Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

San Diego Film Critic Manny Farber's Essays Reissued

Manny Farber: Vitalizing Space
San Diego Film Critic Manny Farber's Essays Reissued
San Diego Film Critic Manny Farber's Essays Reissued GUESTS:Robert Polito, editor, "Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber" Alex Juutilainen, filmmaker, "On Detour with Manny Farber"

This is K PBS midday edition and I am more in capital a collection of essays by one of the most influential film critics of the 20th century has come out in paperback Farber on film includes a complete essay of San Diego's own Manny Farber. That he spent much of his later life concentrating on painting visual art his film could treat set the standard for generation of critics in fact Susan Sontag called font Farber the most original film critic this country has ever produced. Recently I spoke with Robert Polito and he is editor of Farber on film and Alex you made the documentary on detour and here's that interview. A collection of essays by men of the most influential film critics of the 20th century has come out on paperback. Farber on film includes the complete essays of San Diego's own Manny Farber although he spent much of his later life concentrating on painting, his film could treat set the standard for generation of critics including Pauline Kale and Susan Sontag. In fact Sontag called Farber the liveliest smartest most original film critic this country has ever produced joining me as Robert Polito he is editor of Rob Farber on film. Thank you Maureen. Alex made a film about Manny Farber and it's called on detour with Manny Farber. Alex, welcome to the program work Thank you. Robert, talk to us about the film critic what is about his writing on film that has made it so influential. America has produced and I think continues to produce many great don't critics from Pauline Kale to Jim Hoberman and Ken Jones and Kim Morgan. I think Manny Farber is probably the greatest writer of all of them. First of all there is an astonishing range. He was the first serious critic to write about action films and D movies. He was also the first American film credit to write about [ Indiscernible ] and he was a champion of experimental film directors like Michael Snow and Andy Warhol. I think the second thing is his deafness as a writer it's almost as if Manning writes from inside the moment by moment unfolding of a movie. A typical -- I guess there isn't really a typical Manny Farber essay. There were no interest, there were no conclusion, there was no plot summaries. I think along with DH Lawrence he was one of the few critics of modernism that he himself wrote as a modernist. Instead of meat summaries, what you get our pens and lists and jokes and multiple perspectives and points of views. For him it's all about roots. The roots through and around and inside the work. His prose is very dissenter and multi-focused. It follows chains of Association. In fact makes his early film writing a lot like the later paintings that he did. Robert, many Farber famously set up the dichotomy between white elephant art and termite art can you explain those terms for us? There a little bit slippery but it certainly the single item that he is probably most famous for. Sometimes you will even see references to it and television situation comedies. It goes back to a 1962 essay that he wrote white elephant art is an art of large statements that I think ultimately tell you something that you already know in grandiose self flattering terms. I think many Oscar winning films are examples of white elephant art. But let Manny was really interested in West termite art. Termite art is under the radar and surprising. It's steeped in the fine details, you might call them. It nibbles away at the pretensions. It nibbles with the pretensions but also it enables away at its self sometimes. Like you almost have the sense of somebody out on a limb and then chopping off the limp that they are out on. He would mention directors like solar and a poet and a photographer and it was very much an art of brilliance small moments as opposed to these kind of large social statements but I think almost anybody would endorse. Robert, can you reach for something from many Farber's writings on film? I would like to. I'm going to read from many Farber's 1969 essay on the film maker Howard Hawks. His account of Rosalind Russell film his girl Friday. Crisp and starch were Scarface is dark and moody. His girl Friday 1940. Is one of the fastest of all movies from line to line and get to gag. Besides the dynamic highly assertive case this front-page remake with Rosalyn Russell playing Pat O'Brien's role. Is a tour de force of choreographed action. Bravado posturing with body lucid cubistic composing with Maddie lapels and -- as well as a very stylized discourse of sure price based on the idea of topic outmaneuvering the other person with wit, cynicism and verbal bravado. A line is never allowed to reverberate and is quickly attacked to another funny airline