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Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber

Overview


Manny Farber (1917?2008) was a unique figure among American movie critics. Champion of what he called ?termite art? (focused, often eccentric virtuosity as opposed to ?white elephant? monumentality), master of a one-of-a- kind prose style whose jazz-like phrasing and incandescent twists and turns made every review an adventure, he has long been revered by his peers. Susan Sontag called him ?the liveliest, smartest, most original film critic this country ever produced?; for Peter Bogdanovich, he was ?razor-sharp ...
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Overview


Manny Farber (1917?2008) was a unique figure among American movie critics. Champion of what he called ?termite art? (focused, often eccentric virtuosity as opposed to ?white elephant? monumentality), master of a one-of-a- kind prose style whose jazz-like phrasing and incandescent twists and turns made every review an adventure, he has long been revered by his peers. Susan Sontag called him ?the liveliest, smartest, most original film critic this country ever produced?; for Peter Bogdanovich, he was ?razor-sharp in his perceptions? and ?never less than brilliant as a writer.?

Farber was an early discoverer of many filmmakers later acclaimed as American masters: Val Lewton, Preston Sturges, Samuel Fuller, Raoul Walsh, Anthony Mann. A prodigiously gifted painter himself, he brought to his writing an artist?s eye for what was on the screen. Alert to any filmmaker, no matter how marginal or unsung, who was ?doing go-for-broke art and not caring what comes of it,? he was uncompromising in his contempt for pretension and trendiness?for, as he put it, directors who ?pin the viewer to the wall and slug him with wet towels of artiness and significance.?

The excitement of his criticism, however, has less to do with his particular likes and dislikes than with the quality of attention he paid to each film as it unfolds, to the ?chains of rapport and intimate knowledge? in its moment-to- moment reality. To transcribe that knowledge he created a prose that, in Robert Polito?s words, allows for ?oddities, muddles, crises, contradictions, dead ends, multiple alternatives, and divergent vistas.? The result is critical essays that are themselves works of art.

Farber on Film contains this extraordinary body of work in its entirety for the first time, from his early and previously uncollected weekly reviews for The New Republic and The Nation to his brilliant later essays (some written in collaboration with his wife Patricia Patterson) on Godard, Fassbinder, Herzog, Scorsese, Altman, and others. Featuring an introduction by editor Robert Polito that examines in detail the stages of Farber?s career and his enduring significance as writer and thinker, Farber on Film is a landmark volume that will be a classic in American criticism.

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Editorial Reviews

Newcity Film
For me, the year's most important film book is "Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber" (Library of America, $40). A definitive collection of the great critic's lifetime achievement, its 800 pages of perceptive prose ...
—Ray Pride
The Barnes & Noble Review
For years, hardcore cineastes have cherished the quirky film criticism Manny Farber (1917-2008), a genuine hipster and a subtle writer in a genre increasingly given to thumbs-up-or-down consumer guidance. His offbeat views, collected in a single volume, Negative Space (1971), included the first serious celebrations of Preston Sturges' kinetic comedies and Sam Fuller's tabloid realism. Farber also championed male action films, the horror productions of Val Lewton, and the burgeoning underground movement.

His single most famous piece distinguished between Hollywood's monumental phoniness ("white elephant art") and the visionary genius of directors who focus on movement and moments ("termite art"). Anyone interested in film will want to devour this latest collection -- all of Farber's criticism, spanning some 35 years and including not only Negative Space but hundreds of pages compiled from his uncollected work. Years of reviews for The Nation, The New Republic, The New Leader, and other magazines reveal both the genesis of Farber's unusual opinions but also the rather conventional ideas at the core of his aesthetic. I suspect his acolytes will be surprised to learn that Farber was first and foremost a realist, constantly measuring film against his notion of everyday truth and searching for "the human element." This explains his distaste for the high artifice of the American Hitchcock, as well as his impatience with the sentimentality of John Ford or Frank Capra. Even film noir was too talky and improbable for him. Before he abandoned criticism altogether for teaching and painting (his first love) in the late '70s, Farber (in essays written with his wife) found his ideal cinema in the German New Wave, especially Fassbinder, Wenders, and Herzog. Given the high production values of the Library of America, is it too much to expect that the publisher would avoid so many typos? Or that someone would have caught the glaring factual error in the editor's altogether overblown introduction? No matter. Farber's muscular prose demands the attention of anyone who cares about movies. --Thomas DePietro

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781598530506
  • Publisher: Library of America, The
  • Publication date: 10/1/2009
  • Pages: 1000
  • Sales rank: 1,141,259
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Polito, editor, is a poet, biographer, and critic whose books include Doubles, Hollywood & God, A Reader's Guide to James Merrill's The Changing Light at Sandover, and Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson, for which he received the National Book Critics Circle Award. He directs the Graduate Writing Program at New School University in New York City.
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