Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies
Manny Farber, one of the most important critics in movie history, championed the American action film—the bravado of Howard Hawks, the art brut styling of Samuel Fuller, the crafty, sordid entertainments of Don Siegel—at a time when other critics dismissed the genre. His witty, incisive criticism later worked exacting language into an exploration of the feelings and strate...more
Paperback, 424 pages
Published March 21st 1998 by Da Capo Press
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First of all, Farber is just a weird and compelling writer. Sure, he chose to write bout films mostly, but he could have devoted his career to philately or fitness and I would have enjoyed him. Unlike, say, Robert Christgau, he lacks the ability to condense oceans of thought and wit into brief coherent sentences. Yet riding his wordstream can be fun. Dig if you will the opening sentence to his seminal essay 'White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art': "Most of the feckless, listless quality of today's...more
I disagree with so many of Manny Farber's reviews. He favors Westerns over Noir and seems to have little patience for the French or Italian New Waves. However, in the 1970s, he gets on board with so many of my favorite directors: Herzog, Fassbinder, Roeg, Akerman, etc. This book is also the first time I've read anyone complaining about Old Hollywood and a lot of the films in the 1940s and 50s. I often feel disconnected from the overacting and seemingly cheesy stories, but I will often give films...more
i honestly haven't read every single essay here, but i've read a good bit of it. anyway, farber is probably the most playful and idiosyncratic film critic i've ever read, being particularly useful/stimulating while trashing films i absolutely adore. the best part of farber's writing is his ability to reshape an argument concerning his subjects. it's never some binary, thumbs-up-thumbs-down reaction with him, instead, it's as if he alters the content of the films he's discussing through his evalu...more
I lost count of how many artists and movies Manny Farber didn't take to in the first 2/3 of this book. Vittorio De Sica, Billy Wilder, The Third Man, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, John Huston, Frank Capra, Breathless, Godard, Antonioni, JD Salinger, Fellini, Lawrence of Arabia, Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockinbird, Truffaut, Jeanne Moreau, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Paddy Chayefsky, Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd, Marlon Brando in Streetcar ... I could go on and on. He did manage to acknowledge that...more
Farber writes like no one else. His reviews read like an excavation: as though Farber is going over the images in his head over and over again, each time trying to penetrate his memory, and thus the film, even further. In the process, his reviews are like a slowly peeled onion: the further one goes, the more insight there is. His method of criticism goes beyond just reviewing a film and often focuses on the greater context of cinema at the time. He is not afraid to examine a "group" of films rel...more
Mar 23, 2009 Evan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Although I've read some of the essays in this book, I've never read the whole thing. I hope to soon. Farber's essay on "Taxi Driver" brilliantly expresses my own dissatisfactions with that film; he takes perspectives on things that seem to elude most critics. He had a finely tuned critical radar; one of the most scintillating critical sensibilities and talents for expression during the golden age of movie criticism.
Manny Farber was called "the critic's critic" by Philip Lopate in his collection of American film criticism. True, but I think Farber is also more purely enjoyable to read than even the layman's twin titans (Kael and Ebert) and more informative and eye-opening than the most famed theorists (insert any number of suitably snobbish names -- Bazin, Sarris, Durgnat -- here). His review of "Taxi Driver" (co-written with his wife Patricia Patterson) may be the ultimate refutation of film criticism as a...more
Farber died on August 17, 2008. If you've never encountered his two-fisted prose, clarity, and ability to describe the surface of films--the framing, the objects, the spaces in between--in such a way that it makes watching films a truly active and dare I say transcendent experience, then you have plenty of rewarding catching up to do. You may disagree with him, you may hate him, but it'll be impossible for you to dismiss this truly idiosyncratic American original.