Manny Farber

  • The Venice Film Festival

    THE GREAT OCTOPUS, THE Venice Film Festival, whose tentacles pull in every film except the Baillie-Lehr-Snow structuralism, which is just too radical, takes place in a building as bland and depressingly familiar as Volker Schlondorff’s Strohfeuer. Neither the film palace nor the film (a young woman’s bid for freedom from her marital grind, but Schlondorff doesn’t give her a fighting chance) has a hint of Venice’s eccentric grandeur. There’s nothing Italian about the brand new two-story mausoleum which has to be perked up with massive freestanding bouquets of gladiolas (visiting sex bombs like

  • Raoul Walsh: “He used to be a big shot.”

    OFTEN DURING THE HEYDEY of the Zanuck-CohnMayer studio warlords, metaphorical approximations of the studio setup appeared in film after film. In the depression highlife movies—Holiday and Easy Living—the studio is a corpulent rich man’s silvery baroque mansion, the studio employees are a giddy loquacious parasitic family that chews up his wallet. In the Shane-Red River mythic westerns a cattle baron, chairbound Ryker or Tom Dumbson, functions as though he’s running a movie studio by driving men and cattle into broken-willed obedience. Half of the Capra-Sturges library is involved with

  • The End of Summer and Women in Love

    One of the strongest images in Ozu’s The End of Summer (1961) is the crematorium smokestack at the top of a bland, inexpressive landscape, symbolizing the end of an old rake, who sneaked a day at the bicycle races with his mistress and died of overexposure. The sinewy sturdy old man (Ganjiro Nakamura, who looks like Picasso himself with his cockiness and golden sturdy vigor) is the only rambunctious member of a very restrained, duty-conscious family—the invariable cornerstone around which Ozu constructs his pared down home drama perfections. The tactics of the long lead-in to the crematorium

  • Loving, Zabriskie Point, Topaz, The Damned, and Au Hasard Balthazar

    Despite many good things (the first notable eyes since Per Oscarrson’s in Hunger in Segal’s sodden performance, Eva Marie Saint’s intelligent and tense mimicries emphasizing a hungry, tensed-for-disaster face, the dress shop scene which has a compassionate pessimism but stops before all the material is exploited), Loving at times looks disturbingly like the “two together” cigarette commercials. Actually, the movie is a fifty-fifty movie: it shows a sensitive touch for a man who is a complete mess, whose habits are wrong from the ground up, and, along with a sharply acted wife, creates this pain

  • Space in Film

    Space is the most dramatic stylistic entity—from Giotto to Noland, from Intolerance to Weekend. How an artist deploys his space, seldom discussed in film criticism but already a tiresome word of the moment in other art, is anathema to newspaper editors, who believe readers die like flies at the sight of esthetic terminology.

    If there were a textbook on film space, it would read: “There are several types of movie space, the three most important being (1) the field of the screen, (2) the psycho logical space of the actor, (3) the area of experience and geography that the film covers.” Bresson deals

  • The Ten Best: Black Girl, Ma Nuit Chez Maud, Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son, ←→, Ghronik der Anna Magdalena Bach

    The ten best: 1) Black Girl 2) Ma Nuit Chez Maud 3) Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son 4) ←→ 5) Ghronik der Anna Magdalena Bach 6) Le Gal Savoir 7) a tie among three Hollywood eccentricities, The Wild Bunch, Easy Rider, The Rain People 8) High School and La Raison Avant La Passion 9) Coming Apart 10) They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and La Femme Infidèle.

    One. Black Girl could have been sentimental pro-African anti-white (a very quiet, particular, personal story: an obstinate, naive Sengalese, taken to France as a mother’s helper, finds that she has no freedom of movement when she gets there. Thrilled to

  • Le Gai Savoir, The Wild Bunch, Easy Rider, The Rain People, High School, La Raison Avant La Passion

    Six. Le Gai Savoir has the same mix, fanatic estheticism, and outrage at the Establishment of an anti-form piece at Leo Castelli’s warehouse. A fresh-faced girl and boy spend the post-midnight hours on a TV stage reviewing the state of world affairs, in a potpourri of advertisements, Tom and Jerry, Magic Marker scribbles and glaring newsreels of street crowds that come on like lantern slides and flicker off quickly. The raucous, exhilarating track hasn’t a soporific note in it. The Berto-Léaud actors are curt, impatient cartoon characters, more extremely cartoons than the Parisian red guardists

