Thursday 16 February 2023

Vale Ken Mogg - A Film Scholar of Renown - Freda Freiberg and Michael Campi pay tribute


Ken (r) with friends Peter Tammer and Inge Pruks

Ken Mogg died recently. When his death became known Melbourne film-maker Peter Tammer posted these thoughts. Following Ken's funeral Melbourne cinephiles and friends of Ken Freda Freiberg and Michael Campi have also compiled some thoughts to remember the life of a quite unique and dedicated Australian scholar.


I first met Ken at Coburg Teachers' College, where we both taught film in the English Department in the early 1970s, under John C. Murray. John was one of the pioneers of film studies in Victoria and we were all indebted to him for our initial training in teaching film. We were nearly all graduates of Monash or Melbourne University, where film was considered  a “Mickey Mouse” subject, not worthy of teaching at university at that time. It was taught at RMIT - not yet a university then – and  at Coburg as a result of action by enthusiasts of film who put it on the syllabus within the English or Art departments.  I had a BA with majors  in English and Philosophy from Melbourne University in the 1950s (then the only Uni in Melbourne) and a DipEd from Melbourne University in the 1960s followed by five years teaching English (language and literature) in government high schools;

Ken had an Honours degree from the English department at Monash where he was in the first intake of students. His thesis was on Dickens. So we shared a familiarity with, and love of English Literature and philosophy as well as film. Ken had joined the film club at Monash; I was an early member of the Melbourne Film Festival, attending annually from 1956  to the present day, and joined the club in Melbourne set up by the film enthusiasts who were involved with the Festival. Ken became a strong follower of the German philosophers Nietszche and Schopenhauer later in life, and found their ideas more useful to the study of Hitchcock than Freud and Marx and the trendy French theorists that were favoured by the academics who subsequently failed to support him. I too abandoned my academic studies because of lack of support so could sympathize with Ken and admired him for following his own path..

When I started teaching film at Coburg, I also enrolled in a course of Japanese studies at Melbourne University and decided to specialize on Japanese cinema. This interest was also shared by Ken, who was particularly interested in Ozu, one of the great Japanese filmmakers.  When I first befriended him, Ken had wide interests in film directors – including Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick and Robert Bresson – but in later years he became exclusively occupied with Hitchcock, which could become tedious. However, despite his obsession with Hitch and his love of the entire Hitch oeuvre, he put up with volatile criticism from me – because, as a feminist, I found some of his films offensive to women, especially The Birds, and I didn’t like his treatment of some female actors. Surprisingly, my criticism did not spoil our friendship. We continued to meet regularly at my house or his, for walks, talks, meals and films, until the pandemic stopped everything. 

In his final year, Ken stopped writing on Hitchcock and spent his time doing crossword puzzles. He was already in poor health. In my old age, I too have stopped writing and spend my life doing crossword puzzles (and playing Scrabble). We communicated frequently by phone, until the end. I had organized to visit him last Tuesday with my son, but sadly it was not to be, it was too late.

I’d like to end with an anecdote:

My granddaughter Tash is studying “Rear Window” for VCE English. Her teacher used Ken’s  book, ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Story” as a reference for class notes last week. What a shame that I couldn’t tell Ken!          


Ken Mogg will be remembered as one of Australia's most intrepid researchers and writers on the topics which most dominated his life and thoughts: the films of Alfred Hitchcock and the works of philosophers Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. 


Ken's interest in the cinema began no later than the early 1960s when he started studying an arts degree at Monash University. It was in 1963 that I and some other film lovers undertaking tertiary studies would meet to share our enthusiasms and ideas as well as watching films together at Monash or Melbourne University campuses at various film society screenings.  A few of this small group wrote articles or programme notes for university film societies to which they belonged. Sometimes we saw films together in the city or suburban theatres.  As Ken didn't drive, there were times when we enjoyed a film or two at one of Melbourne's many drive-in cinemas of the time: two Hitchcock films come to mind SHADOW OF A DOUBT for example and NORTH BY NORTHWEST.  


At that time Ken's interest in the cinema was a broad one. He liked most of the available work from the French New Wave directors. We watched Agnes Varda's CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 in a Monash lecture theatre one day together with another film friend keen to see this praised film even without english subtitles. Ken was also keen to explore the careers of more established French masters like Georges Franju and Jean Renoir or LA RONDE, the one film available by Max Ophuls at that time. 


Ken was very much involved in the publication of the programme notes for the Monash Film Group.  It was approaching the time that he undertook his Honours degree on the work of Charles Dickens, a central figure of 19th century English literature. This period fascinated Ken, perhaps because Alfred Hitchcock was born in the final days of the Victorian era. Already, the work of Hitchcock held a very deep fascination for him and remained his paramount research for the rest of his life. Other filmmakers he held in high regard were Robert Bresson, Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick while he very much liked the work of the Japanese masters Ozu and Mizoguchi. 


Both Bresson and Hitchcock were from Roman Catholic families. Ken considered the influences of their religious beliefs on their films, sometimes making comparisons between them. 


