Posts Tagged ‘Manny Farber’

Links to links to links to links

November 19, 2009

Because aggregating links to interesting stuff is a better use of one’s time than fulfilling one’s obligations, whatever those might be (in my case, writing and eating and breathing and, every once in a while, sleeping):

Alexander Sokurov’s latest, The Sun (2005), is finally getting its first run on American screens at NY’s Film Forum (the best cinema on Earth, for all my Madisonian readers). Unsurprisingly the film is receiving a whole lot of critical love: J. Hoberman digs it, as does Manohla Dargis, as does Daniel Kasman. I’m unsure whether I’ll be able to swing by the Forum to catch a showing while I’m temporarily back on the right coast next week, so hopefully the film’ll make its way to Madison at some point in the however distant future. If you’re fiending to see some Sokurov, Four Star Video Heaven has a pretty damn respectable collection of his films, including Moloch (1999), which is the first film in Sokurov’s “Men of Power” series (of which The Sun is a part).

Jack Craver’s debut for the Isthmus advances a “j’accuse” that anybody with a sense of both humor and history will surely smile upon reading: Mayor Dave as monarch.

I’m an armchair-philosopher’s armchair-philosopher, but I’m nevertheless fascinated by the recent online writings of contemporary thinker Graham Harman, who here gives a necessarily terse explanation of the two types of objects that he thinks are: real objects and sensual objects. (For good measure, here’s Michael Austin’s lucid explication of Harman’s theory of vicarious causation and Levi Bryant’s own take on what really happens between objects.) Harman’s book Guerrilla Metaphysics, in which he advances the über-intriguing, quasi-aesthetic concept of allure, is on my “note to self: read these soon” list. It seems inevitable that film and literary studies will have to confront Harman’s ideas (as well as Bryant’s, once his book The Democracy of Objects is published).

Do yourself a favor and read all four parts (one, two, three and four) of Robert Polito’s ode to Manny Farber over at the Auteurs’ Notebook. Sticky, sticky stuff.

I hereby decree that sneaker pimp Sonny Vaccaro is allowed to be all “I told y’all so” regarding the NBA’s newest phenom (and starting point guard of your Milwaukee Bucks), Brandon Jennings. Jennings’s now-legendary 55 point performance, which I had the pleasure of watching as it happened, was probably the most thrilling thing I’ve seen these past couple weeks… granted, that isn’t saying much.

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(Visual) Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 11/17 + Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 11/17

November 17, 2009

Not sure if you’ve noticed this yet but the filmic blogosphere is all caught up in a big ol’ Manny Farber love-in, and who am I to dissent? The video above is a deliberately opaque and profoundly self-serious (because it’s art, damn it) tribute to Manny’s essay “Clutter,” which can still be found in the still essential Negative Space. If you really must know, I’ve been looking for an excuse to test out the crappy editing software that came for free with my camcorder. I’ve included my favorite passage from “Clutter” (yes, it’s the very first paragraph) below for your reading pleasure.

The movie scene: crawling with speciousness; one type of clutter examining, reporting, publicizing another. The dictionary defines clutter as a confused mass, untidy collection, crowd (a place) with a disorderly mass of things, litter. Just to go near the art theater district on Third Avenue is to be jostled by the definition, a cattle drive that includes the little pink plexiglass sign with $2.50 printed on it (if you’re lucky; sometimes it’s $3), and a character, tenacious as Epoxy resin, guarding the sanctuary with red velvet hose and an unswervable litany: “There will be no further seating for the present showing. Buy your tickets now; seating will begin at 7:50 for the 8PM show.”

Against overbearing art

August 20, 2009
In the wee hours of this morning, as I was watching Frank Tashlin’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), I encountered a phenomenon which I’ve experienced many times before and will undoubtedly experience many times in the future. To me it seemed as though Rock Hunter, as a work of art, was guilty of what some would consider to be a high sin: it was really, truly, irritatingly overbearing.
But what exactly does it mean for a film to be “overbearing”? If I took anything away from reading the criticism of Manny Farber, it’s that nothing dulls the razor-sharp efficacity of a work of art like unapologetic obviousness. Any which way you slice it, producing or consuming art involves confronting certain challenges; when those challenges are resolved too easily, or when they’re resolved a priori, the work begins to feel like little more than a cheap, overly smooth ride (when it should instead be an aesthetic workout). To be “overbearing” is to approach obviousness, perhaps without ever actually getting there; in other words, an overbearing film is one which is so set on making its point(s) that it feels it has to present itself in such a way that most viewers will walk away from seeing it with roughly the same impressions. An overbearing work of art overextends itself in trying to hammer home its point, thus getting on the nerves of those of us who insist on doing at least some if not most of the work.
In Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, the dimensions of satire and not-so-discreet critique are suggested by way of a bootleg Brechtianism, a method which often causes the film’s explicit and implicit content to be conveyed quite repetitively, thereby exacerbating any latent annoyance contained in the film’s various elements (such as Jayne Mansfield’s obnoxious squeaking, or most of Tony Randall’s lines). Of course, some would argue that this is all a deliberate component of the film’s constitution, that any camp or kitsch is purely by design; even so, it’s difficult to deny that the film frequently loses sight of its own wit and finds itself resorting to less-than-clever sight gags (like the TV commercial parodies which serve as the film’s preface) and jokes which fall flat more often than they land upright.
I’m sure much of this has to do with the fact that I’m a 20-year-old know-nothing watching a very of-its-time satire produced in 1957; that said, I think a lot of the overextension I encountered in watching Rock Hunter in 2009 demonstrates how overbearingness, if not genuine obviousness, can poison the foundation of an artistic experience. And for the record, I didn’t dislike the film; I only wish it were more difficult to watch.

Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 8/6

August 6, 2009

Today I’ve got a quote from Pierre-Auguste Renoir, courtesy of… Sergei Eisenstein? I took it from Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, a collection of Eisenstein’s theoretical writings, and not from his non-existent Twitter page (though now that I think about it, Eisenstein’s writing style is actually rather tweet-esque). I think this quote has a pretty striking resemblance to Manny Farber’s conceptual distinction between “white elephant art” and “termite art”; Farber’s essay “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art”, which many consider to be his critical masterpiece, will definitely be a continued point of reference on here, and I’m sure it’ll figure into this daily quotation gimmick soon enough. Anyway, without further ado, here’s Mr. Renoir:

“Beauty of every description finds its charm in variety. Nature abhors both vacuum and regularity. For the same reason, no work of art can really be called such if it has not been created by an artist who believes in irregularity and rejects any set form. Regularity, order, desire for perfection (which is always a false perfection) destroy art. The only possibility of maintaining taste in art is to impress on artists and the public the importance of irregularity. [my emphasis] Irregularity is the basis of all art.”

I’ll do my best, P.-A.

Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes

August 5, 2009

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”