Emanuel "Manny" Farber
February 20, 1917
|Died||August 18, 2008 (aged 91)|
|Known for||Painter, film critic|
Emanuel "Manny" Farber (February 20, 1917 – 18 August 2008) was an American painter, film critic and writer. Often described as "iconoclastic", Farber developed a distinctive prose style  and set of theoretical stances which have had a large influence on later generations of film critics, influence on underground culture; Susan Sontag considered him to be "the liveliest, smartest, most original film critic this country has ever produced."
Farber's writing was distinguished by its "visceral," punchy style and inventive approach towards language; amongst other things, he is credited with coining the term "underground film" in 1957, and was an early advocate of such filmmakers as Howard Hawks, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, William Wellman, Raoul Walsh, Anthony Mann, Michael Snow, Chantal Akerman, George Kuchar, Nicolas Roeg, Samuel Fuller and Andy Warhol.
Later in life, Farber focused more on art and teaching. He often worked in close collaboration with his wife, Patricia Patterson, also an artist.
Life and career
Farber attended UC Berkeley, Stanford University and the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design. In the 1930s, Farber worked as a painter and carpenter, first in San Francisco and then in Washington DC. During this time, he attempted to join the Communist Party, though later in his life Farber was often critical of post-New Deal liberal politics.
His journalistic career began as an art critic, and in 1942 he moved to New York City and took a post as a film critic for The New Republic. This was followed by stints at Time (1949), The Nation (1949–54), New Leader (1958–59), Cavalier (1966) and Artforum (1967–71). He has also contributed to Commentary, Film Culture, Film Comment, and City Magazine. He contributed art criticism to The New Republic and The Nation during the 1940s through 1950s.
Farber left New York City to teach at the University of California, San Diego in 1970. Reportedly, Farber traded his Manhattan loft to artist Don Lewallen in exchange for Lewallen's teaching position at UCSD after the two met at a party. Once in San Diego, he focused on painting and teaching, and retired from criticism altogether in 1977.
Originally an art professor only, Farber was approached about teaching a film class because of his background as a critic. He taught several courses, including "History of Film" and "Films in Social Context," which became famous for his unusual teaching style: he usually showed films only in disconnected pieces, sometimes running them backwards or adding in slides and sketches on the blackboard to illustrate his ideas. His exams had a reputation for being demanding and complicated, and occasionally required students to draw storyboards of scenes from memory.
Farber retired from teaching in 1987, at age 70. Towards the end of his life, he found it difficult to paint, and instead focused on collages and drawings; his final exhibition of new work occurred just a month before his death.
Farber's writing is well known for its distinctive prose style, which he personally described as "a struggle to remain faithful to the transitory, multisuggestive complication of a movie image." He cited the sportswriters of his era as an influence, and frequently used sports metaphors, especially ones related to baseball, in his writings on art and cinema.
"White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art"
One of Farber's best-known essays is "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art", which originally appeared in 1962 in Film Culture. In it, he writes on the virtues of "termite art" and the excesses of "white elephant art" and champions the B film and under-appreciated auteurs, which he felt were able, termite-like, to burrow into a topic. Bloated, pretentious, white elephant art lacks the economy of expression found in the greatest works of termite art, according to Farber. Farber saw termite art as spontaneous and subversive, going in bold new directions, and white elephant art as formal and tradition-bound. He offers John Wayne's performance in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence as a quintessential example of cinematic termite art, but scorns the films of Truffaut and Antonioni.
"Termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art," Farber contends, "goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, like as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity."
Reputation and influence
An appearance by Manny Farber at the San Francisco Film Festival is shown in the documentary, For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, in which he is called "criticism's supreme stylist" and his unusual use of language is discussed by The Nation critic Stuart Klawans.
- Farber, Manny (1998). Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies, Expanded Edition. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80829-3. Originally released by Praeger Publishers in 1971.
- "Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson Interviewed by Richard Thompson, 1977", Screening the Past.
- Hudson, David (18 August 2008). "Manny Farber, 1917 - 2008". GreenCine Daily. Archived from the original on 18 July 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-03. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Sklar, Robert (Spring 2009). "In Memoriam: Manny Farber, 1917-2008". Cinema Journal. 48 (3): 66–69. doi:10.1353/cj.0.0102. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) — Cover story for the Spring issue. Sklar praises Farber's writing and his view that "movies weren't movies anymore" but regrets that "over time his viewpoint proved unworkable as an effective career strategy."
- Grimes, William (August 19, 2008). Manny Farber, Iconoclastic Film Critic and Artist, Dies at 91. New York Times
- Kiderra, Inga (August 21, 2008).Obituary: Artist and Critic Manny Farber, 91. UCSanDiego NewsCenter
- Issue 40 Editorial. Archived 2011-07-11 at the Wayback Machine Framework
- Manny Farber, 1917 - 2008. Archived 2009-07-18 at the Wayback Machine GreenCine Daily.
- Hoberman, J.Manny Farber 1917-2008. Village Voice
- Polito, Robert. "Other Roads, Other Tracks" Introduction. Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber. New York: Library of America, 2009. Xv-Xxxviii.
- Farber, Manny (1998). Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies (Expanded ed.). New York: Da Capo Press. p. 135. ISBN 0-306-80829-3. OCLC 38311966.