndieWire story above and here and here and here. Note that there are people who have known him since his youth and some people who met him weeks ago. I’m sure there are hundreds of people who are thinking about him now, but are too numb to figure out what to say.
It doesn’t matter if you never met Peter, people’s memories of him are worth reading, as they are instructive: they are a testament to a life well lived. No matter how old you are, there is still time to be like him and help a young person get a foothold in life.