Essay In Aesthetics By Way Of A Preface

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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’.

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.

As his sophisticated painter’s eye began to take greater precedence over his gift for ridicule both caustic and sly, his work became more and more dense without, however, sacrificing its suppleness or speed—just one result of his inveterate habit of repeated viewings and reconsiderations of a given film, his attempt to go beyond his private reactions to accommodate plural perspectives, and the fact that he is admittedly ‘unable to write anything at all without extraordinary amounts of rewriting.’ These factors helped forge a criticism that took its author’s initial responses to a film only as a launching pad; the published work was the re-sult of rigorous self-criticism and endless mulling, a trial by fire.

Within this crucible Farber fashioned a style whose prodigious vocabulary, flexible syntax, and racing pulse were exquisitely at-tuned to the phenomenologies of artistic process (especially the momentary fluxes of filmmaking).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.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.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.always saying, that’s not exactly true, or that’s not fair, or look at this other side’, Farber explained: ‘She cannot be unscrupulous.We have ferocious arguments over every single sentence that’s written.’ Those battles, however essential to the production of their essays, leave few traces here, except in the unusual variety of texture and the inescapable impression that the stakes have been raised and there is so much left to be said.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.


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