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Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber Hardcover – October 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

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*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

About the Author

Robert Polito, editor, is president of the Poetry Foundation. His poetry has been collected in two books, Hollywood & God (2009) and Doubles (1995). His scholarly works include A Reader’s Guide to James Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover (1995) and Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson (1996), for which he received a National Book Critics Circle Award and an Edgar Award. He has also edited Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 1940s and Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s (1997), and David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s (2012) for The Library of America. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1000 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America; First edition (October 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159853050X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1598530506
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #374,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Richard M. Sola on November 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a long overdue collection of the complete film writings of one of the great film observers of all time. Manny Farber was much, much more than a film critic. He looked, really looked, at films in ways that no one else did during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. He dissected films with a painter's eye, seeing what most everyone else missed. He looked at tough guy low budget movies. He looked at Hollywood big production films. He looked at foreign films and experimental films. He looked at cartoons.

And then he wrote. Farber wrote in a way that no one else did.

Farber started writing in the 1940s. His early reviews are still interesting as starting points before seeing the films he discusses. He had an uncanny knack for separating the fluff from substance and stopping great films and great directors long before others did (Hawks, Preston Sturges, Sam Fuller, Fassbinder, Herzog, and Michael Snow to name a few directors Farber championed). And he moved past mere plot summary and analysis to reviewing films in a whole new way.

This collection lets the reader watch Farber grow over time in his understanding of movies and in his writing. By the 1960s, he is writing essays(like his famous and influential "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art). His later collaboration with Patricia Patterson, an artist and Farber's wife, resulted in pieces that are never short of brilliant.

Farber is at his best when he is pulling and pushing the reader through a maze of thoughts, imagines and word gymnastics to come out the other end of the essay with a whole new way of looking at things. To say that he is non-linear in this thought process is an understatement. Only a great writer like Farber can pull it off.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Steiner VINE VOICE on July 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Manny Farber has been described as the most interesting of American film critics, and although I still prefer Kael and Rosenbaum this volume of collected works is a testament to his unique contribution to the practice of film criticism. In this collection, we finally get the early Farber-his dismissal of bloated epics and self-aggrandizement has true resonance today. Unlike the majority of film commentators, Farber identifies Orson Welles' influence as ultimately nefarious-Farber preferred the 'termite' qualities of a Hawks, a Sturgess, a Mann than the white elephant art of Welles, Hitchcock, and Wilder. However, it is definitely the case that Farber's particular aesthetic was not as interesting as the way he conveyed it-with wandering, almost free-associational digressions and metaphoric gymnastics he could paint the film in a whole new light. It's particulalry interesting to see this method applied to the deified masters of film-to Bergman and Fellini, et al. One cannot help that there is an overly critical mind at work here, yet Farber's approach was not to rank, to argue, or even really to valorize at the end of the day. He was interested in the impressions of the work. It's interesting to see his tone develop, from the wry witticisms in the 40's to the more open and appreciative voice of the 70's, where he began to champion directors like Godard, Fassbinder, and Snow. I cannot say that he had the same desire to truly understand the breadth of film in the way that our contemporary Rosenbaum does, nor did his prose sing in the way that Kael's did, yet his unique way of seeing and transmitting immediate aesthetic impressions was a singular contribution.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rossharmonics on January 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I had just found this book on Amazon and have not yet purched it. However, I have long been a fan of Farber and wanted to add some more positive comments to encoutage readers to discover one of the most original film critics America has ever produced.

Schopenhauer advised students not to let their teachers read their Kant for them. Unfortunately, many filmgoers do let their favorite critics watch their films for them. Many critics want to be authorities. Farber resists the regimenting of film experience and film tastes. He communicates the act and process of watching a film. I have learned more from him than any other film critic.

I discovered Farber when the anthology Negative Space was first published. At that time, Andrew Sarris was dominating the film scene in New York and possibly around the country. Sarris originized everything by cataloging good and bad director, major and minor films of each director, and a major and minor films by year. This game leads to people talking about films in broad categories rather than talking intelligently about what actually makes a film tick.

Farber probably will never gain the large following of critics who are looking for prestige but he deserves a wider audience simply because his much needed type of iconoclasm and his gifts of seeing each film anew might rub off on others.
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