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Though he can seem ‘opinionated,’ ‘intensely personal,’ ‘eccentric’—all the things he’s blurbed to be—strictly speaking, the first person is virtually absent from his prose.Anything but private, his critical voice is suffused with personality and ‘attitude,’ but not exactly that of the man himself.
Yet the briefest look at his work reveals an astute appreciator of actors, one who paid subtle attention to body language, physiognomy, and other presentations of self.
Farber had a coterie reputation, particularly in the postwar world of New York intellectuals, as a keen observer, a brilliant and original stylist, and an exacting but generous critic (as well as a pioneering painter).
She is a fierce anti-solutions person, against identifying a movie as one single thing, period. She brings that into the writing and takes the assertiveness out’.
After Patterson conceded that she was ‘a little more scrupulous’ and ‘less willing to let the statement be made…
Again there is a personal critical voice, yet it is neither Farber’s nor Patterson’s, but an unprecedented blend.
‘I can’t imagine a more perfect art form, a more perfect career than criticism,’ Farber told Thompson at the end of their conversation in 1977.No critic, not even Godard, has had a more developed understanding of a movie as mobile composition, a wheeling mandala of sounds and images in dialogue with one another and with their viewers.Perhaps because of his relationships with contentious friends in the literary and art worlds—from James Agee to Jackson Pollock, Walker Evans to Clement Greenberg—as well as making his living for many years as a carpenter, he came to examine each movie as an open set of overlapping fields, which encouraged a style that reveled in Borgesian catalogues of telling detail and led him to give heightened prominence to the varieties of film space.In his essay , he wrote: ‘One day somebody is going to make a film that is the equivalent of a Pollock painting, a movie that can be truly pigeonholed for effect, certified a one-person operation. It was this feeling for impurities that made Farber an uncanny dowser when it came to spotting an individual’s stamp on a film, wherever it could be discerned, and something of a seer about the relations between a film and its historical moment.Until this miracle occurs, the massive attempt in 1960s criticism to bring some order and shape to film history—creating a Louvre of great films and detailing the one genius responsible for each film—is doomed to failure because of the subversive nature of the medium: the flash-bomb vitality that one scene, actor, or technician injects across the grain of a film. Farber has also been considered a ‘curmudgeon,’ but his alleged ‘crankiness’ is something more: an immediate responsiveness, a desire for precision, and an invitation to dialogue.But until this selection of fugitive articles was culled from a career then approaching three decades, it was necessary to unearth back issues of For many years, and much to his irritation, Farber has been typecast as the champion of B movies and ‘the male action film.’ He was certainly among the first to call attention to the achievements of directors as different as Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh (no relation), William Wellman, Samuel Fuller, and Anthony Mann at a time when they were virtually ignored, and in the late 1950s and early 1960s his notoriety was enhanced-or, as it turned out, calcified—with influential summing-up pieces such as shows, Farber covered a much more sprawling domain than he is usually given credit for, while displaying ever greater critical ambitions.In contrast to his temperament, which inches along by layered reiteration, Farber’s pieces hooked and seduced readers from the opening phrase and drew them along, sometimes flagging a quick detour before sweeping them off again in other unexpected directions, though usually arriving at an energizing envoi.This may be one reason why, whatever his obsessions, he seems never to have become stuck on the films of one country, genre, or era but continued searching.Where he wound up—light-years from where he began—no one could have predicted, though he had consistently zeroed in on mavericks and radicals.also leaves no doubt that this assessment of his sensibility and aesthetic was misleadingly narrow.For Farber was always, if increasingly, aware of films as collaborative and mongrelized in all their parts. One of the joys of moviegoing is worrying over the fact that what is referred to as Hawks might be Jules Furthman, that behind the Godard film is the looming shape of Raoul Coutard, and that, when people talk about Bogart’s “peculiarly American” brand of scarred, sophisticated cynicism they are really talking about what Ida Lupino, Ward Bond, or even Stepin Fetchit provided in unmistakable scene-stealing moments’.