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Barry, Iris (1895–1969) - Film History

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Iris Barry was born in Washwood Heath, near Birmingham, England, in 1895 (month unknown). She was the daughter of Alfred Charles Crump, a brass founder, and Annie Crump, a dairy farmer known for her fortune-telling and crystal-gazing. Alfred Crump abandoned the family, but Iris’s mother and grandparents managed to send her to convent schools in England and Belgium. Her education ended there because of World War I, although she had passed the qualifying examinations for Oxford in 1911.

Always interested in writing, Barry began corresponding with Ezra Pound in 1916 or 1917, then moved to London and proceeded to socialize with a variety of artists and writers. She had an affair with the author and painter Wyndham Lewis; they had two children who were raised by Barry’s mother.

During this time, Iris Barry went to the movies every day and was eventually given the job of reviewing films for theaters controlled by Sidney Bernstein, a businessman also interested in films. In 1923 she became a film reviewer for the Spectator , and was the first woman film critic in England. She married the magazine literary editor and poet Alan Porter. In 1925 she founded the London Film Society and changed jobs to become the film critic for the Daily Mail .

In 1930 Barry’s job and marriage ended, and she immigrated to the United States. She made friends with a variety of influential art patrons, and in 1932 she was hired to begin the library at the Museum of Modern Art. Three years later, she established the Film Library and became its first curator. She traveled to Hollywood and Europe, collecting films, lecturing, teaching, and developing film programs for colleges and museums. In 1938 she translated The History of Motion Pictures by Maurice Bardèche and Robert Brasillach, and in 1939 she became the founder and president of the International Federation of Film Archives. In 1940 she wrote D. W. Griffith, American Film Master .

In 1941 Barry married John E. “Dick” Abbot, a Wall Street financier and director of the Film Library at the Museum of Modern Art. Barry returned to Europe in 1949, and the two divorced the next year. She was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for her work on behalf of French film, and she eventually settled in Fayence, Var, in the south of France. In 1969, when she was ill, alone, and poor, her American friends came to her aid. She died of cancer in Marseilles in 1969.

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