  • Wavelength, Standard Time, ←→, and One Second in Montreal

    THE COOL KICK OF of Michael Snow’s Wavelength was in seeing so many new actors—light and space, walls, soaring windows, and an amazing number of color-shadow variations that live and die in the windowpanes—made into major esthetic components of movie experience. In Snow’s Standard Time, a waist-high camera shuttles back and forth, goes up and down, picking up small, elegantly lighted square effects around a living room very like its owner: ordered but not prissy. A joyous spiritual little film, it contains both his singular stoicism and the germinal ideas of his other films, each one like a

  • The Underground Festival at the Elgin Theater, La Raison Avant La Passion, Cat Food, and 1933

    At the Underground Festival that ran night and day in late December at the Elgin Theater, Snow’s films were pure reflective intelligence within an exacting, hard-nosed compositional system. The direct opposite is a random, hit-and-miss quality in Joyce Wieland’s La Raison Avant La Passion, a veritable pasture of expansive landscape imagery. The film is divided into three sections, a green section of the East. Coast, then a middle which is an ode to Trudeau (mostly Canadian flags and hot orange-red-pink face shots) and lastly an extraordinary white endlessness of snowscape. With its dry middle

  • The Films of Jean-Luc Godard

    EACH GODARD FILM IS of itself widely varied in persona as well as quality. Printed on the blackboard of one of his Formica-like later films, hardly to be noticed, is a list of African animals: a giraffe, lion, hippo. At the end of this director’s career, there will probably be a hundred films, each one a bizarrely different species, with its own excruciatingly singular skeleton, tendons, plumage. His stubborn, insistent, agile, encyclopedic, glib and arch personality floods the films, but, chameleonlike, it is brown, green or mudlark grey, as in Carabiniers, depending on the film’s content.

  • How I Won the War

    How I Won the War, a neither admirable nor contemptible altruism about the villains who coin money making war films, has enough material to stock several war films. Basically, it’s the war story of the fictitious 3rd Troop, 4th Musketeers. Among its luminous personnel are a sweating coward digging himself into holes and hiding under pots and pans; a working-class mocker in steel rims played by the Beatles’ John Lennon; a mad clown who prates Falstaffian brain-dulling lingo; and two zombies—a pink and a green man returned from the dead.

    The exploits of the boy leader, Michael Crawford, and his

  • Four Stars and Hold Me While I’m Naked

    The theaters of the Underground—often five or six docile customers in an improbable place that looks like a bombed-out air shelter or the downstairs ladies room at the old Paramount—offer a weirdly satisfying experience. For two dollars the spectator gets five bedraggled two-reelers, and, after a sojourn with incompetence, chaos, nouveau culture taste, he leaves this land’s end theater feeling unaccountably spry.

    In the clique-ish, subdued atmosphere of the New Cinema Playhouse, Tambellini’s Gate, there is more than an attempt to dump the whole history of films. One glance at the pock marked

  • Sam Fuller, Pickup on South Street, Steel Helmet, Run of the Arrow, and China Gate

    Though he lacks the stamina and range of Chester Gould or the endlessly creative Fats Waller, Sam Fuller directs and writes an inadvertently charming film that has some of their qualities: lyricism, real iconoclasm, and a comic lack of self-consciousness. He has made 19 no-flab, low or middle budget films since 1949, any one of which could be described as “simpleminded corny stuff . . . colorful though,” a bit of John Foster Dulles, a good bit of Steve Canyon, sometimes so good as to be breathtaking, Pickup on South Street is a marvel of lower class nuttiness, Richard Widmark as a pickpocket

  • Luis Buñuel, The Exterminating Angel, Robinson Crusoe, Los Olvidados, Viridiana, and Belle de Jour

    His glee in life is a movie of raped virgins and fallen saints, conceived by a literary old-world director detached from his actors but infatuated with his cock-eyed primitive cynicism. It’s this combination of detachment and the infatuated-with-bitterness viewpoint, added to a flat-footed technique, that produces the piercingly cold images of The Exterminating Angel.