Ken would be most interested in overlapping areas of investigation.  For example one of the most significant composers for Hitchcock's later films was Bernard Herrmann who had also written for Orson Welles' first groundbreaking films some years earlier.  Herrmann was also the composer for Robert Stevenson's 1943 film of Charlotte Brontë's JANE EYRE  (which featured Orson Welles in the cast) and had created an opera based on Emily Brontë's WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Both of the original 19th Century English literary works interested Ken.  When the first LP recording of Herrmann's opera based on WUTHERING HEIGHTS appeared in 1971, Ken was in the small group who listened to it in my home. 


In the mid-1960s, some discussion sessions were held at either Melbourne or Monash universities, sometimes on Hitchcock or other cinema topics.  I believe Ken was responsible for organising some of the Monash events. 


In those student days and for a few years after, I remember long conversations, principally about the cinema, when I visited him at the Mogg family home in Caulfield on some Sunday afternoons before Ken moved to shared accommodation with mutual friends of the time such as Alan Finney, who had lived initially close to the Mogg family in Caulfield before Alan moved to an apartment in Queensberry St., Carlton. Later, around the early 1970s, Ken shared a large house with another film enthusiast and teacher Doug Ling and other Melbourne University friends in Flemington Rd. where apparently Ken showed his enormous enthusiasm for Kubrick's relatively new 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY by playing the film soundtrack frequently. Around the late 1960s, maybe at a time that Ken was living away from telephone communication, he could be reached on Saturday mornings at his part-time job at wine merchants close to the city. It's hard to imagine those days when some households didn't even have a landline. 


As one of our most rigorous researchers, Ken would follow every trail leading to and from his specific subject at the time. For example he would read all the original works that interested his favourite filmmaker, whether Hitchcock had produced a film from the books or not.  As with adaptations of literary works, Hitchcock's final film versions might vary considerably from the original source. Considering the reasons for these changes would delight Ken's agile and enquiring mind.  


For many years Hitchcock had wanted to make a film based on J. M. Barrie's play MARY ROSE, a work that fascinated if not obsessed him through his filmmaking life but which Hitchcock was unable to transfer to the screen.  Ken often spoke of MARY ROSE and why Hitchcock might have been so fascinated by it. There was a huge regret that the film had never eventuated. It seemed a palpable absence in both Hitch's and Ken's lives. 


By the early 1970s, my work in the health profession, family commitments and being involved in several film screening organisations simultaneously caused some changes in social networking so that I saw Ken much less for many years. At this point Freda Freiberg's friendship with Ken began. 


During the following years of intellectual considerations, Ken committed his ideas to the written page, producing the magazine The MacGuffin, from 1990. As a printed periodical, it appeared for almost thirty issues after which these writings of Ken's could be read on his website to which Ken added regularly his very considered writings until the start of 2022.  


In 1999, with Freda's encouragement, Ken succeeded in having "The Alfred Hitchcock Story," a handsome volume, published in the UK by Titan and revised in 2008. The book gained much praise for its coverage of all of Hitchcock's films.  He was apparently disappointed with the U.S. edition. 


Despite the depth of Ken's thoughts and publications, he was not appreciated by some of the academic world and yet was hailed by others. He mentioned communicating with a vast number of other Hitchcock enthusiasts all over the world. After Hitchcock's death in 1980, Ken's fascination not only remain undiminished but perhaps was intensified. He remained steadfast in following any leads to further define Hitchcock's mastery and enquiries. In the four decades since then, so many books on Hitchcock have been published or writings have appeared on line. At one point Ken mentioned to me rather wearily that he felt a huge burden each time new writings appeared as he felt it was expected of him to read everything that was made public on his favourite filmmaker. He felt under pressure as many people looked to him for opinions on these new publications. 


Through the decade or so leading up to the start of 2020, Ken and I would share our thoughts on many topics, cinema, some common musical interests and books that he had been reading. We arranged regular meals at restaurants in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. He was always on time, very prepared with notes written on cards, sometimes with a DVD or an article he had prepared for me. Often these generous gifts were unannounced and not always about cinema.  He was always most interested in my many overseas journeys during this period and would sometimes give me a travel programme he'd recorded from television relating to a place I had been to or one that was on the short list for the future. He was genuinely interested in what I, my close friends and my family were doing. Ken really enjoyed salmon and vegetables on those restaurant occasions, topped off with a glass of wine and maybe a shared dessert. As he was always quite thin, he was unconcerned about the sugar factor. We met usually around 6 or 6.30 so that he might drop into a local supermarket before he returned home, some distance from transport. 


The last time we saw a film together was just over ten years ago.  He'd been invited to a preview of HITCHCOCK with Anthony Hopkins playing the Master.  On that morning at 9am, Ken, myself and two young film writers were the audience for one of the first screenings of the film. I was very touched that Ken had asked me if I would accompany him to the preview. 


In the two or three years before Ken stopped going out at the start of the pandemic, our regular meal conversations could be more concerned with world affairs and his political interests which seemed to sharpen even more from 2016.


As has been reported elsewhere, from the start of 2020, Ken remained at home not allowing visitors because he felt his health was compromised after some previous hospitalisations. 


A week ago, I saw the new documentary on the life of Patricia Highsmith whose novel STRANGERS ON A TRAIN became one of Hitchcock's most popular films. Early in the film there are clips from the Hitchcock's film and rather automatically I made notes of them to let Ken know what was included before suddenly realising it was already several days too late to share them.  I do hope that somehow in recent months, he had found his own way to see this film. 



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