Peter Wollen (b. 29 June 1938 London) is a film theorist and writer. He studied English at Christ Church, Oxford. Both political journalist and film theorist, Wollen's Signs and Meaning in the Cinema (1969), helped to transform the discipline of film studies by incorporating the methodology of structuralism and semiotics.
Film career Wollen's first film credit was as co-writer of Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (Professione: Reporter, Italy, 1975) and he made his debut as a director with Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons (1974), the first of six films co-written and co-directed with his wife, Laura Mulvey. The low-budget Penthesilea portrayed women's language and mythology as silenced by patriarchal structures. Acknowledging the influence of Jean-Luc Godard's Le Gai savoir (France, 1968), Wollen intended the film to fuse avant-garde and radically political elements. The resultant work is innovative in the context of British cinema history, although unsurprisingly its relentlessly didactic approach did not make for mass appeal.
For Riddles of the Sphinx (1977), their most remarkable collaborative work, Wollen and Mulvey obtained a British Film Institute Production Board grant, which enabled them to work with greater technical resources. Rewriting the Oedipal myth from a female standpoint, they use formal devices, such as their impressively choreographed circular pans, to create an expressionist effect which complicates and enhances the film's narrative content.
The deliberately ahistorical AMY! (1980), commemorating Amy Johnson's solo flight from Britain to Australia, synthesises themes previously covered by Wollen and Mulvey. In Crystal Gazing (1982) formal experimentation is muted and narrative concerns emphasised. The film was criticised in some quarters for the absence of an explicitly feminist perspective, but it enjoyed generally favourable reviews. Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti (1982), a short film tied to an international art exhibition curated by Wollen, and The Bad Sister (1982), a drama based on a novel by Emma Tennant, were the final projects on which Wollen and Mulvey collaborated.
Wollen's only solo feature, Friendship's Death (1987), was the bizarre and absorbing story of the relationship between a British war correspondent and a female extraterrestrial robot on a peace mission to Earth, who, missing her intended destination of MIT, inadvertently lands in Amman, Jordan during the events of Black September 1970. The film's intelligent wit, coupled with outstanding performances from Tilda Swinton and Bill Paterson, makes this Wollen's most compelling film.
Wollen has taught film at a number of universities and is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles.