Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes

Like two of my heroes, Jean-Luc Godard and Walter Benjamin, I’m a real quotation junkie. When I’m reading (and that’s often all I do), rarely does a catchy passage escape me without being recorded for some future, indeterminate use. On the one hand, over the course of the last year-and-change I’ve kept a relatively complete log of all the different fragments of paragraphs that have struck me like chunks of ice in a snowball fight; on the other hand, I hardly ever share these quotes with anyone, because honestly, when and why would I? I can practically recite some parts of Benjamin’s “One Way Street” from memory (“all the decisive blows are struck left-handed”)… so where’s my trophy?

But now that I’m settling in with this blog, I figured it might be interesting to let a few of these puppies out of the cage, both to stimulate conversation and to offer an indirect explanation for why I think and write as I do. For the first installment, I’ve got a real doozy. This quote is taken from a Manny Farber review that was published in 1966; it goes by the title “The Subverters” in the essential Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies. Reading Farber, as I’m sure is apparent from my writing, has had a considerable influence on the way I ingest, digest and then regurgitate art. Here, Farber effectively dismisses the politique des auteurs (or, for our American friends, “auteur theory”) by arguing, sensibly, that it takes a lot more than a brilliant shot-caller to make a film great.

“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. Until this miracle occurs, the massive attempt in 1960’s criticism to bring some order and shape into 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.

[…] 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.”

-Manny Farber, “The Subverters”

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