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 brings together 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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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 a National Book Critics Circle Award and an Edgar Award. He directs the Graduate Writing Program at the New School in New York City.From Booklist:
*Starred Review* With serious film criticism probably in an inexorable decline due to vanishing venues for publication and the dumbing-down of the moviegoing audience, these writings by the late Farber (1917–2008) constitute a pointed reminder of what will be lost. Farber is best known for championing the B movies of such maverick filmmakers as producer Val Lewton and director Sam Fuller, most notably in a signature 1962 essay in which he excoriated moribund white elephant art and praised the termite art made by eager, eccentric artists, art that goes always forward eating its own boundaries. This long-overdue volume amasses all of Farber’s cinematic writings, from weekly reviews for the New Republic and the Nation in the 1940s and ’50s to wider-ranging essays of the ’60s and ’70s for such specialized publications as Artforum. Throughout, Farber’s iconoclastic viewpoints—he panned The Magnificent Ambersons and Casablanca—and virtuosic prose provide limitless rewards for readers who can negotiate his unexpected intellectual and stylistic turns. The insight and imagination Farber brings to his subjects, whether a Bugs Bunny cartoon or, in his last published film writing, the uncompromising French masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, is an exemplar for criticism of any sort. --Gordon Flagg
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