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Film critic Iris Barry a ‘Lady in the Dark’

Bob Sitton ('59) writes about her pioneering life and work as a MOMA legend.

By Cherin C. Poovey (P ’08) Wake Forest Magazine
Author Bob Sitton ('59)
Author Bob Sitton ('59)

Alumnus Bob Sitton (’59) is the author of “Lady in the Dark: Iris Barry and the Art of Film,” recently published by Columbia University Press.

The book tells of the life and work of the pioneering film critic and founder of the film department at the Museum of Modern Art. Sitton writes that Barry (1895-1969) is the person most responsible for film being accepted as an art form. Drawing on letters, memorabilia, and other documentary sources, he reconstructs her phenomenal life and work while recasting the political involvement of artistic institutions in the twentieth century. He was recently interviewed by NPR affiliate WNYC in New York.

Sitton was born in Selma, N.C., and brought up in Washington, D.C. At Wake Forest College he majored in philosophy and psychology. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Duke University in 1964. In the ’60s he worked at The New York Times and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, where he pursued his interest in film. In the early ’70s he served as drama and literature director at Pacifica Radio’s KPFA in Berkeley, while teaching at the Center for Filmmaking Studies at U.C. Berkeley.

In 1973 he moved to Portland, Ore., where as director of the Northwest Film Study Center at the Portland Art Museum he developed a multifaceted center for the study of film. Since 1981 he has been adjunct professor of cultural and media studies at Marylhurst University near Portland. At the same time he began research on the life and work of Iris Barry. He is an avid roller skater and in 2010 won the silver medal in figure skating for men over 65 at the United States championships.