Remembering Peter Brunette

Inside Criterion / Production Notes — Jun 23, 2010

Sitting on a hard drive here in the office is the unedited footage of an interview we shot here with Peter Brunette on April 26, for an upcoming release of Senso. The release had been delayed, but I told Peter that since he had already bought the plane ticket and we had the crew scheduled, we might as well go forward with the shoot. Peter was very excited about the new book on Visconti that he was working on. He told me he was finally going to let his hair down and write a book he really wanted to write, a “crazy” book: melodrama, opera, queer theory, Italian politics. It sounded fascinating, and to my ear a perfect set of themes through which to think about Senso.

Peter was undertaking this book in addition to publicity for his new volume on Michael Haneke and work on a six-hundred-page companion to Italian cinema, not to mention his reporting from various film festivals around the world. During his visit to the office, he bemoaned the fact that, because of a change in his situation, he was actually going to lose money reporting on Cannes. He never seemed to consider the idea that he might just not go.

Tragically, and, given the vibrancy and energy he displayed only a couple of months ago, very unexpectedly, Peter passed away at a film festival in Italy last week. Just very, very sad news. A number of others who knew him better than I have posted remembrances, but I would just like to add my voice to those mourning his loss, along with everyone here at Criterion—he was very popular in the office. As an academic, he combined a strong work ethic with an extremely open and generous spirit—not a common combination. As a person, he was quick to laugh and infectiously enthusiastic, and a joy to work with. His commentary with Frank Burke on our edition of Amarcord remains one of my favorites I’ve ever produced, not least because it went off without a bit of agita or difficulty.

As sad as this news makes me, I am at least grateful that we did keep the interview date. No doubt Peter’s interview represents only his preliminary thinking on the book—he emailed me his chapter on Senso beforehand with the caveat “I hope you can find something that is useful to you in this very rough draft of my chapter on the Visconti film”—but I for one was very happy with how the shoot went that day, and I think he was too. In a way, it was vintage Peter: complicated and nuanced theoretical thinking about a filmmaker, delivered in an accessible style with a wry smile. I can’t say I’m looking forward to editing it, though.