    Buñuel reveals a kinship to other moderns: to Godard (the basic feeling that the audience needs educating, and he is just the one to do it), Bresson (they share an absorbed interest in the peasantry and the role of religion in rural

  • Two Rode Together

    Two Rode Together, a 1961 cavalry film that has been holed up this winter at a campsite in the Museum of Modern Art, has the discombobulated effect of a Western that was dreamt by a kid snoozing in an Esso station in Linden, New Jersey. Two wrangling friends, a money-grubbing marshall (Jimmy Stewart) and a cavalry captain (Richard Widmark, who has the look of a ham that has been smoked, cured, and then coated with honey-colored shellac), seek out a Comanche named Parker and trade him a stunningly new arsenal of guns and knives for a screaming little Bowery Boy with braids who’s only bearable in

  • Howard Hawks, Only Angels, His Girl Friday, Tender Is the Night, Scarface, and Red River

    Scarface (1932) is a passionate, strong, archaic photographic miracle: the rise and fall of an ignorant, blustery, pathetically childish punk (Paul Muni) in an avalanche of rich, dark-dark images. The people, Italian gangsters and their tough, wisecracking girls, are quite beautiful, as varied and shapely as those who parade through Piero’s religious paintings. Few movies are better at nailing down singularity in a body or face, the effect of a strong outline cutting out impossibly singular shapes. Boris Karloff: long stove-pipe legs, large boned and gaunt, an obsessive, wild face; Ann Dvorak:

  • “Canadian Artists ’68”, Wavelength, Slow Run, Cat Food, 1933, Rat Life and Diet in North America, and R34

    The best film at “Canadian Artists ’68” is a study of a room not unlike the basement room at the Art Gallery of Toronto, where the films were privately shown. A bare and spare room with the simple construction of a Shaker-built outhouse, the gallery room had an austere charm, a continuing dignity, even after twenty films had been seen. Exactly like the interiors of schoolrooms in Winslow Homer, it has a magical plain grey color and an equally magical pattern of woodwork on the side walls, four inch boards running horizontally from floor to ceiling, divided by four inch studs spaced two feet on

  • Weekend, Signs of Life, The Easy Life, The Nun, Les Biches, Secret Ceremony, Negatives, Tropics

    “Manny, how are you holding up? How’s your Festivalitis? Oh well, Lola Montes will do it to the best of us. (‘What film did you like best?’) Definitely The Nun. I liked the whole projection of the period. But my favorite director is Jancso: he’s a great stylist. (‘Didn’t you like anything about that German film, Signs of Life?’) Good God no. When the Germans deal with minutiae, they leave me.”

    ––(film critic)

    “What a corny coincidence that both the husband and wife manage to get laid in the same night. I just can’t stomach that kind of unbelievable coincidence in a film which pretends to be raw

  • The Red and the White and Faces

    In The Red and the White, a swift fresh air war movie about Czarists, Red Russians, and a band of Magyars who get tangled within the scythelike moves of both armies in a Hungarian border locale that has a grandiloquent sweep, there are a dozen actors with amazing skin tone, sinew-y health, and Brumel’s high-jumping agility in their work with horses. These actors have an icy dignity—they never mug, make bids for the audience’s attention, or try for the slow motion preening that still goes on in cowboy films. (Jack Palance in Shane, hanging over his saddle iron, spitting tobacco juice, menacing

  • Pendulum, Bullitt, Coogan’s Bluff, Madigan and The Detective

    There’s no question that there’s a new crowd-pleasing movie around that has to do with a disenchanted cop, a city in which no corner is untainted, and an artichoke plot. Wrapped around a heart that is just a procedural cop story, police routines in Washington (Pendulum), San Francisco (Bullitt), Phoenix (Coogan’s Bluff), and Manhattan (Madigan and The Detective), is a shrubwork of Daily News stories, the whole newspaper from beginning to end: the sensationalism, sentimentality, human interest, plus some liberal editorials. Each film has its mini-version of the drug scene, investigating committees,