in a very underrating comedy. The champions the sardonic and quick witted over the plodding sober citizens. That is very nice. That's Robert Pulido reading from Farber on the film compilation of many Farber's film critiques in which he edited. Let me move to out -- Alex Juutilaninen. Alex, your documentary on detour with Manny Farber was on Farber working here in San Diego's painter. To see similarities in his approach to painting and his film criticism? Yes very much so. In many ways he did the exact same thing. Many Farber was always a painter and actually exhibited [ Indiscernible ] in 1961. He was Robert Motherwell -- when Farber came in San Diego to 1970 visual art department is slowly [ Indiscernible ] and focus on paintings only. When I met him and 2000 he was [ Indiscernible ]. In the 50s and 60s hit in large-scale double sided distractions -- obstructions but when I met him he had a painting sort of regular terribly still life paintings. These still life paintings had a huge amount of still objects in them. It might seem still at first such as candy wrappers him a toy soldiers from childhood objects from the films he wrote about or objects from [ Indiscernible ]. The fascinating thing an aspect of Farber's work is that he kind of setting up the same system of reading or licking in both film criticism and painting. How so? I think in his film criticism he imported the dynamics of the still image as Robert mentioned an imported [ Indiscernible ] aesthetics into his paintings. In his film criticisms, individual words sort of clashed and bumped into each other. One of my favorite phrases is from the [ Indiscernible ] white elephant [ Indiscernible ] to talked about termite tapeworm fungus moth art. Each word here hasn't cut of an accent -- its active and describes space and it evokes an image to you. Leaving you through a path in his writings. In his paintings, very much in the same way, every object clashed with each other kind of or Lena mechanism to each other. Forces the viewer to follow certain visual path from object to object and lead you through the landscape of the paintings. It's also interesting I think that you can never really see the whole thing. You can never get a complete overview of a many Farber painting by looking at it from a distance. You need to get close. You need to go in and look at it and scrutinize the details and the relationship of one object to another and surrounding objects. I did want to ask Robert, tell us something about this paperback edition that has just been released of your compilation of Farber's film critiques, it's described as a deluxe paperback addiction? What does that exactly mean. I think that would refer to the fact that it has deluxe French flaps instead of -- or an ordinary cover. To echo something that Alex said, I think one of the fascinating things about Manny's film criticism is that in his early descriptions of film directors particularly, at a time when he was mainly working as a kind of abstract painter, in those descriptions is a prediction of the painter that he would become many, many years later. When you redescription of Manny on Preston Sturgis or Howard Hawks or Don Siegel, you can see the painter that he would eventually become an clearly wants to be but hasn't figured out how to get there. We have been talking about the paperback release of Farber on film, the complete film writings of many Farber edited by Robert Polito and I have been joined by Robert Polito and documentary film editor Alex Juutilaninen. Thank you both very much. Thank you.

A collection of essays by one of the most influential film critics of the twentieth century has come out in paperback.

"Farber On Film" includes the complete essays of San Diego's own Manny Farber. He is among a handful of film critics whose work is still referenced after their deaths, including such luminaries as Pauline Kael, James Agee and François Truffault.

Farber spent much of his later life concentrating on painting and visual art. He was a visual arts professor at UC San Diego, along with his wife, Patricia Patterson, also a renowned painter.


Farber's film critiques set the standard for a generation of artists and critics, including Pauline Kael and Susan Sontag, who called Farber, "the liveliest, smartest, most original film critic this country has ever produced."

"There was his astonishing range," said Robert Polito, editor of "Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber."

His best-known essay is perhaps "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art." White elephant art is big, splashy, bloated. Think Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra." Termite art may be a performance, perhaps even by John Wayne, or a film made by a lesser-known filmmaker, but it burrows under your skin and is not only memorable, it is art.

This NPR essay explains Farber's eye for and appreciation of termite art, but apparently (and amusingly) contains a couple of mistakes. Scroll to the bottom for Patricia Patterson's spirited response.