Farber on Film
The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber
Edited by Robert Polito
Library of America
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". . . a comprehensive examination of manuscripts rich in art and language."
Farber on Film, The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber, an encyclopedic collection of three decades of film and art reviews, columns and essays dating back to 1942, is a comprehensive examination of manuscripts rich in art and language.
Farber’s criticisms utilize a complex art form that requires intellectual examination of color, use of space, style, lighting and motion—or so explains editor Robert Polito in his lengthy introduction to the book. Farber’s writing equation “was never simple” Polito adds.
Farber, who died in 2008, was born in Douglas, Arizona, in 1917. He began reading movie reviews at the age of seven. By 1970, when he stopped critiquing movies for professional publications to work his on art and teaching (film studies at University of San Diego), he had amassed a collection that dealt with more than a thousand films. Farber is recognized by those in the film industry as America’s most important, unique and talented film critic because of his viewing approach and his esoteric writing style.
In 1967, Farber received the Guggenheim Fellowship to complete his book, The Negative Space, in which he explains his analytical view of space and style. For instance, about a frame in the movie Wild Bunch he writes that it is “a window into deep, wide, rolling, Baroque, space; almost every shot is a long horizontal crowed with garrulous animality.” He describes actress Ida Lupino as working “close and guardedly to the camera.”
All of his essays focus on details. He examines the director’s use of space on the movie screen, actors’ movements and film as an art piece. He offers in-depth disclosure of flaws and points toward discovered brilliance.
The collection is divided in three distinctive time periods. From 1942 to 1947, it includes war movies, documentaries, films based in foreign countries, specifically, Russia, Britain, and “Warners’ Boys in the Balkans.” From 1949-1954, popular movies dominate such as “The Great Gatsby and A Street Car Named Desire along with the introduction of 3-D. In his later years, from 1957 to 1977, he shifts to underground movies produced in garages, film festivals as well as experimental films and analyzes the impact of television on the movie screen.
His works first appeared in the New Republic and later in The Nation, The Village Voice, Commentary, The New Leader and others. This collection assembled by The Library of America will no doubt be a required reference for anyone involved in the film industry or attracted to scholarly writing.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla