Combustible Celluloid

Negative Space, by Manny Farber

Review by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Negative Space, by Manny Farber

Of the trio of early American movie critics, James Agee was a musician, Otis Ferguson was a poet, and Manny Farber was a painter. It's fascinating to read Farber's work and know that he has not only re-written carefully dozens of times, but still manages to get an artistic painterly sensibility into the words. That he's writing only about movies, and that Farber was so fiercely independent, brutally honest, and seriously scrutinizing makes the reading doubly fascinating. Farber's critic's manifesto is included in the back of the book. But Farber was far from snooty. Indeed, he preferred what he called "termite art" to "white elephant art," i.e., movies that are artfully made but contain no noble gestures or political agendas, as opposed to empty movies that were applauded and awarded because of their political agendas. Hence, the essay "Underground Movies" is essential reading for any serious movie buff. The new edition of Negative Space is expanded, and contains a lengthy interview with Farber and his wife Patricia, who co-writes many of his reviews.

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