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 strategies that went into low-budget and radical films as diverse as Michael Snow's Wavelength, Werner Herzog's Fata Morgana, and Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman. Expanded with an in-depth interview and seven essays written with his wife, artist Patricia Patterson, Negative Space gathers Farber's most influential writings, making this an indispensable collection for all lovers of film.
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Page 15 - Praising these solemn goiters has produced a climate in which the underground picture-maker, with his modest entry and soft-shoe approach, can barely survive. However, any day now, Americans may realize that scrambling after the obvious in art is a losing game. The sharpest work of the last thirty years is to be found by studying the most unlikely, selfdestroying, uncompromising, roundabout artists. When the day comes for praising infamous men of art, some great talent will be shown in true light:...
Page 18 - Karlson - go completely underground before proving themselves more honest and subtle than the water buffaloes of film art: George Stevens, Billy Wilder, Vittorio De Sica, Georges Clouzot. (Clouzot's most successful work, Wages of Fear, is a wholesale steal of the mean physicality and acrid highway inventions in such Walsh-Wellman films as They Drive by Night. Also, the latter film is a more flexible, adroitly ad-libbed, worked-in creation than Clouzot's eclectic money-maker.) Unfortunately, the action...
Page 22 - ... look at some faded fight pictures on a hotel wall— as though he were in the grip of a spectacular, mobile "eye." When Hawks landscapes action— the cutting between light tower and storm-caught plane in Ceiling Zero, the vegetalizing in The Thing, the shamus sweating in a greenhouse in The Big Sleep— the feeling is of a clever human tunneling just under the surface of terrain. It is as though the film has a life of its own that goes on beneath the story action. However, there have been many...
Page 17 - ... bulldogging. The important thing is not so much the banal-seeming journeys to nowhere that make up the stories, but the tunneling that goes on inside the classic Western-gangster incidents and stock hoodlum-dogface-cowboy types. For instance, Wellman's lean, elliptical talents for creating brassy cheapsters and making gloved references to death, patriotism, masturbation, suggest that he uses private runways to the truth, while more famous directors take a slow, embalming surface route. The virtues...
Page 20 - Lyric-Pix-Victory theaters soon impresses the spectator with the coverage of locales in action films. The average gun film travels like a shamus who knows his city and likes his private knowledges. Instead of the picture-postcard sights, the underground film finds the most idiosyncratic spot of a city and then locates the niceties within the large nicety. The California Street hill in San Francisco (Woman in Hiding) with its old-style mansions played in perfect night photography against a deadened...
Page 17 - Public Enemy. Both Hawks and Wellman, who made these overweighted mistakes, are like basketball's corner man: their best shooting is done from the deepest, worst angle. With material that is hopelessly worn out and childish (Only Angels Have Wings), the underground director becomes beautifully graphic and modestly human in his flexible detailing. When the material is like drab concrete, these directors become great on-the-spot inventors, using their curiously niggling, reaming style for adding background...
Page 14 - American culture since the various groupings that made the 1920s an explosive era in jazz, literature, silent films. Hawks and his group are perfect examples of the anonymous artist, who is seemingly afraid of the polishing, hypocrisy, bragging, fake educating that goes on in serious art. To go at his most expedient gait, the Hawks type must take a withdrawn, almost hidden stance in the industry. Thus, his films seem to come from the most neutral, humdrum, monotonous corner of the movie lot. The...